The so-called “game-changer” in Syria is now more or less clear in details. With a change of heart in Ankara, İncirlik Air Base — which is about 300 kilometers to the nearest Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) targets — will be operational and a “de-facto safe zone” will eventually be established inside Syrian territory, at the Turkish border.
“The agreement includes a plan to drive the Islamic State out of a 68-mile-long area west of the Euphrates River and reaching into the province of Aleppo that would then come under the control of the Syrian opposition,” the Washington Post reported.
When implemented, the “safe zone” will pose huge challenges, but let’s leave them for analysis later on. There are at the moment far more urgent and important issues at stake, as we observe this apparently flawed “game-changer” taking place.
However much ill-thought this may have been, it will have to be tested as it stands to be instrumentalized by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, whose aspirations to cling to power are being challenged at home.
As Patrick Cockburn in the UK Independent noted:
”… whatever America was hoping for, initial signs are that the Turkish government may be more interested in moving against the Kurds in Turkey, Syria and Iraq than it is in attacking ISIS [ISIL] … Meanwhile, Turkish police have stepped up suppression of all types of dissent — using water cannon against everybody from activists to members of the heterodox Shia Alevi sect, who number several million and claim they are discriminated against.
”The result is that the US may find it has helped to destabilize Turkey by involving it in the war in both Iraq and Syria, yet without coming much closer to defeating ISIS in either country. If so, America will have committed its biggest mistake in the Middle East since it invaded Iraq in 2003, believing it could overthrow Saddam Hussein and replace him with a pro-American government.”
Any clear-cut decision to join the international battle against ISIL would have been welcome by the entire opposition and larger parts of the society in Turkey.
But it is not. On the home front, the deliberate “blur” of double wars — against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and ISIL — and the termination of a three-year long cease-fire with the Kurdish rebels — in a disproportionate response — by the “caretaker” Justice and Development Party (AKP) government without any consultations in the newly elected Parliament, has raised the domestic tension to new heights.
The leader of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, said that “Erdoğan is gambling on Turkey’s future,” while Selahattin Demirtaş, co-chairman of pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) told the press that “Erdoğan is dragging Turkey into a war.”
In an apparent display of a Turkish-style “House of Cards,” Erdoğan seems determined to pave the way for a new election, to discredit Demirtaş and to force the tactical votes to flee from the HDP, so that it fails to pass the 10 threshold, and a three-party Parliament that can secure him, at best, a path to a presidential system or, at worst, extend his shaken power.
In his “House of Cards” strategy, Erdoğan identified the need for two key elements to claim legitimacy.
On the international level, he needed to be “seen” as part of the coalition against ISIL, which after the latest agreement, seems, at least before the eyes of Barack Obama, to be achieved. At home, by blending in the war against the PKK, he not only appeases the inherent Kurdish allergy towards the military, but also opens the gates for the new polls, hoping to embrace enough nationalist votes to reinject the strength he had lost.
Does Obama even realize the immense risk that such calculations may drag Turkey into a swamp of violence? I have my strong doubts.
Abandoning the peace process and opening the ground for endless provocations at this stage promises only vendetta and bloodshed.
Let me end with the June 7 election results in the 12 mainly Kurdish provinces of Turkey, where the HDP emerged as the first party:
Kars (44 percent), Mardin (73.26), Şırnak (85.36), Hakkari (86.4), Diyarbakır (79.06), Batman (72.58), Siirt (65.81), Van (74.82), Muş (71.32), Bitlis (60.36), Ağrı (78.22) and Tunceli (60.91).