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Baris Karaagac explains Turkey’s position towards the Islamic State

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ANTON WORONCZUK, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Anton Woronczuk in Baltimore.

U.S. officials have voiced frustration over Turkey’s lack of military confrontation with the Islamic State in Kobani, which the U.S. military says the Kurds still control. Meanwhile, Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davutoğlu has made Turkey’s position clear: the state will not engage in military strikes against IS, especially on its own, unless Syrian President Bashar Assad becomes a central target of the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State, though it also seems Ankara is standing by to let the IS slaughter the Kurds.

And as the fight in Kobani in has led to a major crisis in the peace and reconciliation process between the Kurdish Workers’ Party–also known as the PKK–in Ankara, more than two dozen have been killed during Turkish protests across Turkey.

Here to discuss this from Istanbul is Baris Karaagac. Baris is a lecturer in international development studies at Trent University in Ontario. He is also the editor of the book Accumulations, Crises, Struggles: Capital and Labour in Contemporary Capitalism.

Thanks for joining us, Baris.


WORONCZUK: So, Baris, can you lay out for us what is Turkey’s stance towards IS?

KARAAGAC: Well, it’s been at best ambiguous and at worst quite supportive that there have been so many allegations, there have been so many claims that Turkey has given logistical, particularly logistical if not military assistance to ISIS in the past year. And before that, we have again claims that it supported the al-Nusra Front, which is a Syrian al-Qaeda. And this support has very recently, in the last couple of days, led to a wave of demonstrations across the country as main Kurdish leaders call for these demonstrations in support of the resistance in Kobani, which is under siege by ISIS or the IS.

WORONCZUK: And from what I understand, many of the fighting among the protesters has actually been between Kurdish groups.

KARAAGAC: And this is very concerning, because many people immediately remember the mid-1990s or the first half of the 1990s when Hezbollah, a Kurdish-Sunni Islamist group, started to fight with the PKK and its supporters in predominantly Kurdish territories. And within two years, about 700 people were killed. Basically, that was the result of street violence. And 526 of them were pro-PKK people. And now some of the clashes that take place between people was members of an organization, of a political party, Hüda-Par, which is a successor to Kurdish Hezbollah, on the one hand, and the supporters of the resistance in Kobani.

And I would like to add one more thing. These clashes are not confined to these two groups. There have been many demonstrations that are outside of the predominantly Kurdish areas. And in this provinces, we’ve seen many clashes between ultranationalists or Turkish fascists and, again, the supporters of the Kobani resistance. And this is very, very alarming. This has led to a significant polarization in the country, and it seems that Turkey’s primed for much more violence and polarization. It is very, very concerning. So far, 29 people have been killed within two days.

WORONCZUK: So the Kurds have been angry. They’ve been demanding that Turkey supply them with arms and logistical support in order to fight off the Islamic State in Kobani. But from my reading, at least of the English-language newspapers in Turkey, there seems to be two arguments that the intellectual class there is making against arming of the Kurds. One is that they say that the Kurds will just take the guns and turn them on the Turkish state, and two, that if you arm the Kurds, the Kurds will just be protecting themselves and it won’t solve the fundamental problem, which Turkey says is Assad.

KARAAGAC: Well, let me start from what happened a week ago on 2 October. The Turkish parliament passed a bill authorizing cross-border military intervention on Syrian soil. And two days later, the leader of the PYD, the PKK affiliate in Rojava, went to Ankara to have a meeting with Turkish officials. And what he did, asked from these people, is that Turkey open these corridors between the three cantons in Rojava, which is the big, predominantly Kurdish area in northern Syria, so that Kurdish fighters and equipment can be transferred easily. These corridors, of course, would be on Turkish territory. Turkey has not responded to this request.

And, also, the Syrian Kurds have requested Turkey to recognize these three cantons as legitimate polities, political bodies or governments, in northern Syria. Again, Turkey has not responded, at least positively, to this demand.

Turkey on 7 October has sent some medical supplies to Kobani, but it has refused to give any meaningful assistance to the Kurdish resistance fighters in Kobani who are under siege from three directions, east, west, and the south. And Kobani is in a very, very difficult situation. It can actually fall anytime, although the Kurdish fighters have been giving a very, very brave fight, because when you look at the two armed forces, ISIS has high-technology weapons, like cannons and tanks, that they captured from the [Iraqis (?)], and these are mostly U.S. weapons, on the one hand. And on the other, Kurds have only their AK-47s. So it’s a very, very uneven, unequal fight. And this reluctance on the part of the Turkish state, the Turkish government, to give any meaningful assistance to the Kurds have led to hundreds of protests in Turkey by the supporters of the Kobani resistance.

WORONCZUK: What about the question of Assad?

KARAAGAC: Assad. Turkey has been asked by the coalition against the ISIS led by the United States to participate in this intervention in Syria militarily. Turkey said, okay, we might be able to do this or we might be willing to do this, but we have one condition. That condition is that the coalition, in addition to ISIS, has to target the Assad regime. Turkey wants Assad gone. And I think this is part of its overall Middle Eastern foreign policy, in which it wants to increase its influence over its neighbors and over the entire territory, particularly among the Sunni Muslims. But this has been a huge failure so far, and it seems it is going to lead to much more violence both outside of Turkey and inside Turkey.

WORONCZUK: Do you think this is going to lead to a major break between Turkey and the U.S. on foreign-policy issues?

KARAAGAC: That is difficult to anticipate, predict. [incompr.] West and the other Western powers, some of the Western powers, are putting pressure on Turkey to send its military into Syria because they are not willing to do this. It’s a huge mess. And we know that the losses will be significant. But Turkey has not responded to this [positively (?)] so far. And I think the major reason is that Turkey actually wants Kobani to fall. Turkey does not want those three cantons in Rojava, the Kurdish area in northern Syria, to survive.

WORONCZUK: So, fundamentally, all of Turkey’s foreign-policy decisions and that regarding IS is all about the Kurds.

KARAAGAC: I think it is mostly about the Kurds. The U.S. is more concerned with the Assad regime, maybe, you know, particularly in the future, because fundamental U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East right now is to corner Iran, to isolate Iran. If Assad is gone, then Hezbollah will be in a lot of trouble. And if Hezbollah is also in trouble, Iran might be even more isolated.

WORONCZUK: Okay. Baris Karaagac, coming to us from Istanbul.

Thank you so much for joining us.

KARAAGAC: Oh, thank you for having me, Anton.

WORONCZUK: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


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Baris Karaagac is a lecturer in International Development Studies at Trent University, in Ontario. He is also the editor of the book Accumulations, Crises and Struggles: Capital and Labour in Contemporary Capitalism.