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Kurds’ Ascendance With West Further Isolates Turkey

  • Dorian Jones

Kurds celebrating success at driving out Islamic State militants from Kobani, hold a photo of a fighter killed in the conflict, near the Turkish-Syrian border at Suruc, Jan. 27, 2015.

Kurds celebrating success at driving out Islamic State militants from Kobani, hold a photo of a fighter killed in the conflict, near the Turkish-Syrian border at Suruc, Jan. 27, 2015.

French President Francois Hollande's hosting this month of the leading members of the Syrian Kurdish group, Democratic Union Party (PYD), is regarded as further evidence Turkey is becoming increasingly isolated and outmaneuvered by its Kurdish rivals.

Fresh from defeating Islamic State forces in the Syrian Kurdish city of Kobani, leading members from PYD and its military wing were invited by Hollande to the Elysee Palace.

Despite the fact that Ankara considers the PYD a terrorist organization, Paris made little effort to keep the meeting discreet, issuing photos of the French president talking with the Kurdish leaders, some of whom were dressed in military fatigues.

Semih Idiz, a diplomatic columnist for the Turkish newspaper Taraf and Al Monitor website, said the Paris meeting has powerful symbolic importance.

“It legitimizes the PYD at a time when Turkey wants to see it officially as just another branch of the PKK," said Idiz. "Hollande accepting them is the latest development. PYD officials have been in contact -- even their leader has been in contact -- with Western governments.

"I think the PYD have elevated themselves to a point where it is seen as a potential ally. So it’s very significant but it is also indicative how out of tune Turkey’s foreign policy is at the moment to what is happening in the region,” said Idiz.

Many Kurds, both in Turkey and Syria, accuse the Turkish government of providing indirect -- if not direct -- support to IS forces fighting in Kobani, a charge it strongly denies.

Risking international isolation

Political scientist Cengiz Aktar of Istanbul’s Suleyman Shah University said Ankara is ready to risk international isolation because of the threat it sees from Kobani and wider Syria Kurdistan.

“Kurds won in Kobani against the wishes of the Turkish government. Because of Kobani, Rojava in general, Syrian Kurdistan is a laboratory, a test case for the autonomy which is also an aim by the Turkish Kurds,” he said.

Ankara continues to refuse to allow its key military airbase of Incirlik, located close to the Syrian border, to be used by U.S. planes in its battle against IS.

Analysts say Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has publicly called for regime change in Syria, and tried to use access to Incirlik as a bargaining chip to prod the Obama administration into agreeing to a larger assault against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Washington, however, is reluctant to make such a move.

Amid the impasse, Iraqi Kurds in Iraqi Kurdistan have lobbied for the U.S. to build a base on its territory. Columnist Idiz said such a move, if it were to happen, could have far-reaching consequences.

“It would signify that they have more or less decided that when push comes to shove that Turkey cannot be relied on in terms of the facilities it provides. This is obviously part of the debate that is going on now in terms of the operations against ISIS.

But don't forget Turkey in 2003 also refused to allow Americans to engage in operations for invading Iraq over Turkey. So I think the symbolizing if this development if it comes to pass will be very significant in terms of relations with America and also in terms of its position in NATO.”

Erdogan falters

This month, Erdogan acknowledged the poor state of relations with the United States and Turkey's wider diplomatic isolation, but insisted Turkey’s principled stance will be eventually vindicated and is supported by people across the region.

Political columnist Asli Aydintasbas of Turkey’s Milliyet newspaper said Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu is concerned about the country’s isolation.

“If AKP wins the next election, Davutoglu wants to do certain things in a different way. He wants to bring back Turkey’s lost prestige; he wants at least to gain prestige at least in the international arena,” said Aydintasbas.

With the president widely seen as having the real power in Turkish politics, any change in foreign policy will be difficult for Davutoglu.

Analysts warn that if Turkey’s relations with its Western allies continue to deteriorate, that can only strengthen the position of the region’s Kurdish movements.

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