March 01, 2013

Turkey’s Fear of Syrian Kurds

An interview with Dr. Bahram Amirahmadian, university professor and expert on Turkish affairs


Mr. Erdogan has stated that Turkey will not allow an independent Kurdish region to be created in northern Syria. This is while Turkey has very good relations with Iraq's Kurdistan province. What is the reason behind Turkey's opposition to the establishment of a Kurdish region in Syria?

I think that Mr. Erdogan has considered the national interests of his country. The conditions of Iraq's Kurdistan province are different from those of Syria's Kurdistan. Iraq's Kurdistan province has economic power. It has a proper consumer market and it is powerful in the energy sector, whereas Syria's Kurdistan is a very weak and undeveloped region which basically has no experience in government. Therefore, if a self-governing Kurdistan region is established in northern Syria, it will not have the homogeneity of Iraq's Kurdistan and will create more problems for Turkey, for it seems that there will be threats against Turkey from this region. From this aspect, Mr. Davutoglu's view in this regard can be studied.

The other point is that possibly the condition for Turkey to join the European Union, as Ms. Merkel has proposed during the past few days, is that Turkey accept the establishment of a Kurdish self-governing state. Considering negotiations with Mr. Ocalan and the ceasefire during the New Year, this issue seems more probable.

The government of Turkey had recently stated that it is ready to pay all the expenses to solve the issue of the Kurds inside Turkey. Has the issue of the Kurds, in your opinion, become a national security challenge for Turkey during the recent developments?

The assumption is that if the central government of Syria is overthrown and another government comes to power, it will be a government which will be forced to give autonomy to some regions including Syria's Kurdistan or become a federal government. Nevertheless, the government which would come to power after Assad will certainly not have Assad's authority and the regions will be less obedient to the government. Therefore, in order to prevent the impact of these movements inside the country, the government of Turkey intends to warm up to the Kurds and gain their satisfaction by giving certain cultural and political concessions. These concessions are given so that the developments in Syria and previously in Iraq do not affect the Kurdish region of Turkey and the Turkish Kurds will maintain their loyalty to the central government of Turkey.

On the verge of John Kerry's visit to Turkey, Davutoglu, Turkey's Foreign Minister, has criticized the US and stated that the US is not serious with regard to the issue of Syria. What are Turkey's expectations of the US regarding Syria?

The process of developments in Syria has been led towards the direction where most of the Salafi movements are armed by receiving arms from certain regions. If these movements succeed in overthrowing Bashar Assad's government, a government will then come to power which will create more insecurity for the region. This issue has reduced the seriousness of US participation with regard to the issue of Syria. The Americans have waited to see the direction of the developments. US ignorance regarding the domestic developments of Syria is not to Turkey's benefit, because Turkey will, more than any other country, be damaged by Syria's domestic developments and this crisis will impact the economy and security of Turkey.

Turkish criticism of the Americans is in this regard. They criticized the US, asking why basic measures were not taken when it was necessary, for example regarding the fact that strategic arms or financial aids were not given to Assad's opposition, even though the government of Mr. Assad has recently stated that it is ready to negotiate with the opposition residing outside of the country. This issue could not be predicted. Perhaps the presence of Mr. Kerry in Turkey will, to some extent, help the issue of Syria. But what is clear is that any development inside Syria will not be to the benefit of the ruling government and party.

Mr. Davutoglu has said that the opposition has not accepted the government's negotiation offer. Can't Turkey use its influence over the opposition and bring them to the negotiation table?

Turkey does not want the present government of Syria to stay, for in that case it will not have any standing among Assad's opposition. The expenses which Turkey has paid for a change of government in Syria has only been aimed at overthrowing Assad's government and will not be satisfied with anything else. Despite the fact that Walid al-Muallem has stated that the government of Syria is ready to negotiate with the opposition outside the country, Turkey does not agree with such an idea. Of course it was predicted that the Syrian government would become so weak that it would enter negotiations with those whom it calls terrorists. In my opinion, from the Turks' perspective, this issue is the beginning of new developments in Syria. Turkey will not be content with anything else but Assad's resignation.

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