From Patrick Cockburn‘s article published by London Review of Books:
‘..And then there was the Turkish problem. US planes attacking Isis forces in Kobani had to fly 1200 miles from their bases in the Gulf because Turkey wouldn’t allow the use of its airbase at Incirlik, just a hundred miles from Kobani. By not preventing reinforcements, weapons and ammunition from reaching Isis in Kobani, Ankara was showing that it would prefer Isis to hold the town: anything was better than the PYD. Turkey’s position had been clear since July 2012, when the Syrian army, under pressure from rebels elsewhere, pulled out of the main Kurdish areas. The Syrian Kurds, long persecuted by Damascus and politically marginal, suddenly won de facto autonomy under increasing PKK authority. Living mostly along the border with Turkey, a strategically important area to Isis, the Kurds unexpectedly became players in the struggle for power in a disintegrating Syria. This was an unwelcome development for the Turks. The dominant political and military organisations of the Syrian Kurds were branches of the PKK and obeyed instructions from Ocalan and the military leadership in Qandil. The PKK insurgents, who had fought for so long for some form of self-rule in Turkey, now ruled a quasi-state in Syria centred on the cities of Qamishli, Kobani and Afrin. Much of the Syrian border region was likely to remain in Kurdish hands, since the Syrian government and its opponents were both too weak to do anything about it. Ankara may not be the master chess player collaborating with Isis to break Kurdish power, as conspiracy theorists believe, but it saw the advantage to itself of allowing Isis to weaken the Syrian Kurds. It was never a very far-sighted policy: if Isis succeeded in taking Kobani, and thus humiliating the US, the Americans’ supposed ally Turkey would be seen as partly responsible, after sealing off the town. In the event, the Turkish change of course was embarrassingly speedy. Within hours of Erdoğan saying that Turkey wouldn’t help the PYD terrorists, permission was being given for Iraqi Kurds to reinforce the PYD fighters at Kobani.Turkey’s volte face was the latest in a series of miscalculations it had made about developments in Syria since the first uprising against Assad in 2011. Erdoğan’s government could have held the balance of power between Assad and his opponents, but instead convinced itself that Assad – like Gaddafi in Libya – would inevitably be overthrown. When this failed to happen, Ankara gave its support to jihadi groups financed by the Gulf monarchies: these included al-Nusra, al-Qaida’s Syrian affiliate, and Isis. Turkey played much the same role in supporting the jihadis in Syria as Pakistan had done supporting the Taliban in Afghanistan. The estimated 12,000 foreign jihadis fighting in Syria, over which there is so much apprehension in Europe and the US, almost all entered via what became known as ‘the jihadis’ highway’, using Turkish border crossing points while the guards looked the other way. In the second half of 2013, as the US put pressure on Turkey, these routes became harder to access but Isis militants still cross the frontier without too much difficulty. The exact nature of the relationship between the Turkish intelligence services and Isis and al-Nusra remains cloudy but there is strong evidence for a degree of collaboration. When Syrian rebels led by al-Nusra captured the Armenian town of Kassab in Syrian government-held territory early this year, it seemed that the Turks had allowed them to operate from inside Turkish territory. Also mysterious was the case of the 49 members of the Turkish Consulate in Mosul who stayed in the city as it was taken by Isis; they were held hostage in Raqqa, the Islamic State’s Syrian capital, then unexpectedly released after four months in exchange for Isis prisoners held in Turkey.
Had Erdoğan chosen to help the Kurds trapped in Kobani rather than sealing them off, he might have strengthened the peace process between his government and the Turkish Kurds. Instead, his actions provoked protests and rioting by Kurds across Turkey; in towns and villages where there had been no Kurdish demonstrations in recent history tyres were burned and 44 people were killed. For the first time in two years, Turkish military aircraft struck at PKK positions in the south-east of the country. It appears that Erdoğan had thrown away one of the main achievements of his years in power: the beginnings of a negotiated end to the Kurdish armed insurgency. Ethnic hostility and abuse between Turks and Kurds have now increased. The police suppressed anti-Isis demonstrations but left pro-Isis demonstrations alone. Some 72 refugees who had fled to Turkey from Kobani were sent back into the town. When five PYD members were arrested by the Turkish army they were described by the military as ‘separatist terrorists’. There were hysterical outbursts from Erdoğan’s supporters: the mayor of Ankara, Melih Gökçek, tweeted that ‘there are people in the east who pass themselves off as Kurdish but are actually atheist Armenians by origin.’ The Turkish media, increasingly subservient to or intimidated by the government, played down the seriousness of the demonstrations. CNN Turk, famous for showing a documentary on penguins at the height of the Gezi Park demonstrations last year, chose to broadcast a documentary on honeybees during the Kurdish protests.’