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Turkey Alarmed at Syrian Border Fighting

  • Dorian Jones

FILE - Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu

FILE - Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu

Turkey's foreign minister has voiced concern over the spillover of violence from the war in neighboring Syria and called again on the United Nations Security Council to act. The latest alarm stems from fighting near the border between Syrian Kurds and Islamist fighters of the al-Nusra Front. A pro-Kurdish party in Turkey says Ankara's support for Islamist rebels in Syria is a factor in the violence.

Turkey's pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party has accused the Turkish government of supporting the al-Nusra Front, an Islamist faction among the rebels battling to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The party's accusation follows the eruption of fighting between al-Nusra fighters and Syrian Kurds of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party, or PYD. Ankara says stray gunfire from that fighting killed two of its citizens in the Turkish border town of Ceylanpinar Tuesday.

Ertugrul Kurkcu, a parliamentary deputy for the BDP, suggests Turkey might have involvement behind the violence in the adjacent Syrian town of Ras al-Ain.

"It's obvious Turkey would be happy for a weaker Kurdish administration in Syria, therefore I think there is a tactical infringement in this new phase of clashes in [the] Syrian Kurdish area," Kurkcu said.

The PYD factor

The PYD controls a large swath of northeastern Syria bordering Turkey, after Syrian government forces withdrew last year. Ankara accuses the Syrian Kurdish party of being affiliated with the PKK, which has fought the Turkish state for greater Kurdish rights for three decades, although the two sides are now involved in tentative peace efforts.

Political observers say Turkish suspicions of the PYD have been heightened by a recent declaration that it was planning to declare autonomy in the areas of Syria it controls. However a senior Turkish diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, denied that Ankara was supporting al-Nusra and said the only support Turkey is giving is to the broad opposition Syrian National Coalition.

Diplomatic columnist Semih Idiz for the Turkish newspaper Taraf says such a denial is questionable, especially in the light of the latest clashes.

"Ankara made a statement saying it's premature to criticize this group [al-Nusra]. It suggested this group was one of the most effective groups, so it's not unlikely they might be getting support. Now whether this support is in the form of weapons that I don't know, but it could be logistic support," Idiz said. "There are already rumors that fighters in this latest incident were brought into hospitals in Turkey. In fact the locals reacted angrily to this."

Turkish forces have strengthened their presence on the Syrian border near where the fighting was taking place.

Call for intervention

Late Wednesday, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu voiced alarm at the situation and reiterated his call for international intervention. He said it shows the extent to which the crisis in Syria can affect Turkish citizens and Turkey, and that this is the moment for the U.N. Security Council to act.

But observers say any intervention by the U.N. is unlikely.

Sinan Ulgen, head of the Istanbul-based research institute Edam, says the clashes between al-Nusra and the Syrian Kurds could get worse.

"It can certainly unravel in a more significant way, essentially because there is a power vacuum and there is no willingness from the outside actors to intervene and to establish limits," Ulgen said. "There is a definitively a scenario where we would see these kind of situations unfolding in a bigger way."

The Turkish government is said to be trying to come up with a new strategy to face the prospect of growing border instability stemming from the Syrian conflict. But analysts caution that because of Turkey's own large and restive Kurdish minority, any policy aimed at the Syrian Kurds will likely have domestic implications.
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