The Kurdish Problem In Turkey’s Syria Problem

a | A

By Marc Champion

It isn't yet clear who fired shells from Syria into Turkey, killing a mother and four children, or why. But if Turkey is going to launch a major incursion across the border between the two countries, be sure that the proximate reason wouldn't simply be border security or support for the rebel Free Syrian Army -- it would also be about crushing Kurdish militants.

Turkey's government had little choice but to respond in kind to the shelling from Syria, otherwise it would have come in for a shellacking at home for being weak. It's worth pointing out, though, that it acted in altered political circumstances at home. Today parliament passed of a bill that, for the next year, gives Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan the right to send troops into "foreign countries" without legislative approval.

Significantly, the date on the draft bill is Sept. 20. This means it predates the shelling incident. And next week parliament will take up the extension of a similar bill authorizing Turkish forces to enter Iraq. And bear in mind that the biggest security issue under discussion among Turks in recent weeks and months has not been Syria's uprising, but militant ethnic Kurds. And with reason.

The Syria crisis has reopened the region's Kurdish question, rekindling hope among some Kurds that their 30 million-strong nation, divided between Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran, could emerge from the chaos with their own state, or at least a lot more autonomy.

Since the Syrian crisis developed into a civil war, insurgents from the Kurdistan Workers' Party, better known as the PKK, have launched their most intense guerrilla campaign against Turkish security forces since the 1990s. At the same time, Kurds in Syria have taken advantage of the turmoil there to start planting Kurdish flags in towns along Turkey's border and declaring a de facto autonomy.

Turkey believes Syria's Kurds are abetting the PKK, with encouragement from Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad.

Erdogan isn't ready to invade any of Turkey's neighbors. But the mix is increasingly volatile, bringing the potential for larger Turkish military action closer.

(Marc Champion is a member of Bloomberg View's editorial board. Follow him on Twitter.)

Read more breaking commentary from Bloomberg View columnists and editors at the Ticker.




-0- Oct/04/2012 15:46 GMT