Kurds in Turkey have literally been standing spectators, overlooking the Islamic State movement assault on the city of Kobani just across the border in Syria, while Turkish armour stands by on the same hillsides.
Ankara’s strategy is not to intervene. Kobani is defended by Kurds linked to the PKK (Kurdish Workers Party), which Ankara considers a terrorist organisation. It is also on the EU and US terrorist lists.
Turkish policy is to remove Syrian President Bashar al Assad from power but it won’t help Kurdish forces fighting ISIL.
A local Kurd warned: “If Turkey stays silent, there will be war in every corner of Turkey, with death and destruction. It’s already started. People will start attacking soldiers and police. There could be a major massacre.”
The Kurds in Turkey have been clashing with security forces for several days. Different sources give the Kurdish population in Turkey as 15-25 million. They demand Ankara act in Kobani. Imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan says failure to do so places a 2012 peace process at risk.
And yet all the demonstrating and warnings of a backlash have not affected Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s rhetoric.
Erdogan said: “Turkey does not determine its domestic and foreign policy based on the violent acts of terrorists and drifters. Those puppets and the leaders who pull their strings should be aware that Turkey won’t be intimidated by street protests and change direction.”
What will it take to get a change in direction from NATO member Turkey? Erdogan’s condition is a no-fly, buffer zone on the Syrian side of the border. This should, in theory, serve to limit the combat spillover risk and allow Turkey to control the Syrian Kurds and their fire-power.
The PKK and Turkish government forces have been fighting each other for most of the past 30 years, over self-rule, with 45,000 dead in the process, and a heavy weight on resources. Ankara doesn’t want an independent Kurdistan set up on its eastern frontier.
Ankara has called for Western reinforcement on the ground against the radical Islamic State, but won’t let the Kurds of Turkey cross the border to help Kobani’s Kurds. Ankara’s priority isn’t to defeat ISIL but to oust Assad.