As of writing this article, Turkey is just watching the unfolding events in the Kurdish town Kobani. Undoubtedly, the likely fall of Kobani to the Islamic State (IS) will have grave consequences for Ankara. Thus far, the Turkish government has dismissed its Kurdish minority’s pleas to save the town from a possible takeover by the IS.
In other words, Ankara is adopting wait and see policy toward what has been taking place in Kobani. Interestingly, the advances made by IS despite the US-led airstrikes may convince observers that short of having the coalition’s boots on the ground, IS may not be defeated in the foreseeable future.
There is a widely held perception among the Kurds in the region that if Kobani falls, it will be because of Ankara’s policy of abandoning the defenders of the city. Some among the Kurds of Kobani believe that Turkey is besieging them as well. Obviously there is no love lost between the Kurds of Kobani and the Turkish government. Not a while ago, the Turkish government detained some 200 Kurds of those who fled Kobani to Turkey to question them about their link to the YPG — the Kurdish militias who defend the city. If anything, Ankara has no trust in YPG and its political counterpart PYD, as they are seen as part of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The latter has a long history in fighting for Kurdish self-rule in Turkey.
It is not as if Turkey has no strategy in Syria. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan made it perfectly clear that there would be a clear objective for Turkey in case his country seeks to interfere in Kobani. Unlike the US, Turkeys’ top priority is displacing Assad. In Erdogan words, “We asked for three things: One, for a no-fly zone to be created; two for a secure zone parallel to the region to be declared; and for the moderate opposition in Syria and Iraq to be trained and equipped.” In effect, he seeks to link Turkey’s possible attack on IS to the objective of ousting Assad.
And yet, the Kurds’ calculations are not aligned with Ankara’s. The Kurds of Turkey feel that Ankara has failed to provide help to their brethren in Syria. Therefore, there have been some protests carried out by Turkey’s Kurds. In its turn, the Turkish government has used force to put down these demonstrations and protests. Most likely, Ankara’s relationship with the Kurds will be in the balance.
It does not seem that Turkey is in a comfortable position. The government will be facing hard choices in the weeks to come. Whatever Turkey does will help either the loathed Assad regime, the Kurdish separatists or the IS. For Turkey, helping Assad or his allies in Kobani — the Kurdish militia and the PKK — is a non-starter. By the same token, allowing the IS to achieve a victory in Kobani will be problematic as well.
Ankara’s inaction has pushed the animosity between Kurds and Turks to a new high. It will take a long time before Ankara can reconcile with the Kurds. The way Ankara approached Kobani crisis may convinced many Kurds that the peace process with Ankara is not only fragile but also futile. In fact, when the guns fall silent, there may be new questions raised that the current government in Ankara will have hard time to answer.
To be sure, the tragic situation in Kobani constitutes a setback to Obama’s new policy in Syria. The US airstrikes, while painful, are not effective in preventing IS from mounting this new offense on Kobani. One of the mistakes made by the US is that that it failed to coordinate properly with its most important ally in the Syrian crisis: Turkey. Obama should have internalized that what is good for America is not always good for its allies.