By Sayoni Biswas:
For the layman, the situation in Turkey might seem to be a political disarray, but it is somewhat more complicated than that. Turkey boasts a rich history and is one of the most developed nations of West Asia, but of late war is brewing within its perimeters. Syria has been at war since 2013 but now with the pro and anti-Assad forces and the rise of the extremist Islamic State (ISIS), violence and civilian strife are at an all time high. The issue, therefore, is a humanitarian one.
With the rising refugee crisis spilling into Europe, Turkey serves as the central connecting land for the migrating millions. The economy has deteriorated, and Russia has now imposed sanctions on Turkey. But how did Russia get involved in this situation all of a sudden?
We know that the USA has been a part of the program for the annihilation of ISIS. So how are the super powers co-operating and acting in this situation? The UN Security Council is now being called upon to look issues concerning major humanitarian crisis. Turkey sharing a common border with Syria is at the receiving end of crossfire from four major factions – USA, Russia, The European Union and NATO. The question of the hour is: how to deal with the persistent refugee problem, restore peace and save the gradually sinking economy.
One must analyse the roles of the different power groups to see what the present state of politics is in the region.
We have to understand the situation in Turkey with respect to Syria, since the two share a common border and are exposed to civilian strife and war among various pro and anti-Assad factions on a continuing basis. Turkey is petrified of the Syrian Kurds or the Kurdish fighters (also known as the PKK or YGB). Though earlier termed as a terrorist organization, the Kurdish fighters changed their stance to become ‘freedom fighters’ by exterminating the ISIS and protecting the oil mines for the United States thus becoming an ally of the Western Super Power. However, this is not what the Turks perceive. Instead, they see the PKK as a looming threat approaching to take over their territory. With Turkey fighting the PKK, continuous shelling, and ground war is a harsh reality for the country currently.
Meanwhile, Turkey is under pressure from the European Union to stem the flow of the refugees. The complexity of the situation is such that while Turkey is supporting the rebels to bring down the Syrian president, Russia, on the other hand, stands by Bashar-Al-Assad and his troupes. In fact, Russia has even joined hands with the Syrian Kurds to get even with Turkey.
In November 2015, Turkey shot down a Russian warplane, further adding to its woes by angering Putin. State premieres Erdogan and Putin, of Turkey and Russia respectively, might have shared a cordial relation before, but this incident turned the relationship sour almost instantly. Putin wanted Erdogan to repent publically and apologise for this incident, but that did not happen.
While such high voltage drama unfolded with Russia, two deadly twin blasts had wrecked inhuman havoc killing more than 100 and injuring many others in Ankara. The attacks were allegedly carried out by the Syrian Kurds though they never took responsibility for the incident. Following this Russia banned tourism and imposed sanctions on economic dealings with Turkey leading to a downward spiral for the Turkish economy. Moreover, this time, Turkey can be said to be on its own, with even NATO refusing to help in case the war escalates or Moscow attacks Ankara. The way Putin has intervened in the Syrian crisis can be said to be “geopolitical buccaneering” (something quite similar to what he did in Georgia and Crimea.)
At the end of the day, one wants peace and free elections in the region. America and the world want the end of groups like ISIS and Al Nusra Front. If this happens, one might even witness Bashar-Al-Assad continue through the transitional period. But Putin’s plans might have to wait as Erdogan is equally ruthless and choleric. If the two premieres settle their differences by goodwill, then peace might be restored to the region.
Initially, Turkey was reluctant to help America launch an attack against Syria, thus mutually reaching an understanding with the USA to create an ISIS-Kurdish free zone on the Turkish border. However when Turkey attacked Syria intending to take on the ISIS, the PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party) got involved. Being the greatest allies of America, PKK has a huge stake in controlling the Islamic state and, unfortunately, the United States did not take Turkey’s attack on their allies kindly.
Sharif Nashashibi’s article in Aljazeera says that Kurds might be both the pawns and kings in this war. They have both territorial gain and weaponry access. At the same time, they enjoy the support of the super powers. While so far the Syrian Kurds had been fighting the Islamic State, now they are making territorial advances towards Turkey. This situation has understandably angered Turkey causing tensions between them and the USA. There is a clash of interests that could lead to a significant conflict in the days to come.
The situation is complex. NATO has to make sure that it stands behind its member states while avoiding any conflict with Russia. Turkey can ask for help from NATO invoking clauses 4 and 5, but NATO has made it clear that it does not want to get involved in this matter. Turkish and Russian forces have been fighting on the Turkish-Syrian border for quite some time now, and the situation seems volatile. Meanwhile, Turkey is still negotiating on the idea of sending ground troops to Syria to cut off the Syrian Kurds completely, but according to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, this would be like giving Putin an open invitation to join the war and bring their forces to the fore.
In a way, Putin is attempting to host a hybrid war whereby he will be able to destabilise NATO as an organization which has no power over its member states. Putin is trying to divide further Europe by supporting the Syrian refugee crisis and trying to escalate refugee problems in Turkey. While Germany needs cooperation to handle the refugee crisis along with Turkey, it is, on the one hand, failing to give any assurance to Ankara. It’s a situation of jeopardy.
The situation in Syria and Turkey is quite vulnerable. While Turkey is continuing to attack Syrian Kurds, Russia is also planning to take concrete steps to launch shelling on Turkey despite the peace deal between USA and Russia. Turkey meanwhile continues to shell the Syrian territory. The UN Security Council is not being summoned to protect the Syrian civilians. But as reports from Azaz confirm (the ground zero in Syria’s civil war – a border town) the shelling hasn’t stopped. Turkey is also not happy with the USA’s role in this region. According to Turkey, USA has only enabled Russia. So Turkey is unhappy with the USA and the Russian role.
Meanwhile, from a humanitarian point of view, the civil war has escalated. The number of killings has increased with the given time. People are living in acute misery and poverty. The United Nations Security Council should look into this matter and impose some sanctions on all the warring nations. Provisions for a peace accord between the states are necessary so that these killings can stop. The recent attack in Ankara which has killed around 30 people and injured more than 150 people, speaks of the great divide between the Kurds and the Turkey government. In the meanwhile, Turkey is demanding financial aid from NATO, since it has already spent 10 billion dollars on solving the refugee crisis. Erdogan’s authoritarian rule is also not going down well with the people since the rights of free media has been curtailed. The United States and NATO are somewhat overlooking this step that has been taken by Erdogan and are being criticised by the local Turkish media for doing nothing.
The world is now looking at these countries with bated breath to see how far the warring factions go and how soon peace can be restored to this region.