What does Turkey want in Northern Syria and Why?


Since 1924, Turkey has faced several uprisings in the southeast regions. The first stage continued until 1937. At this point, the main reason for the rebels was the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the implementation of strict laws by the central government. In 1937, the Turkish Army destroyed insurgent troops in Tunceli, a province in the southeast. After this incident, Turkey experienced a peaceful period until identity crises in the 1970s as a crisis in internal Turkish politics. In 1978, the PKK was established and in 1984 launched the first terroristic attack. The 1980s developments in Turkey led the group to escape to Syria and the Syrian government provided the PKK with a facility to operate the group in the north of Syria.

From 1984 to 1991, the PKK carried out its attacks inside Turkey. But the collapse and controlled division of Iraq in 1991 led the PKK to win a new vital space. Especially in the wake of the civil war in northern Iraq between the Kurdish groups and the creation of a security vacuum, the PKK was able to obtain its logistical base. The group leader’s arresting in 1999 slowed down its terrorist activities for short time but the new leaders group leaders decided to continue their attacks.

Its activities have always had a negative impact on Turkey’s relations with its neighbors. This group has been employed by most of its neighbors against Turkey since its inception. Particularly in the 1990s, Turkish relations were heavily influenced by the PKK, and even led the two countries of Turkey and Syria to the brink of war. Syria's surrendering and the signing of the Adana treaty led to the expulsion of PKK members in 1998 by the Syrian government.

A significant issue is the Syrian government’s policy towards the Kurds in Turkey. The Syrian government did not recognize the existence of Syrian Kurds as a Syrian ethnic group, but facilitated the activities of Turkish Kurds inside its own territory. Due to the ethnic consciousness of the PKK in Syria, the PYD (the Democratic Union Party) was founded in 2003 by the Kurds. In fact, the Syrian government's strategic misconception in supporting a terrorist group against the neighbouring state has become a problem for Syria in the long term. As the PYD has been able to attract support from Western countries today, it seems that the Syrian government can no longer deny Kurdish ethnicity on its territory.

The using of the PKK is not limited to Syria. After arrest, Abdullah Ocalan admitted that Greece had a significant role in arming the group and Ocalan had been hiding at the Greek Embassy in Nairobi. Three Greek ministers resigned during the ensuing uproar.

According to a report released by the Grand National Assembly of Turkey in 2013, more than 35,000 were killed by terrorist attacks between 1984 and 2012. Of these, over 5,500 was civilians and 7,500 was government employees. The Turkish economy has suffered heavy since 1984. Estimates range from $ 240 billion to $ 400 billion. The problem of terror has caused huge capital to escape, and the government has not been able to make development investment in the southeast.

To solve this problem, Turkey has implemented plans since 2009, which reached agreement with the PKK in 2013. In order to solve this problem, Turkey has implemented plans since 2009, which reached agreement with the PKK in 2013. According to the agreement, the PKK members had to leave Turkey and the Kurds would enter politics. But the actions taken by the government were not agreed by the PKK. Even the process made the PKK more courageous. They considered the government's action as a result of its weakness and they felt themselves powerful enough. Furthermore they set up courts in villages and punished the people who did not help the PKK during their terroristic attacks. For strengthening the PKK's financial sources they collected taxes from people especially the villagers. The agreement with the PKK made more popular in the southeast. Therefore, the group was able to attract a large number of members, especially among the teenagers.

One of the other reasons that broke the government’s efforts to solve the PKK’s problem was the civil war in Syria. The outbreak of the war in Syria led the Syrian army to withdraw its troops from northern cities in 2011. This evacuation caused a power vacuum in the northern regions. Therefore, the PKK’s Syrian branch was activated and led to the proliferation of groups associated with it. The PYD (People’s Protection Units) was formed in 2012 and then the PKK has created the YPJ (Women's Protection Units) to gain sympathy in the international media in order to legitimize its actions. At the end, they seized areas have been evacuated step by step. The Western countries’ support of the PYD has made the group incredible progress. In November 2013 they announced North Syrian territory as an autonomous region.  

With the outbreak of the Ayn al-Arab (Kobani) crisis in 2015, the group tried to gain international legitimacy instead of fighting to ISIS. The next step was the announcement of an autonomous federation in the northern part of Syria in March 2016. Foreign supports have led the PKK-related groups in Syria to feel a false self-confidence. In October 2017, when the referendum was held in Iraqi Kurdistan, the co-chair of the PYD threatened regional actors like an independent state by saying “we are against the threats of the regional powers, including Turkey, Iran and Syrian regime against the will of the Kurdish people”. Assessing and observing these events has convinced the Turkish authorities that if they do not take action to address this danger, they will soon be neighbors with non-governmental groups across the whole of the southern borders with Syria and Iraq. Turkish officials have launched this possible strike within the framework of Article 51 of the United Nations Charter. This article allows countries to take preventive action if their security is at survival risk.