The dangers in our region multiply by the day. Friday was supposed to be the start of a ceasefire agreed a week ago by the participants in the international conference on Syria. Instead of the guns going silent, though, hostilities are raging on many fronts. The most serious development is the speed with which Turkey is sliding into the chaos of war, both within and outside its borders.
Turkey is perhaps the most crucial player in the region. It could play the most positive role, to the benefit of stability, but also, with its mistakes, could threaten further catastrophe and a continued flow of refugees. In its single-minded effort to prevent the establishment of an autonomous Kurdish region on its border, Turkey is taking decisions that cancel each other out and cause grave danger.
The bomb attack against military buses in the heart of the Turkish capital on Wednesday night underlines the complexity of the problems that Ankara faces. The government immediately cast blame on Syria’s Kurds, naming the alleged bomber (said to be a refugee from Syria) and describing the operation and those involved. On the other hand, the investigations into the attacks by so-called Islamic State (ISIS) operatives against demonstrators in Ankara and other cities in past months, with scores of dead, are not moving ahead, according to activists and victims’ lawyers. Ankara’s priority is to persuade the international community that the Syrian Kurds’ military organization (YPG) is a terrorist group. However, the United States and Russia disagree – because in the Syrian cyclone, the Americans are working with the Kurds against ISIS while the Russians are allied with them against other forces opposed to the Syrian regime.
In the past week, the YPG’s advance in the border region was met by Turkish artillery. In other words, a NATO member is fighting against an organization that is allied both with the United States and with Russia, prompting the US and the European Union to urge Ankara to stop the attacks. When in November Turkey shot down a Russian jet fighter, the Turkish government rushed to NATO for support. Today Ankara’s relations with Moscow remain dangerously tense, and at the same time the Turkish government is challenging Washington in a move that is clearly self-defeating. It is noteworthy that the US did not hasten to comment on Turkey’s charges against the YPG – which denied any involvement in Wednesday’s attack. On the contrary, a leader of the PKK – the Kurdish autonomous guerrilla movement of Turkey – said that perhaps a renegade Kurdish group acted in revenge for the last few months of military activity in southeastern Turkey, where hundreds of Kurds have died and tens of thousands are displaced.
Fearing Russia’s sophisticated air defenses in Syria, Turkey on Thursday launched air force attacks on PKK forces in northern Iraq. PKK fighters, meanwhile, are waiting for spring to come down from the mountains and join the fight in Turkey. At every turn, Turkey seems to be acting spasmodically, without strategy, alienating friends and making new enemies. This is dangerous for Turkey, for the region’s people, for the whole world.