Erdogan gambles on war with Kurds, Syria

“The current policy of Erdogan is not directed toward security, stability, peace and reconciliation in Turkey, but focused on the war and escalation.”

August 19, 2015 01:42
3 minute read.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s shrewd gamble not to allow Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu to form a government by the constitutional deadline on Sunday supports the notion that the recent offensive against Kurds and attacks in Syria are part of his election strategy.

Ankara’s escalating military campaign against Kurds in Syria and southeastern Turkey serves to delegitimize the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) before what is likely to be a call for snap elections to replay the June 7 election.

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Erdogan is seeking to gain a majority after his AK Party won only 41 percent in the recent election. If it does so, it can change the constitution to form a presidential system that solidifies his hold on power.
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By smashing the outlawed Kurdistan People’s Party (PKK) in Turkey and the People’s Protection Units (YPG) in Syria, Erdogan is essentially mobilizing against Turkey’s domestic Kurds, which according to the CIA Factbook make up 18% of the population.

“Erdogan is being completely cynical. He cultivated the Kurds when he thought he could get their votes in support of himself or his projects,” Michael Rubin, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and a former Pentagon official, told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday.

“But for years, the Kurds have been grumbling that Erdogan makes grandiose promises ahead of elections and then forgets about his commitments in the aftermath,” he said. “Now, with the rise of the HDP and its passing the threshold, he has not only turned his back on the Kurds, but believes that by targeting them he can spark a crisis that works in his electoral favor.

“Right now Erdogan has one goal and one goal only: New elections in which the Kurds don’t pass the 10% threshold.

Going on war footing in Syria and picking a fight with the Kurds achieves that, as he tries to stigmatize them as the enemy,” added Rubin.

Efraim Inbar, director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University, told the Post, “The snap elections could bring about greater support for AKP by arousing nationalist feelings among the Turks and regaining the majority in Parliament.

“One of the reasons Erdogan’s party cannot form a ruling coalition is the fact that the Kurdish HDP party crossed the 10% threshold in the June elections. The current offensive against the Kurds is intended to erode the support for this party that was supported also by Turks,” he said.

Of course, there is also the ideological factor, in that the Islamist AK Party identifies with Islamist rebel groups fighting against the Syrian regime.

An article by Sam Heller and Aaron Stein published on Tuesday in the War On The Rocks website, a foreign policy and national security site, said that Turkey’s favored rebel group, with which it has cultivated close ties, is Ahrar al-Sham.

“Aside from Islamic State, Ahrar is now the single strongest rebel force in Syria,” they wrote. “Turkey’s role in supporting Ahrar illustrates how Turkey has compromised its ambitious policy goals in Syria and raises questions about Ankara’s reported planned intervention in Aleppo to carve out a ‘safe zone’ along its border with Syria.”

Kamal Sido, a Syrian Kurd who works at the Middle East desk of the German human rights NGO Society for Threatened Peoples, complained to the Post this week that the US administration continues to support Turkey’s military offensive against the PKK.

“The current policy of Erdogan is not directed toward security, stability, peace and reconciliation in Turkey, but focused on the war and escalation,” he said.

The Turkish president is waging a war not only against the PKK, but also against the Kurds in Turkey, Syria, and Iraq, he said, adding that the Kurdish fighters in Iraq and Syria are battling against Islamic State, which poses a dangerous threat to minorities.

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