August 3, 2015 | Quote

Turkey’s not-so-hidden motives

Domestic politics also play a role, with Erdogan trying to cope with the loss of his Islamist AK Party's parliamentary majority in the June 7 elections. The elections also saw a Kurdish party, the HDP, gaining seats for the first time as Turkish Kurds became more nationalistic in the wake of the YPG's successes in Syria.

“It's not a long-term, well-planned, well-intentioned anti-terror campaign. This is mostly a politician in survival mode,” said Aykan Erdemir, a former member of the Turkish Parliament who's now a nonresident fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.

Erdogan and his allies are seeking new elections and “assume that the current political climate of armed conflict will harm the HDP's electoral prospects and provide the AKP the single-party majority it desires,” Erdemir said.

Religious zealotry is strong among Turkey's Kurds, who make up about 20 percent of the nation's population. In the past, most have supported Erdogan's Sunni Islamist policies rather than the PKK's secular, leftist agenda, Erdemir said. But the defense of Kobani over the past year and Ankara's passive response stirred nationalistic feelings.

“I think Kobani did really change a lot vis-a-vis the Kurds,” he said. “Kurds are beginning to prioritize ethnic solidarity over religious solidarity.”

This leaves the United States in a bind. Turkey, a fellow NATO member, last week invoked Article 4 of the 1949 North Atlantic Treaty, which requires consultations among alliance members “whenever, in the opinion of any of them, the territorial integrity, political independence or security of any of the parties is threatened,” to secure formal alliance backing for its fight.

And though the United States and many European countries consider the PKK a terrorist organization, Syria's Kurdish groups are not only the most effective of a very thin presence against the Islamic State on the ground in that country, their fight has brought them emotional support from many Americans, including lawmakers in Congress.

Erdogan's policy of using the fight against the Islamic State to take on the Kurds is a major mistake that puts NATO in a bad position, Erdemir said.

“No NATO member would choose to be part of this game of Erdogan's,” he said. “Now there's a lot of sympathy in the West for PYD.”

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