Kobani: IS attack and Turkish national interests

Shakhawan Shorash

By Shakhawan Shorash:

Under Turkey´s influence, the Free Syrian Army (FSA) refused the Kurdish demands of recognition of Kurdish rights and insisted on the fight under the slogan, “We are all Syrians and fight for a free Syria.” The Western countries respected the Turkish and FSA position and ignored Kurdish demands, which became clear at the Istanbul and Wien conferences. In turn, the main Kurdish political parties refused to join the opposition and chose a natural position in the internal war. The Syrian Kurds managed to create local Kurdish rule and the only relatively safe territory in Syria, and were able to help Christians and other ethnic groups that fled to the Kurdish area.

Turkey´s intensive involvement in the conflict is not due to a love of freedom and democracy, as Turkey oppresses its own 22 million Kurds and denies the acceptance of Kurdish rights. Turkey will not repeat the mistake it made in connection with Western intervention in Iraq in 2003, and it will also prevent another local Kurdish rule in a neighboring state. Turkey wants to play a vital role in political decisions concerning Syria’s future. Thus, the protection of its national interests and the achievement of its political and economic aims during the internal Syrian war and in the post-Assad era would be realized by its strong and active participation in the anti-Assad coalition.

Western aid and help for the FSA has also reached the Islamist groups that were a part of the FSA and the opposition. It is difficult to substantiate the opposite. The Sunni Arab countries, such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and others, did send help to the Syrian opposition, including the radical Islamists, while the West showed no concern and closed its eyes. Furthermore, Turkey has actively helped the Islamists, especially against the Kurds, and the destruction of the pro-PKK (Kurdistan Worker Party) Kurdish administration and local government in northern Syria has been in Turkey´s strong interest. The Islamists had been at war with the Kurds since 2012 and, despite external support, could not defeat them. Now, the Islamic State (IS) possesses the Iraqi army´s heavy weapons and is therefore stronger than ever and has a chance to defeat the Kurds, who only have primitive weapons.

According to some sources, Turkey has given medical treatment to injured jihadists in Turkish hospitals, and there are also accusations that Turkey has bought and sold IS´s oil. IS had its unofficial offices in Turkish cities, where they helped the foreign jihadists and sent them to Syria. IS members were moving freely in Turkey, and IS had recruited new members in Turkish cities and sent them to Syria.

When IS took control over the Sunni area in Iraq, it committed mass killings and brutal violations of human rights. IS also captured 49 Turkish officials who were in Mosul. Later, Turkey refused to join the coalition against IS due to concern about the Turkish hostages. However, why should IS kill Turkish citizens? Turkey had supported IS in several ways, as mentioned earlier. Later, the hostages were released and sent to Turkey with no difficulty. Making the Turkish farce more humorous is Turkish President Erdogan talking about a rescue operation carried out by Turkish agents!

IS’s recent comprehensive attack on the key Kurdish city of Kobani is also in Turkey’s direct national interests. Occupation of this city would meet a vital aim of Turkey, as Kobani is a key strategic city in the heart of the Kurdish self-rule territory. Turkey can also use the IS attack on Kobani in several ways. Turkey can choose to intervene with its own army to occupy Kobani in the name of protection of civilians. In any of these scenarios, the outcome would be the splitting and weakening of Kurdish self-rule in northern Syria.

IS´s attack on Kobani is also in IS´s and Arab nationalists´ interests. Occupation of Kobani meets the Arab nationalist as well the Islamic aim that denies Kurdish rights and Kurdish self-rule. Furthermore, for IS, the destruction of the Kurdish secular administration is an indispensable duty. We should not forget that the Arab Islamists are affected by Arab nationalism and its aims. There is no doubt that the occupation of Kobani strengthens IS´s territory from Aleppo to Baghdad and makes it strong in a wider border area with Turkey.

Turkey is now suggesting a neutral no-fly zone at the border area between it and Syria. Turkey argues that this safe enclave area is necessary for the Syrian opposition, with the aim to topple the Assad regime. Turkey argues that its national security is threatened by the PKK and IS. Realization of the establishment of this neutral zone while ignoring Kurdish interests will harm the Kurdish self-rule territory efficiently, if not destroy it completely.

In the past, the Western countries always preferred Turkish national interests over Kurdish rights and interests. There is no doubt that Turkey is an important member of NATO, which concerns Turkey’s national security. Hence, the West is perhaps inclined to accept the Turkish argument concerning the establishment of a neutral area. The support of the creation of the neutral zone on the Syrian border would help Turkey to meet a vital aim regarding its national interests, at the expense of the Kurds. As a result, this will weaken the Kurds with regard to political decisions and the future of Syria and the region.

An alternative to the Turkish suggestion is for the Western coalition to support Kurdish self-rule and to create a safe enclave alongside the border area, and to prevent Turkish involvement in Kurdish internal affairs; in turn, the Kurds must actively participate in the anti-Assad coalition.

Shakhawan Shorash was born in Hawler in Southern Kurdistan. He is a freelance writer with a BA in political science from Southern University of Denmark (Odense) and a Masters degree in political science from the University of Copenhagen.

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