Turkish Army’s Extraterritorial Operations and Regional Security

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Elyas Vahedi
Expert on Turkey and Caucasus Affairs

Following Turkey’s parliamentary elections in 2015 as a result of which the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) won 80 parliamentary seats, analysts believed that Turkey’s Kurdish groups will finally give up armed struggle (mountain-dwelling method) as a means of claiming their rights to use political and civil means (urban method) in order to realize those rights. However, the beginning of new military operations by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) – which are said to be aimed at stalling certain developmental projects in Kurdish regions of Turkey, including construction of police stations, roads and dams – and subsequent intervention by the Turkey’s army, put a practical end to the cease-fire that existed between the two sides. Without a doubt, the main loser of this crisis will be Kurdish elites and politicians, especially the HDP which sacrificed its future political outlook for warmongering groups that dwell the Qandil Mountains by refraining to distance from PKK.

Under present circumstances, when the Turkish army is conducting various operations in different Kurdish cities, it was clear that similar to not-so-distant years, the army would attack PKK’s positions in northern parts of Iraq, which constitute the main base for PKK’s command and support operations. The ongoing attacks on northern Iraq by the Turkish army can be construed along this line because by carrying out these operations, the Turkish military is actually trying to reduce the fire power of PKK. Of course, the situation is now more complicated than previous years because the Turkish army is also engaged in military operations in northern Syria. However, the main motive behind Turkish government’s extraterritorial operations is to fight PKK and restore security to Kurdish regions at a time that the outlook for the establishment of a new cabinet in Turkey is not clear yet and dawdling by the government and the army in this regard may lead to major and uncontrollable unrest in the country.

As to the extent of Turkey’s success in its extraterritorial operations compared to previous years, one may say that at this juncture, the government of the United States, most European states, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and the local Kurdish government in northern Iraq (headed by Massoud Barzani’s group) have lent their relative or absolute support to the operations of the Turkish military. Therefore, compared to previous operations that were carried out in the northern parts of Iraq, which were usually opposed by the aforesaid parties, Turkey has now more foreign and international support for its ongoing operations.

However, there are many complicated aspects to the current operations by the Turkish army in northern part of Syria, which are allegedly being carried out to fight ISIS terrorist group. If the Turkish government had announced fighting off the threat of ISIS and preventing it from getting close to Turkey’s border as the main goals of its operations in northern Syria, perhaps it could have availed itself of the backing of some countries that are supportive of the government of Syria. In this case, even the government of Syria might have not opposed Turkey’s operations, or would have at least taken a milder position on those operations similar to the position adopted by the Iraqi government on Turkey’s military operations in northern Iraq. However, announcing the overthrow of the Syrian government as a goal for Turkey and the plan to create a buffer zone inside the Syrian territory have made the situation more complicated for the government in Ankara because in this case, Turkey has to face the opposition or at least criticism of the Islamic Republic of Iran as the main supporter of the Syrian government, and this is why Iranian officials have been already criticizing Turkey’s policy in Syria.

It seems that the two countries of Iran and Turkey, as two major and determining powers in the Middle East, need mutual understanding of each other’s interests and spheres of influence more than any time before. Turkey must come to grips with the reality that, at present, ISIS and Israel’s policies are the most important threats to the entire region and even the overthrow of the Syrian government would be to the detriment of Turkey and other regional countries, if it takes place before the annihilation of ISIS. Iran, on the other hand, must reach the conclusion that all policies adopted by Turkey do not lead to chaos in the region and the operations carried out by the Turkish army against PKK are not a war against Kurds in general. Perhaps, under the existing circumstances, serious and effective cooperation between Iran and Turkey over the issues of Syria and Iraq would seem difficult, but coordinated measures by Tehran and Ankara in these crisis-hit countries is the sole solution for the establishment of stability and security across the region.

Key Words: Turkey, Operations, Regional Security, ISIS, Israel, Iran, Middle East, Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), NATO, EU, Vahedi

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*Photo Credit: New York Times

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