When will Turkey learn?

Further to my earlier post on when Egypt would learn from its historic mistakes in dealing with terrorism and violence, I now turn my attention to Turkey.  According to news sources, the Turkish government may invade along a 70-mile stretch of its border with Syria to establish a 20-mile buffer zone (see article here)

Given the advances of extremist groups in Syria such as the Islamic State and Jabhat al Nusra, and the potential for future incursions into Turkey, you might think that the Turks are considering this action to prevent terrorism from reaching its land.

You would be only partly correct.  For it seems that the Turkish government is increasingly more worried by the advances of Kurds in Syria as well.  And if history tells us anything, it is that decades of Turkish administrations are petrified at anything Kurdish.  From the days of refusing to even acknowledge the existence of the Kurdish people (they were called “mountain Turks”), to the banning of the language, Turkish restrictions on Kurdish rights are abominable.  These human rights violations led to violence within Turkey, the creation of a terrorist group (which used to be called the PKK but has gone through several name changes) and atrocities on both sides.

What is really sad is that there had been some progress of late on the granting of some rights to the Kurdish population in Turkey.  That appears to be all for naught.

Turkish military action against the Kurds’ Syrian brethren will likely lead to several things, all bad:

a) the Kurds are one of the most effective fighting forces against the Islamic State.  Taking out some of these soldiers will not help the collective effort against these terrorists.

b) conflict in Syria will be followed by renewed conflict in Turkey, and possibly more terrorism.

c) the Kurds will be reminded once again that no one is looking out for their interests.  In response, they may declare unilateral independence in northern Iraq (which may be inevitable anyway), complicating matters in that area of the world (which certainly does not need more complication).

The Kurds have often been called the largest ethnic group (population estimates range from 22 to 30 million, largely in Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey) without a homeland, despite the fact that they were more or less promised one in the Treaty of Sevres after WWI.  Having lived through the genocidal policies of the Saddam Hussein regime, the Kurds have created the most successful part of post-Baathist Iraq.  They may decide that going it alone is the best guarantor of Kurdish existence, and history would not necessarily argue with that.

And now Turkey seems bent on repeating that history.

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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