This Wednesday the Kurdish militias of the YPG, who form the vanguard of the US-led assault on the Islamic State stronghold in the town of Raqqa, 200 kilometers north of Aleppo, have warned that they may soon be attacked directly by Turkish troops. This comes after weeks of increasing tensions between the YPG and the Turkish forces, the agency Reuters reports.
In recent months the enclaves of the so-called Islamic State throughout the Levant region have been the target of a concerted assault from many of their enemies. To the East, in Iraq, Mosul is mostly under Iraqi control at this point, and now Raqqa, the actual capital of the organization, is finally being assaulted by coalition-aligned forces in Syria.
In spite of the apparent gains of the campaign, the whole offensive has been marred by constant incidents between the antagonistic factions fighting the IS.
The Russian support for the regime of Bashar al-Assad is a strong point of contention, with Damascus being opposed to the US-led rebels, who for the most part aim at either remove him from power or carve parts of Syria for themselves. This situation led to the recent downing of a Syrian Su-22 jet by US Navy aircraft, which raised the tension between Washington and Moscow in the region.
However, the old antagonism between the Turkish and the Kurds is maybe an even greater threat to the coalition’s efforts.
The Kurdish people correspond to an ethnic group that may be as large as 45 million people, spread across most of the Middle East. They are usually described as the largest stateless ethnicity in the world and have been trying to create their own nation during the last 100 years.
The propounded Kurdistan would encompass large swathes of territory within Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Iran, and such claims led to a series of violent conflicts involving the Kurds from those regions.
In Turkey, Kurdish organizations like the PKK are classified as terrorist groups, and the conflict between them and Ankara has caused more than 100.000 deaths since 1978.
In Syria, the Arab Republic curtailed all civil liberties of the Kurdish population, which eventually led to riots and the formation of popular organizations to fight for the rights of the Kurds. The civil war and the rise of the Islamic State gave new opportunities to the Syrian Kurds, who have been fighting quite admirably against the Syrian forces and the IS, in the hopes of eventually establishing their own state. At the head of these efforts is the YPG, or People’s Protection Units.
From the Turkish perspective, the notion that a relatively large and rich part of its territory could secede is comprehensibly untenable. Still, there were some hopes of peace when negotiations were enacted in 2012, and the PKK even declared a withdrawal from Turkey to Iraq.
Negotiations broke up in 2014 when riots led to the deaths of 37 people. Since then, the relations between Ankara and the Kurdish population have returned to their previous antagonism.
This also means that the possibility of a Kurdish nation emerging along the Syrian border is of great concern to Recep Erdogan’s Turkey. Not only would it house a hostile population, but it could also work as a base for further terrorist operations within Turkey.
Nevertheless, as of this moment, both the YPG and the Turkish forces in Syria are part of the US-led coalition attacking the IS, and both are engaged in the Raqqa offensive. Even so, there are reports of exchanges of artillery bombardments between both factions.
Furthermore, the Kurds have reported that the Turkish have been sending reinforcements to the region, consisting of both regular forces and allied rebels, with the sole aim of striking the YPG. It should be noted that Ankara has accused the militias of cooperating with the PKK, something that the YPG has vehemently denied in the past.
Along with protecting its interests, it is also evident that Turkey is striving to remain a major player in the wider Middle East. Recently, Ankara has been supporting Qatar in its diplomatic struggle against the blockade led by Saudi Arabia against it and even deployed troops to their military base in the peninsula.
On that front, the demands from Riyadh have been deemed unacceptable this Wednesday, and a decision is yet to be made regarding what measures should be taken against Doha, according to the Agence France-Presse.
[Featured Image by Syrian Democratic Forces/AP Images]