Turkish-Kurdish relations threatened by ISIL

The stakes are high for Turkey if ISIL takes over Kobane, say Turkish analysts.

Many Turkish and Syrian Kurds in Turkey continue to urge the US to increase its air strikes against ISIL [Getty]

Mursitpinar, Turkey It was all quiet around the hill overlooking the town of Mursitpinar on Tuesday. In the past weeks, it was frequented by Turkish Kurds, Syrian-Kurdish refugees from Kobane, and the media, to watch the battle between ISIL and Kurdish fighters.

Turkish military patrols the 30km border stretch with Kobane as US air strikes aimed at ISIL targets inside Kobane. Although coalition air strikes have reportedly slowed down ISIL’s advancement, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu warned that Kobane may soon fall to ISIL.
ISIL entered parts of the northern Syrian town, erecting two flags in its southern region on October 5. It is now embroiled in bloody street battles with under-armed and under-resourced Kurdish fighters.
Another battle over Kobane, however, was taking place elsewhere: the main streets of Turkey’s border towns as well as its big cities. On October 7,  Kurdish protesters took to the streets, expressing anger and despair over Turkey’s perceived unwillingness to help Kobane’s beleaguered residents. At least 12 people were reportedly killed in demonstrations across Turkey.

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In this crucial battleground of the US-led coalition’s war against ISIL, Kurds say they are fighting without any assistance as NATO’s second largest military force, Turkey, sits on the sidelines watching Kobane fall into ISIL hands.  

“The US air strikes are badly needed. So far they have been weak and sporadic. Most hits are misses, but we still need them, more of them. Our fighters need more direct help,” said Esmet Sheikh Hasan, the defence chief of the Kurdish People’s Protection Unit (YPG) in Kobane.
Davutoglu told Turkish media on October 7: “We will do everything possible to help the people of Kobane because they are our brothers and sisters.”

Some 15 million ethnic Kurds reside in Turkey – that’s nearly 20 percent of the country’s population.

How can I sit and watch when my family, my cousins, my sisters are being killed and my country is watching silently. This is deliberate.

by - Muslim Ardem, a Turkish Kurd from Orfa

But Turkey’s intervention is conditional. The Turkish prime minister has demanded a military commitment from Turkey’s allies to create a no-fly zone in northern Syria, a move the US has so far refused to back.

Kurds say the prime minister’s statement was only meant to deflect recent criticism against Turkey’s reluctance to intervene.

“They just want to say later that they were willing to help but got no cooperation from other parties,” said Arshad Hassan, a Turkish Kurd living in Suruc, a border town.

According to analysts, Turkey does not believe that ISIL poses such a major threat.

“ISIL is not Turkey’s concern,” said Soli Ozel, a Turkish political analyst and journalist. “It’s more interested in dealing with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Bashar al-Assad regime. Turkey considers this as an opportunity to accomplish its goal in the region: deal with its two major enemies, and ISIL is not one of them.”

Kobane is a strategically located town, covering a large swath of land stretching from the Turkish border to Raqqa, the self-proclaimed capital of Syrian Kurdistan (aka Rojava) on the Euphrates river in Syria.  

If Kobane falls entirely under ISIL control, it will not just mark another territorial gain for the group but the acquisition of a key border crossing. ISIL has already taken the industrial regions including Maqtala al-Jadida and Kani Arabane in eastern Kobane after violent clashes with Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) fighters. In Syria, ISIL has control over most cities along the Euphrates River, including Deir el-Zor, Raqqa and al-Aqim in Syria.

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“Turkey’s ineptitude and lack of involvement to aid us in our fight, has helped ISIL move faster and harder on us,” said Delila Azad, a female commander of the Women’s Protection Units, in a phone interview with Al Jazeera. “The streets are getting bloodier here. It will be a loss for the Kurdish nation.”

Fighting rages for Syria’s Kobane

Turkish and Syrian Kurds continue to urge the US to increase its air strikes against ISIL, but they are sceptical.

“It’s not their problem, it’s our problem,” said 45-year-old Ahmed Mustafa, a Turkish Kurd and a YPG commander whose son was killed in an ISIL shelling. “US air strikes are focused on destroying ISIL equipment, but not disturbing the balance of power with the Kurdish fighters in any way.”

On October 7, the streets in Istanbul, Ankara, Urfa, Suruc, Mardin, and Diyarbakir were buzzing with Kurdish slogans as hundreds of young boys called  “Save Kobane! Save Kobane!” and “ISIL is terrorist!

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The Turkish government has now imposed curfews in major Kurdish-populated towns, including Siirt, Batman, Diyarbakir, Dargecit (Mardin), Derik, Nusaybin, Omerli, Savur, Erci (Van) and Kurtulan.

Many Kurds believe that Turkey’s reluctance to help Syrian Kurds will lead to the disruption of its own peace process with the Kurds.

“How can I sit and watch when my family, my cousins, my sisters are being killed and my country is watching silently. This is deliberate,” said Muslim Ardem, a Turkish Kurd in Urfa, whose extended family still lives in Kobane. “Yesterday we were asking them to help us in the fight. Today the war has started.”
“Turkey has put itself at risk by letting ISIL into Kobane. They could have easily worked out a deal with the Kurds, but they didn’t,” said Tulin Ozbilici, a professor of International Relations at Ankara University. “This was a great opportunity for Turkey to tell the Kurds, ‘Hey we saved you, we worked on our peace deal,’ but the Turkish government is not focusing on the right issues, and is distracted by other goals. Now it has multiplied its problems.”

Source: Al Jazeera