Is Ankara warming up to a ‘limited’ incursion to Syria?

As the election for Parliament speaker enters a muddle of tactics, there are also interesting twists and turns of events that have raised the level of suspense.

There were claims on Monday evening that the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) had attacked the remote border post of Dağlıca in Hakkari province, bordering Iraq, which continued till Tuesday morning, reports said. And yesterday we heard Turkish jets had bombed what was believed to be PKK targets. The Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK) later accused Ankara of breaking the long-lasting cease-fire.

The incident, which deserves our keen attention, follows a critical National Security Council (MGK) meeting during which the issue of establishing a “buffer zone” along the Syrian border was reported to have been discussed.

The expanded warfare between the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) units — that are backed by many PKK-related volunteers from Turkey — and the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has been perceived as a threat to Turkey, yet some murky elements lurk in the political background.

We already know that Ankara’s attention is focused on a patch of border area called Jarablus. Reports insist a “buffer zone” is being considered to be established there, 110 kilometers long and 33 kilometers deep.

The area is currently controlled by ISIL, yet it is unclear what the eventual military intervention aims to “prevent.” The concern of Ankara — which is not a secret — is that the YPG will expel ISIL from that area and eventually link Kobani and Afrin, which are already under the control of Kurdish forces.

There are two reasons for a military incursion that emerged from the MGK meeting: the YPG extending its movement the west of the Euphrates and a new wave of exodus due to a massacre or ethnic cleansing.

What we get is mixed, opposing messages. To the domestic audience, the idea is announced as a necessary mobilization against a Kurdish expansion while to the international scene it is a move that aims to repel ISIL from the border area.

Reports from the Turkish capital leave very little doubt that old allergies — Kurdophobia — in Ankara have revived once again in full force. If we include the new trouble in Hakkari province, the context is sufficient to raise fears that the Kurdish peace process may be seen as “being abandoned.” Sırrı Süreyya Önder of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) had accused the Justice and Development Party (AKP) and “deep forces” in Ankara of again endangering peace in the southeastern provinces alongside the Iraqi and Syrian borders.

The muddled political background may support his claims. As the uncertainties over whether or not a coalition will be able to be formed abound, and early polls seem a better option for Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s game of “surviving in power,” differences of opinion and how to approach an increasingly changing map of ethnicities in the region have deepened in the upper echelons.

The top brass has its own view on what the world sees as the “Kurdish moment,” and in general does not seem to analyze the post Sykes-Picot situation clearly and seems — at least — closed off to making a rational distinction between a secular Kurdish structure and the brutally fundamentalist ISIL “land-building” along the long Syrian border.

From Erdoğan’s personal point of view, this is a precious moment. As history clearly shows, he thrives on crisis. Given a squeezed political position, with the legislative body now looking threateningly to reopen graft files and curb his exercise of powers back to constitutional settings, he may be seeing a strong option — while strengthening his alliance with the top brass on the basis of Kurdophobia — to pave the way for an “Islamist-Nationalist” sort of coalition with the MHP. If so, he would not care less if the escalation between the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) and the PKK takes place once again.

Does the top brass see such a constellation as being realistic? It is hard to tell. But regardless of the new dynamics now being set into motion, one thing is clear: The current military command is unwilling to be part of a direct military incursion into Syria, aware of its military and international consequences.

The generals may be inclined to wait until a new government is formed by early August and appoints the successive top brass.

Whether Erdoğan wants this to happen, though, is a big question mark.

About yavuzbaydar

Yavuz Baydar has been an award-winning Turkish journalist, whose professional activity spans nearly four decades. In December 2013, Baydar co-founded the independent media platform, P24, Punto24, to monitor the media sector of Turkey, as well as organizing surveys, and training workshops. Baydar wrote opinion columns, in Turkish, liberal daily Ozgur Dusunce and news site Haberdar, and in English, daily Today's Zaman, on domestic and foreign policy issues related to Turkey, and media matters, until all had to cease publications due to growing political oppression. Currently, he writes regular chronicles for Die Süddeutsche Zeitung, and opinion columns for the Arab Weekly, as well as analysis for Index on Censorship. Baydar blogs with the Huffington Post, sharing his his analysis and views on Turkish politics, the Middle East, Balkans, Europe, U.S-Turkish relations, human rights, free speech, press freedom, history, etc. His opinion articles appeared at the New York Times, the Guardian, El Pais, Svenska Dagbladet, and Al Jazeera English online. Turkey’s first news ombudsman, beginning at Milliyet daily in 1999, Baydar worked in the same role as reader representative until 2014. His work included reader complaints with content, and commentary on media ethics. Working in a tough professional climate had its costs: he was twice forced to leave his job, after his self-critical columns on journalistic flaws and fabricated news stories. Baydar worked as producer and news presenter in Swedish Radio &TV Corp. (SR) Stockholm, Sweden between 1979-1991; as correspondent for Scandinavia and Baltics for Turkish daily Cumhuriyet between 1980-1992, and the BBC World Service, in early 1990's. Returning to Turkey in 1994, he worked as reporter and ediytor for various outlets in print, as well as hosting debate porogrammes in public and private TV channels. Baydar studied informatics, cybernetics and, later, had his journalism ediucatiob in the University of Stockholm. Baydar served as president of the U.S. based International Organizaton of News Ombudsmen (ONO) in 2003. He was a Knight-Wallace Fellow at University of Michigan in 2004. Baydar was given the Special Award of the European Press Prize (EPP), for 'excellence in journalism', along with the Guardian and Der Spiegel in 2014. He won the Umbria Journalism Award in March 2014 and Caravella/Mare Nostrum Prize in 2015; both in Italy. Baydar completed an extensive research on self-censorship, corruption in media, and growing threats over journalism in Turkey as a Shorenstein Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.
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