By Edmond Y. Azadian
Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan brought prosperity and prominence to his country. He moved Turkey to the world scene politically and he became a major player in world affairs.
Now, however, intoxicated by his domestic and international successes, he is gambling his reputation and achievements away by opening up a new front in the chaos of Middle Eastern politics.
In order to tone down the criticism of his allies and facilitate Turkey’s admission into the European Union, he engaged in a peace process with the Kurdish minority. He even took the unprecedented step of negotiating with the jailed Kurdish leader Abdullah Oçalan. Believing that Erdogan’s initiative was sincere, the European Parliament, at one point considered removing the Kurdish PKK from the terrorist organizations’ list. However, Ankara successfully opposed the move.
The Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK) is a genuine national liberation movement representing the aspirations of the Kurdish people. But if such movements run counter to the interests of powerful nations, their governments have the means to label the movement anything they wish and begin to demonize it. Certainly, the pliant news media will catch up and continue demonizing the movement.
Erdogan’s ploy was to blunt the criticism of his allies and to realign political powers domestically. During the recent parliamentary elections, he allowed Kurdish parties to participate, all along hoping — and actually undermining them to keep them below the 10-percent minimum requirement, to save face and emerge victorious. Contrary to his intentions and machinations, the Kurdish party, People’s Democratic Party (HDP), garnered 12 percent and his AKP party suffered a setback.
After the elections, Turkey had 45 days to come up with a new cabinet and for that, a coalition was needed. Erdogan’s party dragged its feet in order to precipitate snap elections, which now may take place in November. In the meantime, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has appealed to the three major political parties to come together and isolate the Kurdish party. Coupled with that, the right-wing Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) has appealed to the prosecutor general to ban the participation of HDP in the forthcoming elections.
While Erdogan was planning his domestic political machinations, he needed simultaneous steps in his foreign policy to justify his about-face on the Kurdish problem.
It was no secret to anyone that Turkey was training and arming the Islamic State (IS) forces to bring more mayhem in Syria and Iraq. Also, the IS coffers were receiving billions of dollars through the illegal marketing of their oil by Turkey. Turkey’s US and NATO partners have kept looking the other way and continued cajoling the Erdogan government to join the coalition forces against IS. Turkey not only did not join the coalition, but it continued to work at cross-purposes. Erdogan even had the nerve to ban the US forces from using Incirlik air base for air raids on IS-occupied territory and military targets. He finally relented and allowed the use of the airbase when his conditions were met.
The NATO allies put up with this arrogance, which caused their failure in eradicating IS from Iraq and Syria.
Erdogan was able to see in all this turmoil the writing on the wall. An autonomous Kurdistan was consolidated in Iraq, with the blessing of the US and Israel.
At first, Erdogan flirted with the leadership of the Kurdish autonomous region. Davutoglu even paid two clandestine visits to Erbil, without the authorization of the central government in Baghdad. Turkey also offered lucrative business deals to the Kurds in Iraq, as long as they kept away from their cousins in Turkey.
Then another development emerged; the Kurdish forces in Kobani, Syria, proved to be the most effective deterrent against IS. Therefore, the western alliance capitalized on the Kurds to contain the IS advance. Erdogan realized that the Kurdish base in Iraq, boosted by the Kobani enclave in Syria, would have their inexorable spill-over effect on the Kurdish minority in Turkey.
All along, Erdogan was pressuring the NATO allies to create a buffer zone in Syria, ignoring the latter’s sovereignty. In order to achieve that goal, he had to pay lip service to the coalition demands of joining the fight against IS.
For the West, this was a face-saving development to pretend that Turkey had finally acquiesced to their demands, whereas for Turkey, it was a license to blunt the Kurdish aspirations in Syria by simultaneously bombing IS and PKK targets in Syria and Iraq.
Washington and London have both justified Turkish raids, hypocritically announcing “Turkey has the right to defend itself.” But the message from the battlefield is totally different. The Iraqi regular forces, trained and armed by the US, collapsed against the IS drive. The only effective ground force was provided by the Kurdish peshmergas, used to fighting in the brutal conditions.
By allowing Turkey to bomb Kurdish forces, the West helped cripple its own fight against IS forces.
Kurdish leaders have announced that Erdogan is playing with fire. The Suruc bombing, which triggered the mobilization of the Turkish armed forces, is blamed on IS by the authorities in Ankara. It may also be an attempt by the Kurds, which Ankara may refuse to recognize as a Kurdish revenge move, to minimize its vulnerability with regards to the potentials of the Kurds.
Erdogan has already disturbed the hornet’s nest. He has forced the Kurds to line up from Iraq to Kobani and well into the interiors of Turkey. The PKK has announced that its unilateral ceasefire has expired.
Some international observers have already started calling this new assault as the beginning of the “second collapse of the Ottoman Empire.”
During their 30-year insurrection, the Kurds suffered 40,000 casualties. Today, they have the upper hand in Turkey, militarily and politically, and the potential for a Kurdish insurrection throughout Turkey is a real threat.
It depends how much the West will put up with Erdogan’s arrogance and duplicity, which will be boomeranging sooner or later.