Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Turkey's Catch-22 with Syria

Despite talks of a cease fire that is supposed to start Thursday, the Assad regime ratcheted up the violence Monday by attacking refugee camps across the Syrian border into Turkey. This is the first such attack on a camp on the Turkish border since Turkey started sheltering Syrian refugees last summer. It also represents a high point for Turkish-Syrian animosity since the late 90's.

In 1998 Turkey threatened to go to war with Syria, because Bashar al-Assad's father, the previous Syrian leader, had been aiding Turkey's Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK) rebels. The threat of force in '98 led to a peace between Turkey and Syrian and the expulsion of the PKK leader from Syria. However, tensions between the neighbors are on the rise, and Monday's border shooting may only be the tip of the problem.

Since the start of the uprising in Syria last fall, Mr. Assad has started courting Syria's own Kurdish minority for two main reasons. One, Assad is playing divide and conquer in his own borders and trying to pit as many different groups against each other as possible. Two, Turkey has already publicly declared its loss of faith with the Assad regime, and by courting the Kurds, Assad is signaling to Turkey that once he deals with his problems at home, support for the PKK will likely resume.

The International Herald Tribune claims that Assad's renewed ties with the PKK puts Turkey in a awkward situation when it comes to the Kurds. If Assad wins, he will likely not forget which side Turkey was own, paying them back in kind with vigorous support to the separatist Turkish group. However, even if Assad losses, Syrian Kurds are likely to get a say in a new democratic government. How will the PKK react if Syrian Kurds get a level of autonomy that they do not? Does resolution in Syrian mean future problems in Turkey no matter which side wins?

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