Rodi Hevian: Turkey’s non-existing war on ISIS and its terror against the Kurds

An ISIS suicide bomber on July 20 targeted members of a youth movement holding a press conference about their planned trip to Kobane at Kurdish Cultural Center in Suruc

In 2014, in a leaked phone conversation, the head of Turkish Intelligence Service Hakan Fidan was telling Erdogan that he can send 4 of his men to Syria and order them to fire 7-8 rockets into Turkey in order to create ground for a Turkish invasion in war-torn country.

On July 23, Turkey claimed that an ISIS militant opened fire on a Turkish military patrol near the Syrian border, killing one Turkish sergeant and wounding four soldiers.

“Turkish soldiers returned fire after shots came from the Syrian side of the border, from the region where Islamic State militants are,” a Turkish official told Reuters, adding that, in line with rules of engagement, four tanks returned fire after being fired upon by the militants.

Turkish media later published photos showing an elderly dead man who Turkey claimed was an ISIS fighter.
However, Rami Abdulrahman, founder of the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights that tracks the conflict in Syria through a network of sources on the ground, gave a different account.
He said the clashes erupted when two Syrian civilians tried to cross into Turkey and the army opened fire, killing one of them.

Moreover, a former ISIS fighter revealed to Turkish daily Cumhuriyet that the targets Turkey struck on July 24 were empty as well, confirming the head of Observatory Rami Abdulrahman.

For the time being we don’t know whether the man, who fired on Turkish soldiers, was one of Fidan’s so-called men charged with extra duties at the border or a civilian smuggler that going about daily business in the region and trying to cross the border.

Turkey has so far killed dozens of unarmed Syrian Kurds while trying to enter into the Kurdish region of Turkey. But there is no single case that one of ISIS fighters had been targeted by the Turkish army over the last four years, who have been using Turkey as a logistical ground for their operations inside Syria.

Turkey, a country that watched the destruction of Kurdish town of Kobane by ISIS and the killing of 31 young university students in an ISIS suicide attack in the Kurdish town of Suruc without reaction, said July 24 that it retaliated to ISIS attacks on its armed forces by shelling ISIS positions along the border and bombing from the air.

Shortly after the world media broke the news about the Turkish involvement in the fight against ISIS and its agreement to open its Incirlik airbase to coalition jets, Turkey started dropping bombs on PKK bases in Iraqi Kurdistan instead of ISIS and raiding Kurdish towns and cities arresting hundreds of Kurds, terrorizing the whole region.

Limiting its action against its long-time ally ISIS terrorists to the bombings of two empty barracks near Jarablus and killing of one unarmed Syrian civilian, Turkey, on the other hand, has been striking Kurdish forces continuously since July 24.

Turkey even went on and targeted Kurdish forces, backed by the US-led coalition, fighting ISIS in northern Syria. Kurdish officials reported that Turkey had shelled some of its positions in western Kobane and near Tel Abyad.
Kurdistan Workers’ Party or PKK warned Turkey over its actions against Kurdish forces and retaliated in some areas in Kurdish region, killing one commander in Adiyaman, one commander in Agri, two soldiers in Diyarbakir, one Garrison commander in Malazgirt, one sergeant in Semdinli and one police officer in Diyarbakir and wounding dozens.
PKK’s response to Turkey’s aggression has been small scale so far. “If Turkey continues to escalate the ongoing situation further, the PKK will definitely step up its operations inside Turkey against Turkish armed forces,” said Duran Kalkan, one of the leading PKK officials.

The End of Peace Process

Turkey’s new war on Kurds seems to be the last nail in the coffin of the so-called Kurdish-Turkish peace process, which started in March 2013.

Turkish dictator Erdoğan said on July 28 it was impossible to continue the peace process with the Kurds and called on Turkish parliament to lift the immunity from prosecution of Kurdish politicians.

“It is not possible for us to continue the peace process with those who threaten our national unity and brotherhood,” Erdogan told reporters before leaving for an official visit to China.

Turkey’s PM Ahmet Davutoglu, a failure as a journalist and an appointee to the post by the dictator, told editors of pro-government newspapers during a dinner that Turkey’s new policy shift in the Middle East is a game changer.
In a telephone call with Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on Monday, German foreign minister Frank Steinmeier said talks between Ankara and the Kurdish rebels should not grind to a halt.

“The already complicated situation would thereby be made more difficult,” Steinmeier said. NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg seconded Steinmeier’s stance, also warning the Turkey’s bombing campaign could endanger progress which has been made with the PKK in the last years. “Force will never solve the conflict in the long term,” Stoltenberg said.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel also asked Turkish Prime Minister Davutoglu to press on with the Kurdish peace process, despite renewed clashes.

Contrary to John Kirby, the State Department Spokesperson, who justified Turkish attacks against the Kurds, U.S. Rep. Senator John McCain said in a statement that he is concerned about reports of Turkish forces shelling Kurdish villages inside Syria. “As the United States and Turkey enhance our cooperation against ISIS, we believe these mutual efforts will be most effective in collaboration with local forces on the ground, including the Kurds.

“With Turkey’s help, we urge the President to finally come up with a coordinated regional strategy to put an end to the war on the Syrian people being waged by ISIL and the Assad regime. Our ineffective approach to Syria and Iraq continues to allow mayhem and violence to spread across the region, putting our allies in greater danger and fostering the conditions for an attack on the United States.”

Another Rep. Mac Thornberry, the Chairman of House Armed Services, told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer that he was not happy at all with what Turkey is doing to the Kurds right now.

Betraying the Kurds

“Heroes one minute; a fair game for the massacre the next. In the long list of Western betrayals of former allies overseas, this one feels especially grotesque,” wrote Brendan O’Neil at UK’s daily Telegraph. “So for Washington to turn a blind eye to Turkish attacks on Kurdish positions in ISIL- threatened territory is not only immoral — it’s also really dumb, threatening to rupture links that the West has built up with certain Kurdish forces,” he said.

The Independent’s Middle East correspondent Robert Fisk argued that Turkey decided to strike at the PKK under cover of an anti-Isis bombardment. “The Americans were to be kept sweet by the reopening of Incirlik air base – in Turkish Kurdistan – and the world would forget that Islamist fighters have received free passage across the Turkish-Syrian border. Every regional power has betrayed the Kurds so Turkish bombing is no surprise,” Fisk wrote in his column.

Obama’s deputy envoy to the international coalition battling the Islamic State, Brett McGurk, however, sought to play down the Turkish airstrikes against the PKK.
“We look forward to intensifying cooperation with Turkey and all of our partners in the global fight against #ISIL,” McGurk wrote on Twitter on Saturday.

“There is no connection between these airstrikes against PKK and recent understandings to intensify US-Turkey cooperation against #ISIL,” he stated in another tweet.

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, an outspoken critic of Obama’s war strategy, voiced also alarm at reports that alleged Turkish forces had attacked Kurds.

Although there are contradicting accounts by the White House officials regarding their new deal with Erdogan’s Turkey, concerns and the comments above suggest that it is too early to name the US’ agreement with Turkey a betrayal to the Kurds.

Turkey’s non-existing war on ISIS

While voicing full solidarity with Turkey in its non-existing war against ISIS, NATO’s European members also reportedly urged Turkey not to escalate the conflict further with the Kurds during a gathering July 28 in Brussels at the request of Turkey, who claimed its sovereignty is being threatened.

Some western politicians continue to praise Turkey’s new stance against ISIS, but there is no single proof that neither Turkey nor those who lend support to Turkey for its war on terror shows the world about it is actually fighting ISIS.

The cartoon that explains Erdogan’s war on Kurds
The cartoon that explains Erdogan’s war on Kurds

On the day Turkey was seeking NATO’s backing, Turkish NTV News channel broadcast live pictures from the region where Turkish soldiers had come under an apparent ISIS attack on July 24, showing two vehicles filled with armed ISIS fighters driving along the border in broad daylight and later digging trenches with heavy construction machines without any problem. However, on the very same day, the Turkish military was sending out video material of its bombing of Kurdish forces in Kurdistan, which it claimed was the heaviest of its kind.

Therefore, as Kurdish leader Selahattin Demirtas pointed out on July 28, Turkey’s a few- minute-operation against Islamic State militants across the border was just a cover and show to target Kurdish forces. The goal of Turkey is to stop Kurds from forming their own territory in northern Syria not to fight ISIS, because neither Erdogan nor Davutoglu and Turkish armed forces have the guts to take on ISIS. They know better than anyone else their terrorist allies and their capabilities. If Turkey wants to see an ISIS free zone in northern Syria, it should start freeing itself from ISIS first.

By Rodi Hevian

*Rodi Hevian is a Kurdish journalist based in Europe. He holds a B.A. in International Economics and an MA in Peace and Conflict Studies from the University of Haifa International School. He specializes in Kurdish and Middle East Politics. Follow him on Twitter @rodihevian and on Facebook @Rodi Hevian