Turkey signs on to U.S. air war in Syria, gets green light to hit Kurds
BY EMMA JOHNSON
An Aug. 23 formal agreement between the Turkish and U.S. governments marks Ankara's decision to grant Washington access to the Incirlik air base and officially join Washington's bombing "coalition" attacks against Islamic State in Syria. In exchange, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan got Washington's backing to unleash a war on the Kurdish population in Turkey under the pretext of fighting terrorism.
Erdogan's goal is to create the political preconditions to thwart Kurdish aspirations for an independent Kurdistan, expand the executive powers of the presidency and strengthen the domination of his Justice and Development Party in November elections. Turkey's capitalist rulers and Washington share a common hatred for the Kurdish independence struggle.
Washington negotiated nine months to regain access to Incirlik, which was restricted since 2003. Sorties from Incirlik to Syria take 15 minutes, compared with three hours from the Arab-Persian Gulf.
Washington needs Turkey in the war against Islamic State for several reasons. Many of the oil sales that fund IS take place on Turkey's black market, and IS combatants and weapons flow freely across the border.
U.S. forces had already begun airstrikes out of Incirlik Aug. 5. Joint flights with Ankara will start soon, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said.
Washington's stated aim is to rid a 1,400-square-mile zone in northern Syria of Islamic State combatants. The Turkish government has made clear the zone must also be free of Kurdish fighters. This would prevent further advances westward by Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), who now control two-thirds of Syria's 560-mile border with Turkey and are the most effective force on the ground fighting Islamic State. Erdogan has said his government would "never allow" a Kurdish state in the north of Syria.
In June elections the Kurdish-based People's Democratic Party (HDP) passed the 10 percent threshold to enter Parliament, showing it had support beyond the Kurdish population. This robbed Erdogan's party of its governing majority and set back the president's moves to strengthen his grip on power. In response, Erdogan blocked the formation of any government coalition and pushed through a call for elections Nov. 1.
An outright war on the Kurds
Immediately after the initial deal with Washington was announced July 23, the Turkish government unleashed an outright war on the Kurdish people, under the pretext of fighting the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), branded terrorist both by Ankara and Washington. In addition to bombing areas in Iraqi Kurdistan and firing artillery on YPG forces in Syria, Erdogan set off a wave of repression against Kurds in Turkey, specifically targeting Kurdish areas in the southeast.
The Kurds, 30 million people in Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria, have been fighting national oppression and for a homeland for more than a century. In 1984, the PKK opened armed struggle against the Turkish government, which responded with brutal repression against the Kurdish population. Over the following decades tens of thousands were killed.
Bombings and other acts targeting civilians carried out by the Stalinist-trained leadership of the PKK have caused unnecessary casualties, weakening the Kurdish fight, and gave a series of Turkish regimes the pretext to attack the broader Kurdish population.
In 2013 Erdogan's government and the PKK reached a cease-fire agreement and in the period since, the struggle for Kurdish autonomy and national rights around culture, language, education and freeing of political prisoners made advances.
Since Erdogan canceled the cease-fire in late July, Kurdish areas have been under daily attack. Ankara declared a state of emergency in Kurdish districts across southeast Turkey and sent in special forces, supported by the army, to target civilians, bomb workplaces and set homes on fire. Towns and provinces have been sealed off and power and water supplies cut.
"Hundreds of people from both sides have lost their lives so far," Harun Ercan, international relations advisor with the HDP in Diyarbakir, Turkey, told the Militant by phone Sept. 2. "In addition to military operations, the Turkish government started to arrest both cadres and elected officials of our party two weeks ago. In reaction, people's assemblies started to demand local autonomy. The government responded by arresting mayors — so far seven."
Ercan said the PKK announced it will not retaliate against Turkish armed forces if they do not launch attacks on local people and PKK fighters.
"But today the prime minister sent a memo to all governors in the Kurdish region to continue the 'war on terror' policies in a more strict manner," he said. "The international community should be concerned about the November elections and to what extent the Kurdish people will be able to use their democratic rights."