‘Turkey’s priority is Kurdish problem, not IS group’

Bulent Kilic, AFP | Turkish tanks stationed across the border from Kobane

The mounting frustration displayed by Kurds in violent clashes across Turkey and along its border with Syria illustrates the deep divisions within the international coalition assembled to fight the Islamic State group, analysts say.


Speaking from the Turkish side of the border on Wednesday, FRANCE 24's Marine Olivesi said Kurds were angered by Turkey’s failure to help Kurdish fighters backed by international air strikes battle IS militants alone in the symbolic town of Kobane, despite the presence of Turkish troops massed within sight of the battlefield.

FRANCE 24's Marine Olivesi reports from Turkish border

“The Turkish parliament voted last week to allow the government to get involved militarily in Syria. That was on Thursday, and yet Turkish tanks positioned at the border have not moved an inch since,” said Olivesi.

Despite assurances that they would not let Kobane fall into the IS group’s hands, the Turkish authorities have set two conditions for military action in Syria.

“The first one is that there is a security zone in Kurdish territory in Syria, and the second one is that there is a no-fly zone,” Olivier Marty, a lecturer in international relations at Sciences Po, Paris told FRANCE 24. “Those two security zones both on the ground and in the air are not yet achieved, and the Turkish army is now pretending that the only circumstance in which they would intervene is an attack on the tomb of a former Turkish historical figure,” he added in reference to the mausoleum of Suleyman Shah. The historic site is located in a Turkish enclave within Syria, 60km west of Kobane.

“The Turks are likely to remain hesitant unless the situation really deteriorates and the insurgents try to attack Turkey,” Marty said. “But I doubt they will, because that would provoke retaliation from Turkey and from NATO.”

Syrian kurds accused of harbouring PKK fighters

The Kurdish troops resisting the IS group’s advance in Kobane belong to the Democratic Union Party (PYD), a Syrian-based group close to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Turkey has accused Syrian Kurds of harbouring members of the PKK - an organisation advocating Kurdish self-determination and regarded by the Turkish government as well as the US and the European Union as a terrorist group after decades of violent campaigns.

Kurds say peace process with Turkey now at risk

“We want Turks to keep their promises,” PYD’s leader Salah Muslim told FRANCE 24. “We want them to let us support our men across the border, to give us humanitarian aid, and we want them to retaliate against those who are hitting their territory,” he added in reference to the IS group's artillery fire allegedly hitting Turkish soil.

FRANCE 24’s Marine Olivesi said Turkey’s efforts to block Kurds from crossing into Syria and support PYD fighters in Kobane had angered them further. “Hundreds of Turkish Kurds have tried for weeks now to cross the border and help Syrian Kurds in their fight against the Islamic State, but the Turkish army has kept a tight lock on the border,” she said. “Over the past few days the military even tried to drive back the crowd gathering there with teargas and water cannons, which aggravated the anger here.”

Turkish security forces have also detained at least 200 Kurds who crossed the border from Kobane. A Turkish official told AFP on Wednesday their fingerprints were being scanned for matches with wanted PKK members.

Double standards in Turkish border controls

French historian and international relations lecturer Pierre Conesa told FRANCE 24 that Turkey was applying double standards – allowing Islamist fighters to reach Syria through its borders to fight the troops of Bashar al-Assad in the past, but now blocking Kurdish fighters from taking part in the conflict.

“Turkey’s priority is to get rid of the Kurdish problem rather than the Islamic state organisation,” he said. “Turkey in fact is allowing the central part of Syrian Kurdistan to be exterminated, and that area is precisely a stronghold for the Kurdish PKK.”

According to Conesa, the escalating tension between Turkey and the Kurds illustrates deep divisions within the US-led international coalition against the IS group. “Two supposed allies within the coalition are fighting each other,” he said. “It illustrates the lack of political consensus on what this military operation is supposed to be about.”

Conesa argues that the international coalition against the IS group should state clear political objectives for its campaign– excluding involvement in regional disputes such as the conflicts between Sunnis and Shiites or between Turks and Kurds.

“We have no part to play in some parts of this war,” he said.

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