The West’s Partners in Syria and the Risks to Turkey

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 8 June 2017

Aftermath of a TAK bombing in central Istanbul, Turkey, 7 June 2016

The Kurdistan Freedom Falcons (TAK) issued a threat against Turkey on Tuesday, at the very moment the U.S.-led Coalition was announcing the commencement of the operation to evict the Islamic State (IS) from its Syrian capital, Raqqa, in alliance with the TAK’s mother organization, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). This underlines some of the challenges confronting the Coalition as a result of a half-decade of short-sighted counter-terrorism policy in Syria and a regional posture that tilted away from traditional allies.

The full 700-word statement from TAK can be found here; the key parts read:

Those who are as blind as to think they can end a people’s cause for freedom with stale methods are those in political, economic, and military collaboration with the Turkish state. As the Turkish hegemons … with nothing but brute force in their hands show their divide from humanity with their actions, for us they become reasons to fight. All the world should know that the Turkish state is our enemy, which we have sworn to end. The treatment of our people in Kurdistan is our reason for war, revenge and action. … We are warning those who think Turkey is a safe country for investment and tourism: All cities, megapolitan and metropolitan areas, tourist spaces are our war zone and our actions will be more intense than before. The decision for war has been made, an army of sacrifice has been founded.

The PKK has been designated as a terrorist group by most Western states, the European Union, and NATO for the atrocious conduct of its insurgency in the 1980s and 1990s against a brutally repressive de facto military government in the Kurdish areas of Turkey. Since 2003, the PKK has tried to conceal its operations by operating in other countries through various fronts, notably the Democratic Union Party (PYD) in Syria, whose armed wing, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), is the U.S.-led Coalition’s primary ally against IS.

TAK claims to have broken away from the PKK, but this is absurd on its face. The PKK has pursued its own members across half of Europe to murder them for dissenting from the leadership and has never allowed independent Kurdish groups to operate in its areas of influence. The reality is that TAK operates a specialized unit of the PKK to give the PKK deniability for its attacks on urban areas of western Turkey, including suicide bombings against civilians, timed invariably to reduce pressure on the PKK in eastern Turkey or otherwise advance the PKK’s interests.

As Metin Gurcan has explained in detail, that “the TAK is best understood as a semi-autonomous proxy of the PKK that operates at arm’s length …[,] advancing the interests of the PKK without jeopardizing improvements to the PKK’s international reputation since the participation of the YPG (the Syrian branch of the PKK) in fighting the Islamic State in Sinjar, Kobani, and in areas north of Raqqa.”

Read the rest at The Henry Jackson Society

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