Syria is on the brink of having yet another city fall into the hands of the Islamic State, also known as ISIL, while Turkey remains largely inactive. This time, the city is Kobane, which sits right on the border with Turkey, although the Turkish government has so far remained strictly on the outside of the conflict to this point. The distinctive, and now rather familiar black flag of ISIL, was seen flying in the eastern part of the town. It appears to be only a matter of time before all of Kobane falls, and yet more of Syria gets taken over by ISIL.
Kurdish forces trying to defend Kobane from ISIL have been appealing to Turkey for assistance, although Turkey has at least thus far not shown any clear signs that it will get involved in the conflict inside of Syria. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan even acknowledged that ISIL was on the brink of taking over Kobane, and said that more needs to be done to fight what increasingly appears to be the inevitable takeover of the Syrian town so near the border of Turkey. However, he did not go so far as to commit Turkish forces for the struggle.
The fighting in Syria and northern Iraq has caused a humanitarian crisis that has drawn much attention around the world. The impact on Turkey has been enormous, as it has taken in 180,000 Kurdish refugees fleeing the fighting just in the last few weeks from what increasingly appears like the inevitable fall of the city into the hands of ISIL. Overall, Turkey has taken in roughly one and a half million Syrians since the beginning of the Civil War there. Still, the hesitation and ultimate inactivity by Ankara has been troubling not just to Syria’s Kurds, but also to the White House, which wants Turkey to play a far more active role.
There are complicated reasons for why Turkey has remained inactive in the conflict in Syria, even as Kobane, a city in Syria right on the border with Turkey. seems about to fall to ISIL. For one, Turkey has a complicated relationship with the Kurds in it’s own country, and so does not fully trust the Kurds on the other side of the border, either. While Turkey supports the Syrian Kurdish effort against ISIL, they do have reservations, due to the close ties of to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) inside of Turkey, which the Turkish government has been fighting within their own borders for many years now. Also, Turkey wants the United States to step up efforts to oust Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad. So, even while Turkey has stepped up it’s military presence along the border with Syria, and particularly near Kobane, they have not taken an active role as of yet.
Others both inside and outside of Turkey have also been critical of the Turkish government’s adamant refusal to allow any of their citizens to get involved in the conflict in Syria. French President Francoise Hollande suggested that Turkey absolutely needed to open up the border to permit reinforcements to help out in the fight against ISIL. But Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu dismissed this, saying it was easy to judge from as far away from Paris. He suggested that those in Europe simply could not know the reality of what’s happening on the ground closer to the conflict. And while Turkey is allowing Syrian Kurds inside of Turkish borders to cross the border to join the fight against ISIL in Kobane, it is still receiving much criticism from people who think this is simply not enough. Inside of Turkey, the Kurdish People’s Democratic Party have been holding protests to try and force the ruling party of Turkey to open up more channels to allow Kurdish refugees to flee Syria for greater safety in Turkey. However, the government in Ankara views these protests as aggressive acts by Kurdish separatists.
In the meantime, airstrikes have been hitting ISIL forces, even though this does not appear to be stopping their momentum yet. The aim of the airstrikes had been to apply very strong military pressure to ISIL, and with hopes that it might assist those fighting ISIL to step up their efforts to defeat the Islamic State rebels. Many Kurds have expected the air strikes to be much more effective than they have so far proven to be against the Islamic State rebels. So far, the air strikes have only had limited success to this point in the conflict.
This city of Kobane in northern Syria sits right on the border with Turkey and is likely to fall to ISIL, even while Turkey remains inactive. Turkey even acknowledges the seeming inevitability of the fall of Kobane, yet it still remains standing on the sidelines. There are words and pleas back and forth from governments to other governments, and Turkey has been under enormous pressure to step up and get involved in the fight against ISIL. So far, they have adamantly rejected any military action, and remain equally determined to keep the border closed to Turkish citizens. Ultimately, however, the calls for assistance from Turkey repeatedly made by Kurdish forces fighting ISIL have, at least thus far, fallen on deaf ears.
By Charles Bordeau