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Turkey’s Role in the Siege of Kobane

The city of Kobane,  located at the border with Turkey, is the heart of Rojava (Syrian Kurdistan).  The recent events in Kobane have drawn global attention and have put Turkey’s role in the conflict under intense scrutiny.

Kobane is also called ”Ain El Arab” in Arabic due to the Arabisation process under the Baathist regime. The population is mainly Kurdish with minorities of Arabs, Assyrians and Turkmens.  Since the start of the Syrian civil war the Democratic Union Party of Syria has had control over the town. The group, called PYD in Kurdish, is closely affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in Turkey, a group not favoured by the Turkish government as it is considered to be a terrorist organisation.

After advancing extensively in Sunni populated areas in Iraq, the Islamic State (IS) militants were not able to advance in to the autonomous region of Kurdistan in Iraq and have suffered severe defeats from the Peshmarga Kurdish forces stationed there. IS also planned to attack the Syrian Kurdistan and control the strongholds of YPG/YPJ (People’s Protection Units), the military wing of PYD, and currently the town of Kobane is surrounded on three sides by Islamic State militants with Turkey on the fourth side. Turkey has allowed the safe passage of civilians into the country (which should not go unappreciated) but hesitates to allow Kurds from Turkey to join forces with YPG/YPJ in the town to help defeat the Islamic State militants. Furthermore, it is believed that the IS militants get reinforcement and funds from Turkish soil and that the Turkish government is turning a blind eye to it. Even though it is a hugely debatable issue, there are quite a few facts supporting the claims.

Kurdish people have taken to the streets around the world in the last few days and are demanding that Turkey takes a neutral role in the conflict and are asking the Turkish government to allow the passage of Kurdish fighters to Kobane. However, some media outlets have been telling a different story, that the Kurds want the involvement of Turkey in the conflict, which is largely inaccurate. It is understandable that getting involved in the conflict is not yet  an option for Turkey, but any support for IS coming from within Turkey is unacceptable and should be stopped, if indeed the accusations are true.

There are many counter arguments supporting the Turkish stance on the issue, many putting the emphasis on the inaccurate stories in the media or on alternative theories trying to shift the focus to the Assad regime.

Recently there was a message from Turkish President Mr. Erdogan circulating on social media, in which he accused the supporters of the movement against him of turning a blind eye to the atrocities done by the Syrian regime in Homs and other parts of Syria. He also mentioned the chemical weapons used by the Assad regime. However this message does not justify his actions, or lack thereof, by proving Assad guilty. 

Another argument put forward by the supporters of the policies of the Turkish regime is that the Islamic State is only advancing in Iraq and Kurdistan region of Syria and not in Syria. However, the Islamic State faced no strong resistance in the Sunni populated areas they are currently holding and they considered Kurdistan to be an easy-to-conquer region. As far as they are now occupied in Kurdistan, it is highly unlikely they should think of getting into a fight with a strong and heavily armed Syrian regime, as opposed to Kurdish forces who are armed with outdated weapons. And should the Islamic State decide to attack more regions in Syria, it has not only to fight the Syrian regime but also the Syrian opposition and other Islamist and Jihadist groups.

Recently a blogger put forth an accusation that the aerial bombing of a few regions in Syria by the Assad regime facilitated the advance of the Islamic State. This is true but does not necessarily prove that the Assad regime is supporting the Islamic State. The Islamic State militants, many of whom are well experienced and have the expertise of tactical warfare, have benefited from such situations and have known when to move forward. In short, the Islamic State has no friends in the region and it is at war with anybody opposing them.

All things considered, the Turkish regime is playing the same role in this conflict as the Pakistani regime played in the Afghan civil war. Not only did the conflict in Afghanistan destroy Afghanistan, but it also disintegrated the political system in Pakistan and has caused the rise of extremism and the loss of more than 70,000 innocent Pakistani lives. Turkey should consider not denouncing the PKK and weakening the Kurdish resistance. It should take serious measures to stop the flow of funds and reinforcements to the Islamic State from its soil and should play a truly neutral role in the conflict in Syria, not help exacerbate a civil war which has already taken so many innocent lives. The Turkish regime should not only do these for the sake of innocent Iraqis and Syrians but for the sake of its own people who could be dragged to an unnecessary war, and for the sake of staying a united, secular and democratic Turkey where both Turks and Kurds co-exist as equal citizens.

Author Biography

Musa Aziz, is a DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service) fellow and holds a Master from University of Erfurt – Willy Brandt School of Public Policy in Germany. Before starting his MPP degree at the Willy Brandt School, Musa completed an accredited certification in Good Governance Afghanistan from the same institution.

He has worked with different governmental and non-governmental organizations for over three years. Throughout his academic and professional career, Musa particularly focused on poverty reduction, economic development, human rights, education, peace-building and conflict resolution.  His research interests are contemporary political issues and political discourses in South Asia and Middle East.

You can find him on his Website

*Cover image ‘Berlin ist Kobane demo’ by Montecruz Foto


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