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From Aleppo to Sulaimani: Turkey’s perception of its periphery

By Paul Iddon 31/3/2016
Turkish soldiers near the Turkey-Syrian border post in Sanliurfa, in September last year. AFP Photo.
Turkish soldiers near the Turkey-Syrian border post in Sanliurfa, in September last year. AFP Photo.
“Turkey’s security zone starts from Latakia and (goes) through Aleppo, Mosul and Sulaimani,” Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu recently remarked during his two-day visit to Jordan.

His comments give some insight into how Turkey views its periphery and what it perceives its security interests to be in an ever changing and unpredictable geopolitical and regional environment.

It’s no secret that Turkey’s government has been monomaniacally obsessed with the situation just over its southern border with Syria, where the Syrian Kurds have achieved unprecedented control over their own region.

Additionally, it has long sought a buffer zone there to shield itself against a spillover of the conflict, house displaced Syrians within their country’s borders and prevent Syrian Kurdistan’s three cantons from joining together and forming a contiguous region which would dominate the Syria-Turkey border.

Turkey has increasingly begun to view the Kurdistan Region as a de-facto buffer zone in its own right from an unstable Iraq. As with swaths of northern Syria, and indeed Iraq’s Nineveh province, Turkey for historical reasons believes it should have at least a major say in the future of these regions. Remember it was back in the 1920s, during the British Mandate in Iraq, that the Iraqi Army was founded. Its first mission was to force the Turks from parts of the Kurdistan Region, including Sulaimani, and ensure they did not annex it into the new Turkish Republic.

Much more recently, over the course of the last 25 years, Turkey has maintained a foothold in that region during its ongoing war with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) when the Iraqi military was forced from the Kurdistan Region following the 1991 Persian Gulf War. Its deployment of combat troops to secure its forward-operating-base in Bashiqa north of Mosul incurred the wrath of Baghdad last December and saw Turkey’s relations with its neighbors strained even further.

Reams of commentary have long been urging Baghdad to formulate a comprehensive outreach to Iraq’s Sunni Arab minority in order to defeat ISIS politically as well as militarily: the Makhmour offensive launched last week has failed partially because locals in ISIS-occupied villages have not risen up against their occupiers, since they still do not trust the Iraqi military. The Turks are training Sunni militiamen who are to fight to eventually liberate Mosul. Ankara likely hopes that this will give it clout and influence in the city, possibly even to rival a Baghdad which has become increasingly closer to Iran in recent years.

This conspicuously comes after Turkey failed to garner a substantial foothold in Sunni-majority Syria throughout the course of the last half-decade. The Turkish government likely calculated that the Syrian uprising would have given it renewed clout in Syria’s north, particularly in Aleppo, and enable Ankara to directly determine the future of that region in accordance with its own security needs and strategic interests.

And then there is the Kurdistan Region, whose unprecedented autonomy in the post-2003 order Turkey was reluctant to accept. Indeed, until recent years, Turkey had warned Erbil against annexing Kirkuk and accordingly threatened to intervene against it militarily. Since then, Ankara has come to view Erbil as much less of a threat and even a potential ally in the region, to the extent that it may soon see an independent Kurdistan Region, along with an increasingly autonomous post-ISIS Nineveh, as being both in its security and strategic interests in the region.

Whatever the case may prove to be in the not too distant future, it is clear that the fate of these regions is something that weighs -- and has long weighed -- heavily on the minds and conscience of the decision-making establishment in Ankara.

Paul Iddon is a Rudaw reporter based in Erbil, Kurdistan Region.


Mathieu | 31/3/2016
Turkey can have buffer Zone but only on his own territory. Erdoan just wants more land the Terrorist
Riha | 31/3/2016
From Aleppo to Suleymani, Turkey sees that as part of their territory, the criminal, warmongering and savage Ottoman Empire. Turkey really thinks that Syria, Iraq, Iran and especially Russia will do nothing and let Turkey restore their criminal Ottoman Empire??
Sluth | 1/4/2016
"The Turks are training Sunni militiamen who are to fight to eventually liberate Mosul. Ankara likely hopes that this will give it clout and influence in the city ". All parties from large nation states to solitary keyboard activists SHOULD be working for a sustainable and "happy" peace in the region BUT NOT FOR ANYTHING IN RETURN. The long term "RETURN" to well meaning neighbouring entities may ... in time .. be economic and more importantly a welcoming smiles. "Clout" is also a terrible goal to stive for while we are talking about potential models of regional autonomy. SECURITY ZONES?? The concept is a nonsense as it presumes ongoing conflict(s) of one form or another. My expectation is that UN Security Council members will have a large part to play in post conflict reconstruction processes ( reconstruction of minds and governance models as well as buildings) and continued sabre rattling from self appointed regional powers will no be welcomed. Facilitating sustainable governance in Sunni Arab regions is a huge challenge and major set backs are inevitable. That doesn't mean we should not try for this. Ultimate decision making must in the longer term come from the the people. There should be no place for either puppets or puppetiers at the table.

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