The EU-Turkey refugee deal and the Kurdish issue
Many believe that the EU is turning a blind eye to human rights violations in Turkey.
Four months after being agreed to, the November 2015 European Union-Turkey Refugee Deal seems far from producing any significant results, despite a number of bilateral visits.
Recently leaked talks between Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the EU leaders during the last G20 meeting in Antalya appeared to outline that so far the deal has essentially produced acrimonious statements. Also its success is by no means guaranteed due to the worsening conflict in Syria, the EU’s inconsistent approach to the refugee crisis, and a tense domestic situation in Turkey.
Giving the still-high-number of refugees stemming from Turkey to Europe despite the winter conditions, and the demand by the EU leaders for a sharp drop in refugee flows ahead of the EU-Turkey Summit on March 7, it seems that the union’s stance on many issues regarding Turkey might shift dramatically based on the country’s performance in reducing the refugee flow.
Many also believe that the EU is turning a blind eye to human rights violations in Turkey within a doomed bid for a solution to its refugee crisis.
Considering the statements and reactions by the EU officials on the violent landscape in southeast Turkey since July 7 last year, one can claim that the union is carefully sticking to a low-profile engagement – assuring that its cooperation with Turkey on refugees is not endangered.
The EU’s options
If the EU’s and Turkey’s joint action plan on refugees is to fail, the union is expected to be more vocal and critical of Turkey’s engagement with its own Kurds as well as the Kurds in the region.
More precisely, should the deal fail in the short term, the EU is likely to take a tougher position on the ongoing military operations in southeast Turkey that internally displaced more than 400,000 people.
Turkey's alleged support for some opposition groups in Syria that undermines Syrian Kurds' ability to fight ISIL might be perceived by the EU as support to radical groups on the one hand, and therefore it might call upon Turkey not to weaken the anti-ISIL coalition on the other.
Indeed, it is reported that not only the Syrian refugees who have already settled into the southeast Turkey, but also some Kurdish residents of the region are now trying to reach Greece, as renewed conflict with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) is continuing.
This might also become a major concern for the EU, since its number one priority is to stem any refugee flow from any geography to the continent.
In that respect, the EU may vocalise its criticism against Turkey more than ever, particularly in the field of civilian casualties due to Turkey’s war on terror in residential areas of Kurdish-populated cities.
In connection with this, the EU may raise the issue of civilian casualties in the southeast, and therefore push many relevant legal cases to be presented to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).
Moreover, if the ongoing military operations and security situation continue and result in more civilian casualties in southeast Turkey, the EU might call upon the United Nations to send observatory groups to the region, and monitor the issue under the oversight of international community.
Despite Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu’s recent declaration that the PKK is no longer going to be a part of future peace talks, the EU might call for a strong political support for immediate peace talks with the PKK.
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In such a political landscape where the PKK is on board again, the EU might ask Turkey to adopt the European Charter of Local Self-government as a necessary framework to address Turkey’s Kurdish question, which could also get international support. In fact, Turkey signed the chart in 1998, but with reservations (PDF), which are the very articles that could help reconciliation given the Kurds’ desire for lifting those objections by Turkey.
Finally, a number of political groups in the European Parliament might have incentives for a debate, including delisting the PKK as a terrorist organisation. Such a move by a number of political groups in the parliament might create serious and further tension for EU-Turkey relations.
The EU is highly concerned about the refugee influx from Syria to Europe and of the opinion that the main reason why millions of refugees keep fleeing war-torn Syria is the existence of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
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Therefore, the EU can be expected to support the achievements of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) in Syria, which is known to be the pioneering force fighting ISIL on the ground. It appears that Turkey’s hawkish position against the Kurds in Syria within the framework of war on terror seems no longer to be endorsed by the West.
In such a context, the EU might express its deep concerns regarding any direct or indirect intervention by Turkey in Syrian affairs – particularly targeting the Kurds.
Finally, Turkey’s alleged support for some opposition groups in Syria that undermines Syrian Kurds’ ability to fight ISIL might be perceived by the EU as support for radical groups on the one hand, and therefore it might call upon Turkey not to weaken anti-ISIL coalition on the other.
Such a stance can be empowered by demanding NATO be sided with the EU; and underlines how NATO’s support for Turkey in its conflict with Russia should not be taken for granted.
Ebubekir Isik is a PhD researcher at the Free University of Brussels. His work focuses on stateless nationalist and regional parties.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.