Turkey Planning Next Move After ISIS Commits Massacre in Kobani
Patrick Cockburn and Baris Kaargaarc discuss recent news that Turkey is considering military intervention in northern Syria
JESSICA DESVARIEUX, PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.
Devastating news coming out of Syria. Thousands of more refugees are fleeing the country after last week’s massacre in the Syrian Turkish border town of Kobani. Reports found that ISIS killed at least 200 civilians, including women, children, and the elderly. These actions are seen as retaliation by ISIS after Kurdish forces drove the militants out of the highly symbolic border town which Kurds had taken over in January with the help of U.S. air strikes. Turkey has come out vowing to protect its border, and the possibility of an invasion by Turkey into Syria is growing more and more likely.
Now joining us to understand the micro and macro issues around this massacre are our two guests. Joining us from England is Patrick Cockburn. Patrick is a correspondent for the Independent of London. Also joining us from Turkey is Baris Karaagac. Baris is a lecturer in international development studies at Trent University in Ontario.
Thank you both for joining us.
BARIS KARAAGAC, LECTURER OF INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT STUDIES, TRENT UNIV.: Hi.
PATRICK COCKBURN, JOURNALIST, THE INDEPENDENT: Thank you.
DESVARIEUX: Okay, so Patrick, I’m going to start off with you. You were recently in northeast Syria. What do we know about what happened on the day of that massacre, and can you just describe for us some of the fighting.
COCKBURN: Yeah. ISIS infiltrated Kobani early in the morning last Thursday. They dressed up in uniforms of Kurdish forces and possibly Syrian rebel forces who were allied to the Kurds.
They got into Kobani where, the city which they tried to capture over four and a half months, ending at the beginning of this year, [but have been] stopped. They started immediately massacring people. This was a pre-planned massacre. Shooting people, including women and children, at point-blank range in the streets. Then they started bursting into houses, killing everybody there. They put up sniper positions on the top of buildings, and they took many Kurdish civilians hostage.
Then there was a counterattack by the Syrian Kurdish forces. They’d been caught by surprise, they weren’t expecting this. And they did eventually kill most of the ISIS fighters there. But it’s been a very nasty shock for the Kurds.
DESVARIEUX: All right. And this has all led to Turkey being quite stern about its desire to protect its border. Turkey is saying that it won’t fight unilaterally, but pro-government media outlets claim that the government was planning a cross-border operation in Syria involving 18,000 ground troops and a 68 mile long buffer zone within Syria.
That’s a pretty big deal, Baris, since Turkey is NATO’s second-biggest fighting force after the U.S. military. So what do you make of all of this? If Turkey were to get involved, and we can talk about why they would get involved, who would Turkey actually be fighting?
KARAAGAC: First of all, it is not certain that Turkey will intervene militarily in northern Syria. But yesterday there was a National Security Council meeting. And the Council, at the end of the meeting the head of the state said Turkey has concerns in northern Syria, with, first of all with regard to terrorist organizations and their activities. And secondly, demographic changes, so-called demographic changes that are taking place as Kurdish forces have taken cities like Tell Abyad.
So Turkey is thinking, considering forming a buffer zone or a secure zone which will be about 110 kilometers long and between 28 and 33 kilometers wide. But I think this will be a disaster. First of all, Turkey–we don’t know who they are going to fight with. Is the target ISIS, or Islamic militants, or the Kurdish forces that are trying to create a corridor between, among their three cantons, the autonomous regions or cities, in northern Syria.
And if Turkey intervenes militarily, and if Turkey fights either ISIS and the Kurdish forces, or Kurdish-led forces, this will have very serious repercussions, consequences, within the borders of Turkey.
DESVARIEUX: Okay. Within the borders of Turkey because of the Kurdish population?
KARAAGAC: Well, yes. Because many Kurds have relatives on the Syrian side. And fighting with these people will be considered a war on Kurds themselves.
Actually, the co-chair, the co-president of the Kurdish PYD in northern Syria [explicitly] said, if Turkey goes into northern Syria this will be an attack on Kurds. And also Ocalan, one of the leaders of the PKK, which has been–which fought a war against the Turkish state since the early 1980s, said an attack on northern Syria by Turkish forces will be considered an attack on all Kurds.
DESVARIEUX: Okay. At the heart of this, too–I’m going to get Patrick into this conversation again. There’s also the United States, Patrick. And I could imagine the United States, they are very closely allied with the Kurds. Is it possible for them to be sort of this mediator between Turkey and the Kurds and saying we need to get ISIS, let’s work together and degrade and destroy ISIS, as President Obama has put it. What do you make of that proposal?
COCKBURN: Yeah, they’re kind of trying to do that, but it’s pretty difficult to do. And also it’s very clear whatever they thought they were doing in Syria isn’t working. In Syria and Iraq, I should say. Because the, when they started bombing last August, the aim was to weak ISIS to contain it. But in May, ISIS defeated the Iraqi army when they captured Ramadi. And four days later they defeated the Syrian army when they capture Palmyra, and neither army has been able to put in a counterattack since. So the attempt to contain ISIS has demonstrably failed.
DESVARIEUX: Baris, I know you stated earlier you would not be for Turkey intervening militarily. But some would argue that this could actually put enough pressure on Assad as well as all the other warring factions if you had a heavyweight like Turkey intervene. What would be your response to that?
KARAAGAC: I think we should first question the goal of such an intervention. Why is Turkey trying to, or actually intervening, in northern [Syria]? Also, one thing that we should not miss is that Turkey has indirectly or directly aided ISIS militants for a long time. Before it was other Islamic militants, for example members of Jabhat al-Nusra, and then ISIS. So is the goal, objective, of the Turkish state to stop ISIS or to stop Kurds?
DESVARIEUX: That’s a very good question. And we’re going to certainly keep on tracking that here at The Real News. I’d like to thank both of you, Baris as well as Patrick. Thank you both for joining us.
KARAAGAC: Thanks for having me.
COCKBURN: Thank you.
DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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