Syria, Turkey, and Turkey’s future

April 12, 2016
Imran Khushal


According to the Global Peace Index report, Syria is the most dangerous country in the world and Turkey is the most dangerous country among the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) countries. There are so many states and non-state actors fighting in Syria for many reasons. Turkey shares its longest common border with Syria which was established after World War I when the Ottoman Empire was partitioned. And it is also one of the states which are fighting in Syria, against Syria and in a way against NATO which means against itself. Yes, it’s complicated.


Syria and Turkey had tense relations because of many historical reasons which include self-annexation of the Hatay Province, water disputes and Syria’s support of Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) which was founded in 1978 by Abdullah Öcalan and it is at war with the Turkish state since 1984 to seek an independent state for the Kurds; Kurdistan. For more than a decade the PKK was operating from Syria but when in 1998 Turkey threatened Syria to go to war over PKK presence, Abdullah Öcalan was expelled from Syria. After this, for a while, it looked that things will go friendly between Syria and Turkey but then emerged the Democratic Union Party (PYD) in 2003 in Syria which Turkey called a political branch of the blacklisted PKK.


PYD with Kurdish National Council (KNC) founded Kurdish Supreme Committee to govern Syrian Kurdistan in 2012 and this is the part where comes the People’s Protection Units which are commonly called as YPG. Why is YPG the most important fighting force in Syria? Because according to BBC for the US and EU, YPG is the most effective ally in the fight against Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant; commonly known as ISIL, or ISIS, or IS. Now, YPG is aligned to PYD which Turkey maintains is linked with PKK which is at war with the Turkish state. To fight PKK Turkey attacked YPG in Syria which according to Kurds helped ISIL attacking Kurdish-held frontlines areas in Iraq and Syria.

Considering YPG a real resistance against ISIL it could be said that if Turkey keeps attacking the Kurds in Syria to defeat PKK and YPG it will strengthen ISIL which will be a defeat to NATO and Turkey itself. If Turkey does not attack YPG, which is very unlikely, then YPG would become more powerful and maybe the only real force against ISIL which means it could help PKK in seeking Kurdistan in Turkey in far future. For Turkey, there is no easy fix. If it keeps attacking YPG it might lose the NATO membership by annoying the US and EU led forces in Syria. If it doesn’t it might lose a considerable territory.


There is another dimension to it. The Russian involvement in the Syrian crisis and growing hostility between Russia and Turkey has made Turkey vulnerable.  If the US and Russia are still two camps as many believe they are then Turkey has already lost the chance of getting along with the Russian camp. This means that there is no winning for Turkey in any case. All indicators are predicting a more troubled and dangerous days for Turkey to come.