Published on 4 Oct 2012

Turkey / Syria – It’s all about the Kurds

Everyone from the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, to the EU’s Catherine Ashton is “urging restraint” as Turkey retaliates for Syrian shelling over the border yesterday. But despite Turkish anger about the killing of five of their citizens, in the long-term they may be more concerned about what they see as Syrian “meddling” in Turkey’s internal conflict with the Kurds.

Over the summer, attacks by the Kurdish Workers’ Party, the PKK, suddenly increased after a decade of relative quiet.

While the world concentrated on what was happening inside Syria, the PKK attacked Turkish military patrols and took control of several dozen villages on the Turkish side of the border. Turkish commentators see the hands of Syria and Iran.

We are at war with Syria and its regional allies,” wrote Suat Kiniklioglu, a foreign affairs advisor to the governing AK Party back in August. “The sharp increase in Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) terror incidents is nothing but an effort by the Assad regime to take the war beyond Syria’s borders.”

Everyone, of course, is meddling across borders. The Turks are funding and arming the Free Syrian Army, the main guerrilla group seeking the overthrow Bashar al-Assad’s government and allowing its fighters to retreat across into Turkey to rearm and regroup. Support for the PKK is the Syrian government response.

The Kurds, who have no nation of their own and are spread across Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria, have long resented Turkish government rule, which has frequently been repressive. Their cause has been exploited by all regional governments to score points against each other since the borderlines were drawn at the end of the Ottoman Empire. Successive Turkish governments have used the military to put down Kurdish unrest, which has contained the PKK but done nothing to appease ordinary Kurds.

Now, government and opposition in Syria are vying for Kurdish support – they’re seen as “swing voters”, whose allegiance could tip the conflict one way or the other.

Hopefully, the current skirmishes on the Syrian-Turkish border will cease and diplomacy will take over. But expect more border trouble as Syria tries to use Kurdish hostility to the Turkish government to boost its position in the border areas.

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11 reader comments

  1. Anna says:

    The Kurds are a nation, whose homeland is run by Turkish government very much repressive of its minorities (who a mere century ago were a majority). The events in the Middle East are much deeper and have many layers, and fast food style reporting only adds oil to the fire. You cannot write “Kurds do not have a nation”. Kurds are a nation of their own.

  2. Chris Thomas says:

    The Kurds would be foolish to waste the opportunity that the Syrian Government has given them. If the rebels are successful, they will be indebted to the Turks for their support. Allowing the Turks future entry to crush the Kurdish movement in Syria would be the least the new Syrian Government would do..
    I’ve already heard reports of Kurdish communities in Aleppo fighting alongside Christian groups against the rebels – so just who are the rebels supposed to be liberating?

  3. James says:

    By the way isnt that region of Turkey is full of kurdish minority. The ones who are killed might well be kurdish as well. So turkey retaliates regardless of the deads origins. This prooves that your article is a shamble. You really shouldnt trust your public school degree when you write an article but the facts.

  4. Anon says:

    ‘[The government]… contained the PKK but done nothing to appease ordinary Kurds.’

    There are 10 million + kurds in Turkey, and 8000 PKK terrorists. PKK does not represent Kurds in Turkey whatsoever, their attacks target Kurdish and Turkish people and towns alike. ‘Ordinary Kurds’ are simply a minority that make up the Turkish national identity, along with countless other minorities. The separatists and supporters of terrorism that remain ‘unappeased’ are a very small percentage.

  5. nick bailey says:

    But have the Syrians now the troopso keep their Kurds qiet?

  6. Helendymion says:

    The unreported war between Turkey and the Kurds has been going on for years. If the Turkish press are any indication, Turkish boys are dying at the rate of about eight a month down in Hakkari. Most of the soldiers are conscripts doing their compulsory 15 month national service. But far from doing the Turkish equivalent of painting stones white in Aldershot, as National Service frequently meant here, these young men are sent to PKK hot spots. Young men are dying in Syria and in the PKK too, but they volunteered for the job.

  7. Lozza says:

    hi is it safe to travel to turkey at the moment?

  8. Victoira says:

    The Syrian government hasn’t actually admitted to this attack. The Turkish media reported the Syrians had apologised and said they’d done it – however Syrian media is saying the Syrian government has sent condolences to the familes in Turkey and is investigating what happened. It seems far more likely the shells were fired into Turkey by the FSA in an attempt to force a response from NATO. They know they can’t win on their own. Turkey has also been trying to convince NATO to intervene and to establish a safe zone inside Syria. It makes no sense at all for the Syrians to attack Turkey, knowing what it could lead to.

  9. david robin says:

    I AM SHOCKED THAT IN THE UK WE/THE MEDIA ARE REPORTING MORE ON THE SHOT POLICE WOMEN/MISSING APRIL AND THE TRAINFRANCHISE FIASCO and neglecting the sino russian angle on this syria war- we should be publicly supporting and sponsoring humanitarian relief in the refugee camps -not turning a blind eye to syria!

  10. Rosemary Berry says:

    Yes, a very good analysis of the situation. Don’t forget the many Kurds inside Syria too, trying to lie low, walking a tightrope.

  11. nick bailey says:

    But have the Syrians the troops now to keep the Kurds quiet?

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