Turkey’s Syria policy frst and
foremost sought to ensure theterritorial integrity of the country.
Did Turkey Fail to Take Note of theKurdish Dimension its Syria Policy?
From the perspective o critics in the nationalist circles andthe opposition parties, the government simply stood by while a Kurdish state was in the making in the region. Intheir view, the recent developments were yet more evidenceor the myopic nature o the government’s Middle East poli-cies. While ocusing its attention on the removal o Assadrom power, urkey had arguably ailed to anticipate theunolding situation in Syria’s north and watched the PYDexpand its grip in the region. urkey’s coordination o itspolicies with Barzani also misled it, and as a result o thisneglect, the PYD is now perectly positioned to declareautonomy, i not independence, in areas under its control inthe event o a civil war or end to the regime.It is true that urkish leaders did not declare that the likely developments in the Kurdish populated areas in Syriaposed a risk to urkey. Nonetheless, it hardly means thatsuch calculations did not gure out in the ormulation o Ankara’s Syria policy. For some time, the urkish govern-ment had warned that Assad might be giving ree hand tothe PKK to inict harm on urkey in retaliation or Anka-ra’s sheltering o the Syrian opposition. More importantly,building on the lessons learned rom Iraq, urkey’s Syriapolicy rst and oremost sought to ensure the territorialintegrity o the country, as the best antidote to disintegra-tion and all the security externalities that come with it.Similarly, urkey wanted the Syrian National Council tohave broad based participation, reecting the ethnic andreligiously diverse structure o Syrian society, and workedto integrate the Kurds into its ranks, though with limitedsuccess.Te repercussions o the Syrian uprising on the Kurdishquestion were always in the background as urkish leadersormulated their position on the Syrian conict. So ar, ithas been largely overshadowed by the idealistic manner inwhich urkey’s Syria policy has been couched, i.e., in termso a moral duty to support a neighboring people’s ghtagainst an oppressive government. But urkey’s proactivepolicy in Syria was grounded in something more than theethical purism implied by its leaders’ rhetoric. Te recentevents related to the Kurds highlight clearly how there is astrong
angle in urkey’s deep interest in Syrianaairs. Ironically, the Kurdish dimension could help thegovernment oer a pragmatic justication or its proactiveapproach, especially at a time it is criticized or pursuing“a blindly idealistic” policy in Syria. But to the extent thatit does so, it comes under criticism rom a rather dierentquarter.
Will Turkey Adopt a Security-Oriented Approachto Kurdish Demands?
In an opposite direction, liberal commentators raiseconcerns about the government’s potential drif towardsa security-centric approach to the demands o Kurds, andAnkara’s readiness to interere with Syrian internal aairs inpursuit o its interests. Te initial reactions by some govern-ment ocials appeared to be lending credence to sucharguments.In his reaction to the developments, Prime Minister Recepayyip Erdoğan seemed to have reected the same alarmistspirit as his nationalist critics. Following a security summitwhere he discussed the developments with top bureaucrats,Erdoğan, though noting that urkey’s major concern is thePKK, threatened to intervene when necessary to thwart any inringement on urkey’s security that might be posed by the developments in Syria. He also called Barzani’s state-ment about training Syrian Kurds ugly and invited him toavoid undermining mutual trust.Erdoğan was obviously seeking to dispel concerns aboutthe security implications o another sel-governing Kurdishentity on urkey’s southern borders. Following the downingo a urkish jet, he was seeking to erase any image o weak-ness about his oreign policy, as well as sending clear signalsto Barzani that he should avoid testing urkey’s limits. Buthis initial reaction led some liberal commentators to main-tain that the government might revert to the old security-centered approach, whereby Ankara would view any gains