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The siege of Kurdish Kobani: Turkey is not a disinterested party…

… and I think it goes without saying that in international affairs, there are no ‘good guys’, there are just ‘bad guys’ and ‘less-bad-guys’. So I was asked today why is Turkey, with its army literally lined up along the border, just sitting there and (also quite literally) watching the Syrian town of Kobani be squeezed to death by the Islamic State? That was when the axiom of there being no ‘good guys’ came to mind.

I think it is worth looking at what is motivating the Turkish government. I see it thus:

Firstly, Turkey was an early enabler of what came to be the Islamic State by virtue of it assisting pretty much anyone who (1) was willing to shoot at the Ba’athist Assad regime (2) was not Kurdish. And whilst President Tayyip Erdogan is not a salafist, he is not just Islamic, he is an Islamist, and has been significantly muted in his remarks about the Islamic State. Conclude from that what you will.

Secondly, the Kurdish YPG in Rojava (Northern Syria, the largely Kurdish bit) has close links with the Marxist PKK (the Kurdish group who has fought against Turkey intermittently for decades and who have proved simply impossible for the Turks to completely crush). This means that from the perspective of a politically Islamic Turkish President like Tayyip Erdogan, who by all accounts has a personality and inclinations probably best described as ‘Putinesque’, he probably sees this as simply one mildly simpatico but unduly exuberant Islamic group who may well be a problem in the future, wiping out a largely secular and hostile-to-the-Turks Kurdish group who are a problem right now. Plus once Kobani falls, the Islamic State can then concentrate on getting rid of Assad, which is really what Tayyip Erdogan’s government in Turkey wants.

So expecting Turkey to sweep in and save Kobani is unrealistic. I expect this is the calculation: if the YPG triumphs and creates a Kurdish controlled Rojava (the Kurdish north of Syria bordering on Turkey), it will encourage Kurdish nationalism in Turkey. Even worse, as Southern Kurdistan (Kurdish Northern Iraq, capital of Erbil) now has an excellent chance of becoming an independent nation (it is already largely autonomous), it is possible Rojava might unify with South Kurdistan, which would really stoke the fires of Kurdish nationalism. And as Turkey does not want a major resurgence of Kurdish insurgency in Turkey (there is currently an agreement with the Kurds there), they are happy to see the Islamic State crush the Syrian Kurdish YPG.

That said, when I ran this past my Kurdish chums who live near Kirkuk, they mostly agreed but noted that as the YPG are Marxist and the PKK are Marxist, they are natural allies (addendum: upon them reading this article, my Kurdish friends said I should have written “hand in glove” as they would be more accurate than mere ‘allies’)… however South Kurdistan is a multi-party democracy (the ruling coalition is the politically secular centrist KDP and leftist PUK, and the main opposition is the aggressively secular centre-right Gorran Movement). However the Kurdish Syrian YPG imposed its control over Rojava against other Syrian Kurdish political groups at gunpoint. I asked my friends “Why do many see the YPG as terrorists?” to which they replied “Because they kind of are”. The general view they shared was that whilst the YPG are admired for their spirited defence of Rojava against the Islamists, and for their cross border rescue of the Yezidi Kurds in Iraq near Mt. Sinjar, in the event the region was ever unified with South Kurdistan, they would probably be a ‘problem’. The way it was described to me was, and I quote: “a Marxist party winning overall power in an election in Erbil is about as likely as a politically Mormon party winning”… a notion which did make me laugh I must confess. But Marxists tend to not just shrug and say “oh well” when that happens.

And thus whilst there is horror in South Kurdistan at the notion of Kobani falling to the Islamic State, there are some in Erbil who actually prefer to play footsie with Turkey and although they wish the people of Kobani well, they will not be heartbroken to see the YPG taken down a peg. And if anyone doubts that the Kurds in Erbil have a deal with the Turkish government, ask yourself this: much to the anguish of the rump Iraqi government in Baghdad, Erbil has been selling its oil independently. Take a look at the map and then figure out who is enabling that to happen.

So if the Turks do rescue Kobani at the last moment, it will only be because they have milked the political advantage sufficiently to have extracted some very sweet deals behind the scenes. My guess is that they will just let the YPG be crushed. But we will know soon enough it seems.

So how was that for some labyrinthine speculation?

12 comments to The siege of Kurdish Kobani: Turkey is not a disinterested party…

  • Paul Marks

    The difficulty for the new President of Turkey is that the logical conclusion of his own faith is the “Islamic State”. He recoils from this – but he presents no refutation of their theology (and theology is the basis of his politics) and his own supporters in Turkey are busy destroying ancient churches (and then pretending they never existed) and so on.

    When theologians in 18th century Arabia rebelled against the “corruption” of the Ottoman Empire they were not talking about financial corruption, they were denouncing theological corruption. And whilst he might express qualified sympathy for the Ottoman Empire from time to time – the President of Turkey dreads being too closely associated with it. After all the theologians in 18th century Arabia were correct – the Ottoman Empire had failed from the “pure” standards of Mohamed (the person who the President bases his whole philosophy of life upon).

    I say again – he is facing the logical end point of his own philosophy. If he was a man more given to clear thinking the thought “if I hate what I see – do I really believe in what leads to it” would occur to him.

  • The difficulty for the new President of Turkey is that the logical conclusion of his own faith is the “Islamic State”. He recoils from this – but he presents no refutation of their theology

    He really doesn’t need to ‘refute the ideology’ any more than Philippe II or Louis VIII needed to worry over much about actual honest-to-goodness Christianity whilst slaughtering in its name. Erdogan may pay lip service to Ataturk for purely domestic political reasons, but he is a neo-Ottoman, which means Islam is there to be used as a justification for Turkish power politics, and if it comes to a conflict between the two, Turkish power politics will win and the religion will get ‘interpreted’ or just plain finessed away when it is inconvenient. I mean seriously, how Ottoman is that?

    Of course it might be that this particular genie is harder to control than Erdogan thinks, but that is another question entirely 😉

  • The Steel Ferret

    It is a huge mistake to indulge the Turks. What can they threaten to do? Leave NATO and not allow their territory to be used? Whoopty Fuckin’ Do! They have already played that card and refused and have done so consistently for years now, so what exactly does the west get from the relationship? Nothing. If we see ISIS as a threat (and it is), there should be round-the-clock bombing and give weapons to whoever suits OUR interests. Fuck the Turks.

  • Laird

    As speculation goes, it is indeed “labyrinthine.” It certainly seems plausible to me, although my knowledge of local politics is spotty at best.

    But I do agree with The Steel Ferret.

  • Pardone

    Its the Saudis who are the real enemy. They have 700 jets and our loaded with money, yet why is it we are paying for everything?

    One could simply nuke the cancerous pustule that is Saudi Arabia and assassinate its Fascist oligarchy and sub-human royal family, and thus the primary source and enabler of Wahabism would be gone.

  • Rich Rostrom

    In these intricate intrigues, one often-overlooked factor is that a sub-faction may be less threatened by an enemy of the faction than by a rival sub-faction.

  • David

    You stand 100 meters from Kobani watching the brave Kurdish fighters under siege and you do nothing! You stop Kurds from Turkey going to the aid of their brothers in Kobani. You claim to be an ally of the west and Nato and again do nothing to warrant membership!

    Shame Turkey Shame! I’m embarrassed to have you as an Ally of the west! Give up your Nato membership and go side with Isis. We don’t want you!

    We understand why you Turkey wont intervene to save kobani, It has long been known that Erdogan supports I.S and has aided them greatly, being so blind to do anything and make deals with the Devil to get rid of Assad.

    Fact: Assad isn’t going anywhere, get used to it Turkey! The U.S has said it will not pursue Assad. Fact: I.S will turn around and bite your hand Turkey, it is long known that they want Turkey as part of their Caliphate. When Isis do attack Turkey, I urge Nato not to come to Turkey’s aid. Let Turkey deal with the mess it created.

    I would Urge the U.S government to pull out it’s patriot missle defence shield from Turkey and remove it’s forces from Turkey further isolating them. Let them stand alone and fend for themselves.

  • lucklucky

    Erdogan is Muslim Brotherhood and plays Sunni team A with Qatar – Sunni team B is Egypt + Saudi Arabia – then we have the Shiites – Heezbollah/Syrian Assad/Iran/Iraq shiites.

    Now the problem is that after supplying and trading with Islamic State, supplying Al-Nusra(Al Qaeda offshot) the genies are not controllable. He has the Kurds up in arms as a consequence – already 15 died in clashes in Turkey.

    Playing with fire he might reap what he sow. Deserved.

    They should get out of NATO and absolutely not get the F35.

  • David

    Turkish inaction against ISIS
    Published October 08, 2014
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    Now Playing

    Turkish president says key Syrian town about to fall to Isis

    The White House is growing more frustrated with Turkish inaction against Islamic State fighters as Kurdish forces desperately battle to keep the Syrian border town of Kobani from falling into militants’ hands, according to a published report.

    The New York Times quoted a senior administration official who slammed the Ankara government for “dragging its feet to act to prevent a massacre less than a mile from its border.”

    “After all the fulminating about Syria’s humanitarian catastrophe, they’re inventing reasons not to act to avoid another catastrophe,” the official continued. “This isn’t how a NATO ally acts while hell is unfolding a stone’s throw from their border.”

  • Fortunately it seems the air strikes were stepped up and have helped drive the Islamopsychos back, for now at least, which is good news.

  • Nemesis

    The centenary of the Armenian Genocide – and the Turkish reaction to its commemoration – should hopefully provide a salutary reminder to naive (or willfully corrupt) Westerners of exactly what Turkey is and always has been.

    Ultimately we are all Armenians to the Turkish political class, both its Islamist neo-Ottoman faction and its ethnofascistic Kemalist faction. A plague on all of their (stolen) houses, and may the Kurds lay waste to their poisonous little rump empire.