Last year was exceedingly difficult for Turkey. There was a failed coup attempt by a rogue faction within the military and numerous terrorist attacks, including the murderous attack on the Istanbul Ataturk Airport and the Vodafone Arena bombing. The year came to a bloody close on New Year’s Eve when a shooter entered Reina Nightclub in Istanbul and murdered 39 people, leaving many others seriously wounded. ISIS subsequently released a statement in which they claimed responsibility, stating that the gunman had targeted the nightclub “where Christians were celebrating their pagan feast,” and that the shooting was in response to Turkey’s military action against ISIS in Syria and Iraq.
The geographic location of Turkey puts it in a vulnerable position. With Syria and Iraq on its borders, the potential for cross-border and home-grown terror attacks is high. In Syria, alone, the civil war has led to the deaths of over 400,000 people, according to the Syrian Centre for Policy Research. The chaos has spilled over the Turkish border, significantly raising the security threat. Turkey’s President Recep Erdogan has responded by restricting domestic liberties and aggressively striking back at his perceived enemies. These actions only serve to perpetuate the conflict in Syria, divide Turks amongst themselves, and, by inference, increases the prospect of additional violence.
In order to provide greater domestic security, the Erdogan regime should, once again, open a political dialogue with the Kurds and assuage Kurdish fears of government aggression. Erdogan has ruthlessly targeted the Kurds in a series of vicious attacks, notably shelling the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (who Erdogan considers an extension of the Kurdistan Workers Party) in Syria. Therefore, if the primary goal is to defeat ISIS, the government’s policy is counter-intuitive. The Kurds in both Syria and Iraq have shown themselves to be an extremely effective fighting force and working together with them could bolster Turkey’s military efforts against ISIS. However, so far, it seems as if the fight against ISIS has been used as a pretext for killing the government’s Kurdish adversaries and preventing any grounds for a Kurdish state on Turkey’s southern border. Unfortunately, the history of Erdogan’s relations with the Kurds does not leave much hope for peace.
In addition to negotiating peace with the Kurds, the Erdogan government should continue pursuing negotiations with the state actors involved in the conflict. Recent developments show some promise on this front. In December last year, Turkey agreed on peace negotiations in talks with the Syrian government, Iran, and Russia, which signaled the opportunity for some form of diplomatic solution to the conflict. Relations between Russia and Turkey have taken an about-face. In November 2015, tensions between both actors had come to a head over the shooting down of a Russian jet when it entered Turkish airspace. The recent rapprochement between Russia and Turkey could be a step towards gaining stability along Turkey’s border and providing some alleviation for struggling Syrians. It is only through respecting civil liberties, engaging in cooperation through international negotiations, and coming to a cessation of hostilities with the Kurds that Turkey has a chance of breaking the cycle of violence.
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