Fiamma Nirenstein
Fiamma Nirenstein

Erdogan’s u-turn

First, the Americans asked for a truce between Turks and Kurds, and then they said that they were very pleased that the truce itself was taking hold. Then the Turks made it known, caring little about the disappointment stemming from the White House by now, that there is no ceasefire, and that “Turkey is a sovereign and legitimate state… and to suggest it is on par with a terrorist organization… this is unacceptable.”

An answer to the same adjective “unacceptable” was first used by the United States in order to describe the Turkish stance. The truth is that now that Turkish tanks roam among Syria’s smoking ruins, things are bound to become more complicated and that, if Erdogan opts to respond to a superpower, it will be Russia, and not America.

Its bombs seem to have already killed at least 73 Kurdish civilians. It doesn’t really seem to contribute to the war against ISIS; it is another chapter of the Turkish-Kurdish war that has shifted the best anti-ISIS fighters, the Kurds, onto the Turkish front. Consequently, we have one less mighty warrior in the anti-cutthroat coalition.

The Turkish president has this characteristic: when he moves, he mistakes bullying for leadership, Attila with Napoleon, his facts with those of the entire world.

On Tuesday, the United States raised its voice. Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been very explicit in exhibiting his “newfound friend,” Putin, with whom he blatantly reconciled on August 8 in Moscow.Since then the war has become clearly anti-Kurdish. Brett McGurk, Barack Obama’s Special Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIS, has declared this “a source of deep concern,” especially the clashes south of Jarablus, in the north of Syria, between Turkish forces, armed groups of the Syrian opposition and affiliated units of the defense forces of Syria which includes the YPG (People’s Protection Units), the U.S.-supported military wing of the PYD, or Democratic Union party of Syrian Kurds. “We want to make clear, tweeted McGurk, “that we find these clashes – in areas where ISIS is not located – unacceptable.”

He continued shortly thereafter, “The U.S. is actively engaged to facilitate such deconfliction and unity of focus on ISIS, which remains a lethal and common threat.”

Ankara has already responded by stating the following: “The U.S. should keep its word and force the YPG to withdraw to the east of the Euphrates.” Its geographical reasons are obvious and sensible, but those policies create double contradictions:

Erdogan in order to combat ISIS fights their worst enemy, the Kurds, because they are also his own worst enemy. However, by doing so he risks damaging Putin’s protégé, Assad, the Rais that everyone would like to see out of the picture except Russia and Iran. Furthermore, for the U.S. to see its old friend, a member of NATO, fall into Putin’s arms is a disappointment, with all that it has done over the years to preserve its moderate reputation, despite its Islamist, anti-American and anti-Semitic fury.

This, after having swallowed on several occasions the aid provided by Erdogan to ISIS, and watching Turkey act as a gateway to the Syrian border for foreign fighters and weapons. Then Erdogan inverted his positions: reconciliation with Israel, visiting Putin, waging war on ISIS, relations with Iran and perhaps even with Assad.

This is how on Wednesday morning the Turkish Special Forces of Commander Major General Zekai Aksakalli have entered with both feet in the war. Erdogan’s own spokesman, Ibrahim Kalin described the goal as twofold: to clean up all terroristic elements, i.e. the Islamic State and, according to Ankara, the Kurds.

Turkey has immediately catalyzed a dozen of organizations: in its wake the armyhas moved more than 5000 members of various anti-Assad organizations (Faylaq al-Sham, Free Syrian Army fighters, members of the Sultan Murad Brigade). Moreover, it seeks to reunify with the operation its army, which was shattered by the July 15th coup, and now at the command of General Aksakalli, who was essential in helping to defeat the coup. Erdogan thinks about his agenda, including, primarily, defeating the Kurds.

The fear that international esteem in the anti-ISIS war could facilitate the creation of their own State is one of his worst nightmares. The PYD has recently – albeit with success – committedits forces, the YPG, in a crucial battle near Raqqa, taking Manbij.

Now the YPG, along with Syrian Democratic Forces, acts together with U.S. Special Forces but for Erdogan they are terrorists…The Kurds, it’s true; want to use the war with ISIS in order to acquire their autonomy. However, Erdogan is likely to move the war to “his” Kurds in Turkeyglobally, regardless of the clash with ISIS.

This article originally appeared in slightly different form in Italian in Il Giornale (September 1, 2016)

Translation by Amy K. Rosenthal

About the Author
Fiamma Nirenstein is a journalist, author, former Deputy President of the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the Italian Chamber of Deputies, and member of the Italian delegation at the Council of Europe.
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