Syrian Impasse: America Between Turkey and the Kurds

February 9, 2018
11:30 am -

Event Description

FDD hosted a conversation on Friday, February 9, 2018, with Aliza Marcus, author of Blood and Belief: The PKK and the Kurdish Fight for IndependenceGonul Tol, founding director of the Turkey Program at the Middle East Institute; and Amberin Zaman, columnist for Al-Monitor and Diken. Merve Tahiroglu, research analyst at FDD, moderated the conversation.

Turkish forces forayed into northern Syria in January, for a second time in two years. As in the previous Turkish campaign, Ankara’s military operation in Afrin aims at clearing Turkey’s southern border of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) — America’s tactical ally and effective ground force against the Islamic State in Syria. Turkey insists that the YPG poses an existential threat to its national security, and expects the United States to sever its ties with the group as the Syrian civil war approaches its post-Islamic State phase. Washington, however, hopes to maintain a longer presence in Syria to check Russian and Iranian ambitions, and the Syrian Kurds remain Washington’s most formidable local ally. Carried out with Moscow’s green light, the Turkish offensive will complicate Washington’s Syria policy as well as its relations with its NATO-ally Ankara.

What is Turkey’s end-game with the Afrin campaign? What options does Washington have to manage the impasse? What say the Kurds?

Aliza Marcus is the author of Blood and Belief: The PKK and the Kurdish Fight for Independence. Ms. Marcus is an internationally recognized expert on Kurdish nationalism in general and the PKK in particular. She’s been writing on the Kurdish problem–as it’s playing out in Turkey, Iraq and Syria–since the late 1980s, both for major US and European media, and most recently, for leading foreign policy journals. She was previously an international correspondent for The Boston Globe and lives in Washington, D.C. She covered the PKK first as a freelance reporter for the Christian Science Monitor and later as a staff writer for Reuters, receiving a National Press Club Award for her reporting. She’s an in-demand speaker when it comes to understanding what the PKK is doing and what can happen next in the Kurdish fight throughout the region. She makes it a policy to travel in the Kurdish areas regularly, visiting friends, tea shops and PKK guerrilla camps on the way. She is also a recipient of a MacArthur Foundation grant for her work.

Merve Tahiroglu is a research analyst focusing on Turkey. She supports the work of FDD scholars with Turkish language research and analysis on Turkey-related matters. Her research focuses on Turkey’s foreign policy, domestic politics, and Ankara’s ties to Tehran. Ms. Tahiroglu’s personal areas of interest include Turkey’s Syria policy and Islamic extremism in Turkey. Born and raised in Istanbul, Ms. Tahiroglu earned her B.A in Political Science with a concentration in International Relations from Duke University in 2013. She is currently an M.A. candidate at Georgetown University’s History Department.  Ms. Tahiroglu has published and/or co-authored pieces in various outlets such as Foreign Affairs, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Politico, Huffington Post and Foreign Policy, in addition to FDD-linked publications such as FDD’s Long War Journal and Military Edge.

Gonul Tol is the founding director of The Middle East Institute’s Center for Turkish Studies. She is also an adjunct professor at George Washington University’s Institute for Middle East Studies. After three years of field research in Germany and the Netherlands, she wrote her dissertation on the radicalization of the Turkish Islamist movement Milli Gorus in Western Europe. She was also an adjunct professor at the College of International Security Affairs at the National Defense University. She has taught courses on Islamist movements in Western Europe, Turkey, world politics, and the Middle East. Ms. Tol has written extensively on Turkey-U.S. relations, Turkish domestic politics, and foreign policy and the Kurdish issue. She is a frequent media commentator.

Amberin Zaman is currently a columnist for the independent online Turkish news portal, Diken, and for Al Monitor Pulse of The Middle East. She serves on the board of advisors for FDD’s Turkey Program. Until May 2017, she was a Public Policy Fellow in the Middle East Program and the Global Europe Program focusing on Kurdish issues at the Wilson Center. Ms. Zaman covered Turkey and regional conflicts in Iraq, Syria and Azerbaijan for The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, Voice of America and The Daily Telegraph before becoming The Economist‘s Turkey correspondent (1999-2015).



Kurds Syria Turkey