Turkey is bombing Kobanê
Last weekend a bomb exploded in central Istanbul. This weekend, like night follows day, Turkish planes began to rain bombs on Kurdish towns and villages in Syria and also in Iraq.
Turkey has called it ‘payback time’ for the Istanbul bomb, which they insist was instigated by the People’s Protection Units (YPG) in Syria and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) – Turkey refuses to distinguish between the two. Turkey’s narrative about that bombing falls apart under the slightest scrutiny. It is riddled with contradictions and defies logic. But that doesn’t seem to matter. One can only come to the sad conclusion that, for the men and women who set the course of international politics, it is enough to have a fig leaf with which to mask Turkey’s blatant aggression. They do not want to ask too many inconvenient questions, just as they do not want to investigate those awkward allegations of Turkish use of chemical weapons.
There is none so blind as those who will not see. But if our political leaders are not inclined to look, then, as always, it is up to us to make sure that they cannot turn away. They will need to discover that every concession they make to Turkey will cost them support at home.
For a start, we need to analyse and publicise the reality behind that bomb attack.
In any crime the first question must be, who benefits. The YPG and PKK not only have nothing to gain by such an action, they have everything to lose – as Turkey is now demonstrating. And bombing a civilian target is not what either organisation does. The YPG is a central part of the defence forces of the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria. They defended the region against ISIS and have also had to defend it against Turkish attacks, but they have always been very careful to demonstrate that they pose no threat to Turkey itself. The PKK also acts as an army and is signed up to the Geneva Conventions. They, too, do not attack civilian targets. They are campaigning hard to be removed from international terrorism lists – where they have been placed on Turkey’s insistence – and the last thing they want is to be linked to such an attack.
The clear beneficiaries of the Istanbul bomb – or, more specifically, of an Istanbul bomb that can be blamed on the Kurds – are the Turkish Government and the Islamist militant groups with which they work. Both have a motive, and both also have a history of similar actions.
President Erdoğan has publicly announced his ambition to invade and control a 20-mile strip along the entire Syrian and Iraqi border. He has even brandished a map and boasted about plans to deport Syrian refugees into the occupied area. He has already invaded northern Syria three times, but his plan for a further full-scale invasion was blocked by the United States and Russia, who control the airspace. He wants an excuse to remove that blockage.
But this is not just about territorial gains and neo-Ottoman dreams. Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) have been haemorrhaging support from a population that is struggling to make ends meet. It is common knowledge that they are looking for an excuse to rally Turks around their aggressive popular nationalism ahead of next year’s presidential and general elections. What could serve them better than an attack on the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria framed as an attack on Kurdish ‘terrorism’, and especially an attack on the symbolic city of Kobanê, which turned the tide against ISIS? Such an attack provides a further hammer with which to batter the pro-Kurdish leftist Peoples’ Democratic Party, while other ‘opposition’ parties can be side-lined as they fall into line behind the Government.
This analysis is based on Turkey’s political history. That history includes blaming the PKK for actions carried out by others, such as the 2016 ISIS bombing in Diyarbakir; suspicious pre-election bombings, such as the Ankara peace rally bombing in October 2015, when a European Union intelligence report noted that ‘there is reason to believe that in this case, forces within the AKP commissioned the Da’esh operatives’; and a pattern of invasions into northern Syria preceding every Turkish election. They invaded Jarablus in 2017, Afrîn in 2018, and Serêkanyê-Girê Spî in 2019. So far, the latest air attacks have not been accompanied by action on the ground, but they have caused many casualties. The deaths have been reported of 11 civilians, one SDF fighter, and 15 soldiers from Assad’s Syrian Arab Army, and many more have suffered injuries. And the impact of living under the threat of imminent attack cannot be overestimated – not least the impact on regional security and the fight against ISIS.
We don’t, of course know how far Turkey plans to go, but we do know that every time international leaders and organisations look the other way, Turkey is encouraged in its aggression.