Breathlessness in Ankara

Never before have adverse international, regional and domestic developments converged all at once, to a similar extent, since Kemal founded post-Ottoman Turkey in 1923. Currently, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Turkey is opposed to Russia, the United States, Iran and its allies, the Kurds and Egypt, when it comes to the future of Syria; all while Turkey’s cooperation with Saudi Arabia concerns only its conflict with Syrian President Bashar Assad. Finally, even the careful normalization of relations with Israel is proving to be difficult.

Last week, adverse developments for Ankara with respect to the Kurdish issue, Syria and Iraq, suggest a cumulative reversal. It is only a matter of time before this reversal correlates in southeast Turkey. In Syria, the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), a Syrian affiliate of the militant Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) [in Turkey], with the help of Russia’s bombing campaign, expanded areas under their control westward. At the same time, in Washington, State Department spokesperson John Kirby declared that the United States does not consider the PYD a terrorist organization. In other words, Syria’s likely future will mean that Ankara is going to share the greater part of its borders with a Kurdish northeastern Syria, which has expanded westward and is going to be under control of the PKK, its affiliate.

In northwestern Iraq, where PYD forces are taking action against jihadis, there is an atmosphere of uprising against President Masoud Barzani’s regional government of the de facto independent Kurdish state, which is Turkey’s close ally. The collapse of oil prices has driven northern Iraq close to bankruptcy, with civil servants and the military remaining unpaid. Obviously, Tehran is using this discontent for leverage, not to mention the fact that the other historical Kurdish leader in Iraq, former President Jalal Talabani, sympathizes with Tehran and the PKK. As a result, when the General Staff of Turkey announced on Feb. 11 that anti-PKK cleansing operations in northeastern Turkey ended successfully, it caused nothing but derisive smiles.

Erdogan and Davutoglu will not venture an invasion into Syria or Iraq because they will be facing the United States, Russia, Iran and Israel — a group of heterogeneous countries that form a motley front, each member of which, for different reasons, wishes to invest in the founding of an independent Kurdistan, initially in northern Iraq and northeastern Syria.

What’s left for Erdogan and Davutoglu? Nothing less than using refugee flows toward the European Union as a tool to coerce the political support of Berlin and Brussels for Ankara’s agenda in Syria. Mainly with NATO’s involvement in the Aegean Sea, [Turkey] is trying to coerce solidarity for a confrontation with Russia — so more “warm” episodes are no longer out of the question.

Erdogan overestimated his power, and devised a national agenda for the Middle East unaware of the fact that Washington and Moscow retain the last word in the region. The first people to receive this message were the prime ministers of Britain and France, Sir Antony Eden and Guy Mollet, respectively. They hurriedly withdrew their forces, which had invaded Suez, after receiving severe political messages from Nikita Khrushchev and Eisenhower.

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