by Ahmet Aslan (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 43, No. 9, Muharram, 1436)
Resistance by the Kurds in Kobani has undermined Turkey’s imperial ambitions. Ankara thought the ISIS terrorists would defeat the Kurds leading to the weakening of the other Kurdish group, the PKK.
Adolf Hitler’s worst blunder during the Second World War was perhaps to launch an attack on Russia. The will of the Russian people and the country’s bitterly cold temperatures hovering way below zero consumed the German war machine and led to the beginning of the end of Hitler’s megalomaniac dream of conquering the world.
Developments since the takfiri group ISIS’ assault on the Kurdish town of Kobani (‘Ayn al-‘Arab) lead to the distinct impression that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s similarly malicious dream of conquering the world, starting with the Arabian Peninsula, is also coming to an end. Of course, the two scenarios — Hitler’s ambitions and those of al-Baghdadi’s — are poles apart because ISIS has never posed a credible threat to the world. Nevertheless, it seems the will of the Kurds, combined with geographical conditions of the region that have exposed ISIS militants to deadly US air strikes (the US has failed to demonstrate the same ability elsewhere) have consumed a significant number of ISIS terrorists.
Aside from fighting against the takfiris’ barbaric ideology what has made the Kurds’ heroic resistance even more meaningful is that they carried out the fight despite the Turks. The Syrian Kurds have been organized under the banner of the Democratic Union Party (PYD). The party has close ties to the PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party) that has been fighting against Turkey for almost three decades. Naturally, Ankara has adopted a hostile stance toward PYD and kept a close watch on it. Turkey’s hostility toward the PYD is heightened by the fact that the Kurdish party has taken a relatively neutral stance during the Syrian civil war.
The PYD refused to join the so-called Free Syrian Army to fight against Syrian government troops. Instead, it declared semi-autonomous cantons in the Kurdish majority areas and defended them against the incursions of the takfiris and FSA affiliated groups. The PYD, therefore, came to be viewed as a natural ally of the Syrian government.
Since then, Turkey has been supporting certain groups like al-Nusra Front and others within the FSA in their fight against the PYD. The Kurdish party has found ample evidence of this on numerous occasions. For instance, the PYD recovered documents issued by Turkish officials from al-Nusra fighters killed during fighting. However, like all the other policies that Turkey has tried to implement in the Muslim East, its anti-PYD policy has also failed as the latter successfully repelled al-Nusra and other groups from Kurdish cantons.
Turkey’s proxy war has led many to believe that it was Ankara that somehow convinced ISIS to launch the latest offensive against the Kurds in Kobani. The timing of the offensive is significant as it started at the same time as ISIS’ release of Turkish captives, kidnapped from the Consulate in Mosul when the group stormed the city in June. Subsequent developments have cemented the view that Ankara believes it has more in common with ISIS than with the Kurds. Both Turkey and ISIS want to overthrow Bashar al-Asad’s government and suppress the Kurds. Despite fundamental differences between them, their common enemies prompt Turkey and ISIS to form an uneasy alliance.
Since the beginning of the ISIS offensive against Kobani, Ankara has found it very difficult to justify its de facto ISIS friendly policies on the international scene. It has choked PYD fighters in Kobani by cutting off the supply line at the Mursitpinar border crossing. This is the only supply route for the Kurds. Aside from medicine, Turkey has also prevented any form of other support as well, including weapons and ammunition to PYD fighters who are defending the city. Ankara even declined an American request to help the Kurds in Kobani. The US has faced pressure from various quarters to help the Kurds in Kobani and eventually gave in by launching air strikes against ISIS. Yet Turkey did not allow the US to use Incirlik, a strategic airbase located in South East Turkey, to launch such attacks.
Turkey may try to justify its position vis-à-vis the Kurds based on the fact that it has been involved in a bloody conflict with the PKK. The decades-long conflict has claimed the lives of around 40,000 people on both sides. It is, therefore, difficult for the Turks to overcome their grievances and allow much needed help to reach the Kurds. The Turkish government has indeed used this argument. It insists that “there is no difference between the ISIS and PYD; they are both terrorist organizations; therefore, PYD does not deserve any support.” Further, Ankara has argued that “PYD is paying a price for supporting the Asad regime. If they need [Turkish] help they must stop supporting Asad and instead join the FSA.”
It is debatable as to how much these arguments make sense as Turkey has succumbed to pressure from its allies, has allowed Peshmerga fighters (Kurds from Northern Iraq) to pass through the border crossing to help the PYD, and has air-dropped weapons and ammunition.
However, Turkey’s main argument has not attracted sufficient attention in the mainstream media and no serious thought has been given to its positon. Turkey made it clear that if certain conditions were met it would be willing to take on ISIS. It has called for a no fly zone and a buffer zone in eastern Syria that would only be accessible to coalition forces. According to Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, this area would include the region between Turkish border and the Syrian commercial city of Aleppo. In order to show its determination for the plan, the Turkish Parliament even passed a bill that authorized Turkish Army’s incursions into Syria and Iraq.
But no other regional country has supported the Turkish move, not even the US, as they all understand what Ankara is up to. The Turks have realized that their proxy war with al-Asad is lost and the only way to realize their plan now depends on Turkey’s direct intervention in the conflict. In other words, Turkey wants to occupy the area between Aleppo and its borders to weaken the Syrian government and eventually overthrow it. This would also remove the threat posed by the Syrian Kurds as the area includes several Kurdish cantons. The crucial part of the plan was that Kobani was to be overrun by ISIS so that the Turks would have legitimacy in the eye of the international community to fulfil their ambition. Once Kobani falls to the takfiris, the Turks would say they are left with no option but to create a buffer zone against ISIS and the Syrian government.
It is no longer a secret that Turkey has been working on similar scenarios for quite some time. Earlier this year, at the peak of the political battle between the AKP and the Gulen movement, tape recordings of a secret meeting between then Foreign Minister Davutoglu and Director of Turkish intelligence services, MIT, Hakan Fidanoglu, a senior figure from the army and bureaucrat, revealed talk of possible Turkish military intervention in Syria under the pretext that ISIS had attacked the Sulayman Shah shrine (it belong to the grandfather of the founder of the Ottoman Empire). It is a sovereign enclave located in Aleppo and protected by Turkish soldiers. This was to be used as “legitimate reason” for Turkey to go in to Syria. In the secret tape recording, Davutoglu was heard saying, “I do not believe soft power would work without hard power;” therefore, they needed to think about military options. Interestingly, the Turkish government did not deny the content of the tape and said it is normal for them to discuss various scenarios.
That is why Turkey has felt so bitter about the heroic Kurdish resistance in Kobani. This also explains why the police came down so hard on Kurdish protestors in Turkish cities and bombed PKK camps in Turkey at a time everyone was expecting them to turn their military might against ISIS. Their increasingly aggressive stance is an indirect admission that Ankara has yet again proved that they are still amateurs in trying to achieve their imperial ambitions.