The Kurds and ISIS: Will NATO correct the election results in Turkey?

In the latest general elections in Turkey, early June, the AKP of president Erdogan suffered an unexpected defeat as a consequence of the breakthrough of the pro-Kurdish HDP. Although the AKP is still by far the largest party, the series of election victories that began in 2002 has been interrupted. And that at a juncture when Erdogan and his party had hoped for an absolute majority in parliament to push through a constitutional change reinforcing the powers of the presidency. As a result of the HDP breakthrough and the stable returns of the established opposition (CHP and MHP) that project has been blocked. 

Yet now, almost two months later, the Turkish armed forces have begun operations against ISIS—and against the Kurdish PKK. Also, Erdogan has called a North Atlantic Council for Tuesday the 28th, invoking Article 4 of the NATO Treaty which among others deals with the territorial integrity of a member state.

Like all other miseries in the contemporary Middle East this crisis too follows from the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq in 2003 (supported also by the Netherlands)—if we disregard the continuing Israeli occupation of the territories conquered in 1967.

The collapse of Iraq as a state and an organised society opened the doors to a disintegration of the country. The Kurds in the north enjoyed the support of the Americans and thanks to oil income of their own, a zone of relative stability was able to develop here. This had economic advantages for Turkey but on the other hand also harboured certain dangers because the PKK, whilst connected most intimately with the Syrian Kurds, also has bases in the mountains of north Iraq.

Meanwhile the collapse of state authority in Iraq and large parts of Syria has led to the formation of the Islamic State, ISIS, the out-of-control result of decades of collaboration between the United States and Saudi Arabia. From the late 1970s, beginning in Afghanistan, the CIA and the secret services of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan (both bulwarks of Muslim fundamentalism) laid the foundations of an extended network of fighting units and sources of finance out of which emerged, first, al-Qaeda, and later, ISIS. Even after September 11, 2001, these relations were kept hidden from the broader public, because both al-Qaeda and later ISIS retained their value for undermining the Assad dynasty in Syria and other opponents of the West (and of Israel).

After Ankara for years had opened its borders for jihadists of both al-Qaeda (in Syria, al-Nusra) and ISIS, the conflict recently wafted over to Turkey itself. In addition the beheadings and other cruelties committed by ISIS (which at the end of the day we find more gruesome than the killing of civilians by American drones) a hesitant warfare against the ‘Caliphate’ has begun. And since a few weeks the Americans, who supposedly are leading the bombing of ISIS targets (which of course inevitably make victims among the civilian population too) have permission to use their basis at Inçirlik in southern Turkey for these attacks. That base is also being ‘defended’ by German and Dutch Patriot ground-to-air missiles which, at great cost, have been deployed there since early 2013, when an Anglo-American intervention in Syria was still an option.

Following a bloody suicide bombing in the Turkish border region Ankara has finally joined the anti-ISIS front—in name, that is. Because in exchange for the use of Inçirlik by the Americans, Turkey obtained a licence from Washington to attack the Kurds as well and this has led to a flaring up of the conflict in the southeast of Turkey and across its borders. And for the Turks, the Kurds are a much greater threat than ISIS. According to Patrick Cockburn in The Independent this has been noticeable already in a hardening of the authoritarian policies of Ankara against both the Kurds and the Alevi sect (like Assad’s Alawites, closely affiliated to the Shi’ites). One of the possible backgrounds of the rapid deterioration of the situation in Turkey (both politically and economically) is the prospect of new elections later this year because so far no new government has been formed. Exploiting a nationalist mood of ‘anti-terrorist’ warfare against both the Kurds and the jihadists, Erdogan would then be able to achieve the victory which now has eluded him. Whatever happens, the Middle East appears doomed to sink deeper into a war without end, because the Kurds, especially the Syrian ones, were making headway against ISIS but they will not abandon their brothers in the PKK.

It would be an illusion, after so many blunders post-2003, to expect wisdom from the NATO Council. From the Netherlands, which both in the Middle East and on the Russian borders has systematically opted for the policy of increasing tension and war, such wisdom can be expected least of all.

Kees van der Pijl

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