Turkey, You’re Up to Bat

Turkey, Kurds, the EU, and a Major "It's Complicated" Label

NorthWest Wing | Cody Shallow | March 23, 2016

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Ahmet Davutoglu, Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs, at the London Conference on Libya, 29 March 2011 | Credit: Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Flickr
Ahmet Davutoglu, Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs, at the London Conference on Libya, 29 March 2011 | Credit: Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Flickr

On the 14th of March, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu of Turkey blamed the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) for a bombing that took place in Ankara the day prior. The attack was responsible for 37 civilian deaths and many more injuries, and 11 people thus far have been detained in connection.

In the past five months, the Turks have endured numerous violent attacks supposedly perpetrated by the PKK in central Ankara. Prior to the first attack in October 2015, Turks had been in conflict with Kurds for decades, though the violence has previously always remained in Kurdish areas and confined to Kurdish and Turkish fighters. With violence becoming increasingly more terroristic, Turkey must begin to resolve the conflict one way or another to if they wish to restore their image as a safe tourist destination while working towards becoming a politically stable country. At a time when Turkey’s security begins to crumble, the help of the West could help stabilize Turkey and open connections between Europe and Asia.

Pro-Kurdish demonstrators carry flags showing Abdullah Ocalan, the jailed leader of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, as they protest against Turkish authorities during the spring festival of Newroz celebrations in downtown Hanover, March 19, 2016. Credit: REUTERS/Fabian Bimmer
Pro-Kurdish demonstrators carry flags showing Abdullah Ocalan, the jailed leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, as they protest against Turkish authorities during the spring festival of Newroz celebrations in downtown Hanover, March 19, 2016. Credit: REUTERS/Fabian Bimmer

The People’s Protection Units (YPG) had trained the suicide bomber, Seher Cagla Demir, to orchestrate the most recent incident. YPG is a Syrian-based militant Kurdish organization, for reference. Turkey’s continuing war with Kurdish rebels has sparked confusion amongst the heads of state in Europe and the United States. As an ethnic group responsible for terrorism yet a victim of minority oppression in the region, Kurds pose a challenging question to the western world: Is Turkey a terrorist sympathizer or simply a conflicting party in the fight against ISIS?

The lack of support from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization for the nation that contributes a large portion of military personnel to the organization (after the US) shows evident disconnect between Europe and Turkey, one that should be repaired if the West chooses to get involved in the conflict.

Inactivity from the West reflects long-standing tensions between the two regions. Aside from the conflict, Turkey has consistently denied the Armenian Genocide of the early 20th century amongst pressures from the European Parliament for Turkey to “come to terms with its past.” Turkey’s political instability since that time has both contributed to their denial philosophy.

“Would the United States treat any other ally like this?

In addition to these tensions, the war on ISIS has complicated relations between Turkey and the United States. The United States has recognized YPG as a crucial ally in the fight against the Islamic State while Turkey views the organization as an extension of PKK. As more attacks continue in Ankara and across Turkey, the United States enters a situation threatening good relations with the European Union. The indecisiveness demonstrated by the United States in this situation is enigmatic as foreign policy experts attempt to analyze how the nation should view Turkey.

Similarly, the context of this issue begs the question: Would the United States treat any other ally like this? Some may claim the reason for the indecisiveness is a growing sentiment of Islamophobia. While this may play a role, it is crucial to understand how the USA’s European allies have viewed and treated Turkey.

“…the worth of Turkey’s membership in these organizations will become the topic of debate.”

The EU and Turkey are currently negotiating Turkey’s accession bid to the union as debate stirs regarding political turmoil and economic instability. Despite the arguments, the West must decide whether Turkey is an ally or foe rather than ignoring a growing conflict. The United States specifically must avoid ruining strategies for fighting ISIS while recognizing the recurring terrorism of Kurdish militants in major Turkish cities.

Turkey is a current active member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization as well as negotiating for accession to the European Union, but if the nations comprising these two organizations cannot actively aid the nation in this conflict, the worth of Turkey’s membership in these organizations will become the topic of debate.