The Kurdish Issue and Turkey’s Future


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Ian Lesser‘s most recent “On Turkey” brief for the German Marshall Fund raises a number of important issues surrounding the United States’ relationship with Turkey.
Most importantly, Lesser notes that those seeking to understand Turkey’s emerging regional role should examine Turkey’s internal political dynamics more closely.
The most significant risk to Turkey’s ability to serve as a stabilizing influence in its neighborhood is not its support for a diplomatic track with Iran or its frayed relations with Israel (though the rhetoric concerning the latter case is concerning), but rather its fragile domestic political system and the threat of a vigorous Kurdish insurgency that could push Turkey back toward its isolationist posture of the 1990s.
As Lesser explains:

Turkey faces the prospect of renewed internal security challenges, and these will be consequential for Ankara’s relations with the West. The upsurge in attacks by the PKK and related groups and the renewal of Turkish military operations against Kurdish guerillas in northern Iraq raise the specter of a return to the turmoil and conflict of the 1990s. This time around, the PKK will not have a sanctuary in Syria, and will have very insecure bases, at best, in Iran and Iraq. But recent attacks in Istanbul and elsewhere suggest that Turkey could face a new challenge of larger-scale urban terrorism.
Unlike the rural insurgency and counter-insurgency of past decades, an extension of Kurdish violence to urban areas could have more serious implications for a Turkish society and an economy increasingly dependent on foreign investment. Experience in many settings tells us that terrorism can have an isolating effect. In the worst case, urban violence could lead to something Turkey has so far been spared — inter-communal conflict between Turks and Kurds. To be clear, this is an unlikely prospect, but no longer an inconceivable one.

Turkey’s future impact on American interests in the Middle East will depend first and foremost on its ability to reach a stable political equilibrium between the AKP government and the secular elite led by the military, while at the same time crafting a political solution to the Kurdish problem.
Whether Turkey can resolve these internal issues will ultimately be much more significant for the United States than Turkey’s present policies toward Iran and Israel.
— Ben Katcher


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