After a move two years ago toward closer coordination with Russia on its Syria policy, Turkey appears to be signaling a return to working with the United States.
That is according to Turkish analysts cited by China’s Xinhua News Agency on Friday, who noted several recent developments all pointing to a return to closer cooperation with Washington in the region.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan suggested last weekend that the country’s ongoing operation to cut out a swath of Kurdish-dominated Syrian territory could stop short of the northeast, in contrast to recent proclamations.
Those remarks, along with Ankara’s immediate public support for US-led air strikes on targets linked to the Russia-backed regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, point to a rapprochement of sorts with Washington, according to Cahit Armagan Dilek, head of the Ankara-based 21st Century Turkey Institute.
Turkey has already announced “full control” over previously Kurdish-held land in the northwest, and top Turkish officials have been threatening that the campaign would continue into the northeast. That would see Turkish-backed forces confront US military assets that are stationed in support of forces opposed to the al-Assad regime, including the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG). But Erdogan’s comments indicate a reversal.
“All signs indicate that Ankara will again pursue policies that are in line with the United States in Syria,” Hasan Koni, a professor of international law at Istanbul Kultur University, was paraphrased by Xinhua as saying.
Dilek speculated that Washington may be offering bargaining chips, perhaps even betraying Turkish and Iraqi Kurdish groups by providing intelligence to Ankara, to placate the Turkish government, which sees Kurdish groups in the region as terrorists. In effect, the bargain would be to sell out Kurds outside of Syria, in exchange for creating a state-like Kurdish entity in Northeastern Syria.
“Such moves by the United States would make it easier for the Erdogan administration to accept US plans regarding Kurdish-controlled areas in northern Syria,” according to Dilek.
All of this is unfolding ahead of snap national elections in Turkey, to be held on June 24. In commentary published on Thursday by Washington, DC-based al-Monitor, columnist Cengiz Candar suggested that Turkey’s Kurdish electorate might play a role in deciding the fate of Erdogan and his AK Party. According to Candar, the Kurdish population is believed to make up 18-20% of the nation’s electorate. Erdogan has in the past enjoyed support from segments of the Kurdish population, but the recent incursion into Kurdish-held Syria has eroded that support.
“If Kurds, en masse, decline to vote for Erdogan, it could be difficult for for him to secure more than 50%, particularly in the first round of voting,” he said.
“Parliamentary elections will be held simultaneously with the presidential one; it is not a foregone conclusion that the AKP and MHP will maintain a safe majority in the upcoming parliament. Nor is Erdogan’s re-election to the presidency entirely assured,” Candar concluded.