How U.S. Support for the YPG Benefits Turkey’s Erdogan

Of the many issues that divide the US and Turkey, Washington’s support for the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in Syria is the most painful. The YPG forms the core of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and is linked to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a group designated by the United States as a terrorist organization and which has been fighting the Turkish government for decades. . YPG’s origins date back to 2011. When Syrian President Bashar al-Assad began using military force against Syrians protesting his regime, the PKK helped the Syrian Kurds create a fighting force to protect Kurdish areas of the country.

Turks are rightfully angry at US policy, but because most of them live in a pro-government media bubble, they lack critical context. In 2014, the United States asked Turkey for help in the fight against the Islamic State, but Ankara’s leaders made it clear that their main security concern was the threat of Kurdish nationalism and terrorism. This led Washington to make common cause with the YPG in the fight against then-leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s terrorist army. Since then, the United States has sought to balance its commitment to Turkey, a NATO ally, and its Syrian Kurdish partners, despite the former regularly attacking the latter.

The most recent flare-up of Turkish airstrikes, drone strikes and artillery barrages on the YPG, as well as threats of a possible ground invasion of Syria, comes after a November 13 terrorist attack in Istanbul that killed at least six people. and at least 81 people were injured. Minister of Internal Affairs of Turkey Suleiman Soylu Both the YPG and Washington were immediately blamed for the bloodshed, although YPG and PKK leaders denied involvement. The White House strongly condemned the “act of violence” and said. “We stand shoulder to shoulder with our NATO ally. [Turkey] in the fight against terrorism”. A day later, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan thanked the United States and several other countries for their condolences, but did little to address Soylu’s comment that the White House’s expressions of sympathy for Turkey were like “the killer showing first.” at the scene of the crime.”

Of the many issues that divide the US and Turkey, Washington’s support for the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in Syria is the most painful. The YPG forms the core of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and is linked to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a group designated by the United States as a terrorist organization and which has been fighting the Turkish government for decades. . YPG’s origins date back to 2011. When Syrian President Bashar al-Assad began using military force against Syrians protesting his regime, the PKK helped the Syrian Kurds create a fighting force to protect Kurdish areas of the country.

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Turks are rightfully angry at US policy, but because most of them live in a pro-government media bubble, they lack critical context. In 2014, the United States asked Turkey for help in the fight against the Islamic State, but Ankara’s leaders made it clear that their main security concern was the threat of Kurdish nationalism and terrorism. This led Washington to make common cause with the YPG in the fight against then-leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s terrorist army. Since then, the United States has sought to balance its commitment to Turkey, a NATO ally, and its Syrian Kurdish partners, despite the former regularly attacking the latter.

The most recent flare-up of Turkish airstrikes, drone strikes and artillery barrages on the YPG, as well as threats of a possible ground invasion of Syria, comes after a November 13 terrorist attack in Istanbul that killed at least six people. and at least 81 people were injured. Minister of Internal Affairs of Turkey Suleiman Soylu Both the YPG and Washington were immediately blamed for the bloodshed, although YPG and PKK leaders denied involvement. The White House strongly condemned the “act of violence” and said. “We stand shoulder to shoulder with our NATO ally. [Turkey] in the fight against terrorism”. A day later, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan thanked the United States and several other countries for their condolences, but did little to address Soylu’s comment that the White House’s expressions of sympathy for Turkey were like “the killer showing first.” at the scene of the crime.”

Observers can infer from the ferocity of Turkey’s recent military operations, Ankara’s threat of a ground campaign, and Soylu’s efforts to embarrass Washington that Ankara is trying to alienate the US from its YPG partners. Turkish officials have long demanded that Washington prove itself a good ally, arguing that Ankara would be better placed to deal with the Islamic State than the SDF.

But does Erdogan really want the US to choose between Turkey and its Syrian Kurdish friends? It is unlikely. Washington’s relationship with the YPG is an extremely good foil for Erdogan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), especially as the country’s 2023 general elections approach.

The idea that the Turkish leadership is not unduly concerned about US ties to the YPG is provocative, but makes sense given the domestic political logic of US-Turkey-Syrian Kurdish relations. The current violence in northern Syria takes place in a unique context shaped by the nearly 40-year war between Turkey and the PKK. That conflict waxed and waned over the decades, which should make one thing clear. it has no military solution. Erdogan realized this fact when he started negotiations with the PKK in 2013.

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It is also important to recognize that the group and its YPG affiliate do not pose an existential threat to Turkey, although Turks fear that the emergence of an autonomous Kurdish zone or even a Kurdish state in Syria could threaten their country’s security. There is no doubt that Kurdish terrorists are responsible for much of the bloodshed, but the worry that this violence could lead to the dismemberment of Turkey is overblown. The country and its society are strong and vibrant. Its security and sovereignty are not in doubt. Overall, more Turks have suffered recently as a result of Erdogan’s economic mismanagement than the PKK and YPG.

Note also that Turkey’s military operations in Syria are taking place at a time when the Turkish leader and the AKP are relatively weak politically. It is futile to predict the outcome of the election months before anyone votes, but there is evidence that Erdogan and the AKP preferred their reception to large numbers of Turkish voters. Therefore, the head of Turkey has started to pull as many levers as possible in order to put himself in a better position in 2023. advantage.

There is a precedent for how the Turkish authorities play violence politically. In 2015, after Erdogan forced a new round of general elections because the AKP failed to win a parliamentary majority, a series of bombings killed around 130 people in Turkey. Erdogan took full advantage of the violence, attacking the Kurdish-led People’s Democratic Party (HDP), which advocates Kurdish rights in a more democratic political system, as the PKK’s stalking horse. The campaign against the HDP weakened its vote in November’s parliamentary elections to the extent that the AKP regained its leadership position in the Grand National Assembly. Of course, Erdogan was neither the first nor the last politician to leverage terrorism and the legitimate fear of it for political gain, which is why he should not be dismissed hastily after the latest bombing.

The very fact that the United States has been coordinating with the YPG for almost a decade gives Erdogan an added incentive and opportunity to leverage violence for political gain. There is a huge reservoir of anti-Americanism in Turkey that runs deep. Does anyone believe that Syrian citizen Ahlam Albashir, who is accused of the November 13 terrorist attacks in Istanbul, actually wore a garment? purple sweatshirt with the words “New York” emblazoned on it when he was captured. It seems more likely that Soylu and his henchmen dressed him (and handcuffs) before taking the photo to drive home their point that the United States is responsible for Turkish blood.

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Soylu’s behavior should not shock and surprise anyone. Turkey’s leaders spend more time attacking the US than defending their relationship with Washington. That is their right, but they conveniently forget to remind the Turks that the United States designated the PKK a terrorist organization in 1997 and then spent diplomatic energy persuading its European allies to do the same. They also address the US role in Kenya’s 1999 arrest of former KPC leader Abdullah Ocalan. The deployment of US nuclear weapons at Turkey’s Incirlik Air Base as a symbol of Washington’s commitment to Turkish security during the Cold War. After what politicians in Ankara also tend to admit publicly. Instead, they have created a political environment where it has become commonplace for Turks to believe that the US was behind the 2016 coup attempt.

Of course, Washington made its own mistakes. When the PKK broke a unilateral ceasefire in 2004, it targeted Turkish troops from US-occupied Iraq. However, there is no moral equivalence. Turkey’s compromised security was the result of US stupidity, while Turkish officials appear to be engaged in a cynical and malicious political enterprise.

Despite Turkish fury, Erdogan’s political interests will not be well served if the United States withdraws from the YPG. All the motives of the Turkish leader are directed towards the Syrian Kurdish conflict, for which Washington can be blamed. No one in Ankara seems to care that YPG/SDF fighters should turn their attention to defending the Islamic State, prompting at least one prominent American commentator to wonder about Turkey’s quality as an ally. It mirrors the questions Turkish columnists and officials are asking about the United States.

Amid all the accusations, however, the status quo suits Washington and Ankara just fine. The US won’t choose between the YPG and Turkey because US officials want someone to go after the Islamic State and can’t be sure the Turks will. Otherwise, Erdogan doesn’t want the US to make a choice because Washington’s relationship with Syria’s Kurds is too juicy a political target to willingly give up.

The next time people in Washington bemoan the state of US-Turkey relations, dismiss it. The current train wreck in bilateral relations actually serves everyone’s interests.



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