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Turkey's Kurds Warn Ankara's Syria Policy Threatens Peace Process

A Turkish soldier watches the Turkish-Syrian border near the southeastern town of Suruc, Sept. 24, 2014.
A Turkish soldier watches the Turkish-Syrian border near the southeastern town of Suruc, Sept. 24, 2014.

The head of the military wing of Turkey's Kurdistan Workers' Party has warned the peace process with Ankara is finished due to its policy towards the Syrian-Kurdish enclave. The enclave is on the verge of being over run by Islamic State forces and the Syrian city of Kobani is surrounded.

There have been frequent clashes along Turkey’s border with Syria between Turkish security forces and Kurds living in Turkey wanting to go to Syria to fight the so-called Islamic State militants.

The militants are laying siege to Kobani, the main Syrian city in the predominantly Kurdish region just a few kilometers from Turkey's border.

Kurds from across the region have been striving for centuries for their own homeland or greater autonomy. In Turkey, the Kurdistan Workers' Party, known as the PKK, has fought for three decades against Ankara for autonomy. Currently, a tentative peace process exists.

Ankara says the Syrian Kurdish enclave is under the control of the PKK, which much of the international community designates a terrorist organization.

The leader of Turkey’s pro-Kurdish People’s Democracy Party, Selahattin Demirtas, accused the Turkish government of directly supporting the Islamic militants and called for Kurds to go and fight to defend Kobani.

Pro-Kurdish social media is full of reports of Islamic fighters receiving treatment in Turkish hospitals and logistic support including heavy arms. Unverified video of a trainload of Turkish tanks and arms being sent to the Islamic militants, allegedly in exchange for the release earlier this month of 46 Turkish hostages, is also circulating in pro-Kurdish media.

All these claims are vehemently denied by Ankara. But the head of the military wing of the PKK, Murat Karayilan, warns the peace process with Ankara is in grave danger.

Karayilan said Turkey cannot deceive the Kurds again. He said the situation will be assessed by the PKK leader and commander, but for the military wing, the "so-called" peace process has no more meaning. Karayilan said with the conflict in Kobani, Turkey’s role has become clear.

Earlier this week, that PKK leader, the imprisoned Abdullah Ocalan, called for a mass mobilization of all Kurds against the Islamic State militant group.

Kurdish expert Cengiz Aktar of Istanbul’s Suleyman Sah University, says the fate of the Syrian Kurdish region is of crucial importance to Kurds in Turkey. He says "Turkish Kurds and Syrian Kurds are siblings, and they are very, very close."

"And the Turkish Kurds will never let the Syrian Kurdish areas fall into the hands of the ISIL," he added. "Because the Kurds in the region, be it Turkish Kurds or Syrian Kurds, are actually ... practicing the autonomy, that the Turkish Kurds have been fighting for, since years already, in Syria. And Ankara does not like that."

But even if Kobani falls, analysts say it would not necessarily mean a resumption in fighting between the PKK and the Turkish state.

Political columnist Soli Ozel of Haber Turk newspaper says leaders on both sides still have interests in keeping the peace. But he warns of the reaction of Turkey’s Kurdish minority, most of whom live in the southeast of the country that borders Syria.

"They have been withstanding the assaults of ISIS and others for almost two years with no help from Turkey, and indeed with Turkey at least giving tacit support to their opponents," he said. " ... If Rojava falls I really wonder what will happen in the southeast of Turkey."

In the past few days, thousands of Kurds in Turkey have protested in support of Syrian Kurds. The protests remained peaceful even as they demonstrated the anger and strength of the Kurdish movement. But observers warn if the militants prevail against the Syrian Kurds, the repercussions could be felt for many years in Turkey.