Turk-American Relations & the Kurdistan Divide

By Tanveer Arain

A new debate has sparked when the President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan had said earlier on Friday that, the United States supplied weapons that had been used against civilians by a Syrian Kurdish Militia Group – the same group that Ankara blamed for the deadly suicide bombing this week.

Turkey has blamed the Syrian Kurdish Militia Group (YPG) for the suicide car bomb attack on Wednesday that killed 28 people, most of which were soldiers. However, the Kurdish freedom Hawks (TAK), a group that once had links to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), took responsibility for the bombing and threatened more attacks in a statement on their website. It was said that the bomber was a 26 year old Turkish National.

Modal Trigger A Kurdish protestor wears a Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) t-shirt, and waves a Turkish flag during the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party -NY Post

Erdogan had told reporters in Istanbul that he was saddened by the Wests’ refusal to declare Syrian Kurdish Militia as Terrorists, and would explain to the U.S President how weapons provided by them have aided this group.

Erdogan appeared to be referring to a U.S air drop of 28 bundles consisting of military supplies in late 2014, which was meant for Iraqi Kurdish fighters near the Syrian city of Kobani. Pentagon officials have said that, at the time one had fallen in to the hands of the Islamic State. The Pentagon then later stated, it had targeted the missing bundle in an airstrike and destroyed it.

John Kirby (The Spokesperson of the State Department) has declared that, “The Unites States does not consider the Peoples Protection Unit YPG – an armed wing of the Syrian Democratic Union Party – a terrorist organization. They have proven successful against ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and Levant) inside Syria and as I said, we are going to continue to work with counter-ISIL fighters who are and can be successful against this group.” Kirby also responded to a question on the gap between Turkish and the U.S stance against the group during a press conference.

The Kurds are an ethnic group with a population of 30-32 million, possibly as high as 37 million. They are spread through four countries Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria. The huge numbers of Kurds are in the Turkey, which are at least 15 million. They reside mostly in the Southeast area, which shares the border with Syria, Iran and Iraq. The Turks have been suppressing a violent Kurdish insurgency since the late 1970s, led by the Kurdish workers Party PKK and it is declared as terrorist organization by both Turkey and the United States.

The Turks now say, the PKK is teaming up with YPG, in order to establish an autonomous region spanning in both countries. However, the United States says that the PKK and YPG are two different factions, their argument being that YPG fighters are basically focused on protecting Kurdish areas in Syria from the ravages of civil war. They also believe they are successfully fighting against Islamic State, which is based in eastern Syria and consider YPG fighters as useful allies against Islamic State. The Turks, however, are rejecting this stance and saying that the YPG fighters share the same goals as the PKK.

Prior to August 2014, the Kurdish appeals to the west were based on the argument that, “Kurdistan is uniquely strong, stable and democratic house in a militarily weak, unstable and authoritarian neighborhood. Since Iraqi fragmentation is inevitable and Kurdistan is the only Viable (and importantly, pro-American) political entity in Iraq, than the US should support Kurdish defensive positions and aspirations. Furthermore, an independent Kurdistan bolstered by necessary arms and funds could serve as a moderating force or buffer state in the region.” Nonetheless, the U.S decided to directly support the Kurds few days after the loss of Sinjar in August 2014, that to when reports had surfaced that the IS was advancing on Irbil and surrounding cities. Although few in Irbil feared that the IS forces could reach the city limits, the assault threatened to put the military alliance off-balance. After this the Kurds were no longer asking for weapons to protect their neutral enclave. Their tons of appeals had changed and started asking for support to avert a humanitarian crisis and to defeat the IS as a threat to both US and Kurds.

Some analysts believe that the concern over a humanitarian crisis motivated the shift in US policy to arm the Kurds, while others argue that IS had simply become an unbearable threat to US interests in the region. However, the Kurdish lobby based in Washington [The Kurds do indeed have a well-established network of lobbyists, public relations firms and political allies in Washington] had convinced the US and assured them of their support to save their interests in the region or connected with Irbil.

However, the recent Jolt between two NATO allies, Turkey and United States will cause a deeper rupture in their relations. Turkish forces have been shelling the YPG position in Syria since last weekend over American objection and it has intensified the pressure on the US to declare YPG as terrorist organization. American-Turkish friction over the Kurds can indirectly benefit Bashar-al-Assad and his allies, Russia and Iran, which are supporting Assad via aerial and ground support and targeting Assad’s rivals.

President Barack Obama talks with Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan during a family photo at the G20 Summit in Cannes,  France, Thursday, Nov. 3, 2011. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
President Barack Obama talks with Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan during a family photo at the G20 Summit in Cannes, France, Thursday, Nov. 3, 2011. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

Under embargo Iran used to be a buffer zone, since then sanctions have been lifted and Iran is open for the world. One with a geopolitical lens can easily foresee the possibility of a fast track and cheap energy link from Iran to Europe via Iraq, Turkey to EU (it also shows that China and central Asia connected to EU coming from decades). Thus a sovereign Kurd State supported and funded by US will serve many purposes for the US. For instance to have control of Iraqi energy reserves (major chunk falls under Kurdish areas), that way Kurdistan will play a role of buffer zone as they were saying prior August 2014, either to maintain disconnect between EU and Iran/China/Central Asia or negotiate upon own terms and conditions, therefore US supports for Kurds is part of their Middle eastern strategy.

Turkey being NATO member in Iraq war, regional lead in the Afghan war and directly involved in Syria war, and now is in a worst situation than Pakistan as its opening war front with US which is by all means prove deadly for Turkey. Being a NATO member or directly involved in the three Muslim countries, makes Turkey extremely vulnerable and the US-Saudi alliance can exploit and mobilize the regional Jihadist groups against Turkey.  However, Turkish relations with Israel and its geographical location provides a bit of relief to Turkey subject to the Tayyip’s flexibility in foreign policy.


Writer is former Anchor Person and Analyst, Currently working as freelance Journalist Covering Militancy, War and Conflicts and can be reached out on his twitter account @tanvirarain

  • dunkirk

    The turks are an imperialist, ethnofascist and racist nation since 1000 years. Now they are going for more of the same. The pakistanis, as quislings of islam, are bootlickers of turks (and arabs) since the very beginning of Pakistan (be it in 710 AD or 1000 AD or 1947 AD)