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Turkey

Turkey‛s Twisted Logic: Fearing Kurds More Than ISIS

The Kurdish victory over ISIS in the Syrian border town of Tal Abyad has brought out the worst instincts from Turkey's leaders.

In Tal Abyad, at the border of Turkey and Syria
In Tal Abyad, at the border of Turkey and Syria
Fehim Tastekin

-OpEd-

ISTANBUL — The Turkish government and its accomplices weren't disturbed when the ISIS terror group was banging on the gates of Turkey's border. But now that the Kurds are experiencing a victory over the brutally violent organization, government officials are suddenly mourning its defeat in the northern Syrian border city of Tal Abyad.

Officials in Ankara are nurturing a number of irrational conspiracy theories about the Kurds, including the notion of impending ethnic cleansing of Arabs and Turkmen via U.S. bombardment, the possible creation of an independent Kurdish state, the opening of an energy corridor to the Mediterranean, even the ultimate disintegration of Syria and Turkey. There is no end to the "deep strategy" constructs when Kurds are involved.

Those who were silent when ISIS controlled the city on Turkey's border are now making calls to clear out YPG Kurdish forces there.

But as I have written many times before, YPG did not liberate Tal Abyad on its own. It took the help of Arab allies such as Burkan al-Furat, Liva al-Tahrir and Suvar al-Raqqa, former components of the Free Syrian Army.

I asked Salih Muslim, co-president of the pro-Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), about its road map for Tal Abyad. He began as always by offering peaceful messages to Turkey. He repeated the call for cooperation despite nasty accusations from the Turkish government. He denied all allegations of ethnic cleansing.

"Nobody can prevent the people from returning to their homes," Muslim told me. "There is no base for such an accusation. All of the people will return to their homes. Nobody needs to be afraid except those who joined ISIS and spilled blood. Everybody knows who committed what crime. Of course, those who have spilled blood will be delivered to the judiciary. Everybody else should relax. Let Turkey relax, too."

We should not forget that Muslim's own son was murdered in Tal Abyad two years ago by organizations that Turkey supported. "There are our people at both sides of the border," he says. "How can we be enemies to our own people? We have said it many times: We feel safe if Turkey feels safe."

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Kurdish leader Saleh Muslim. Photo: Jan Bojer Vindheim

So what is the fuss about? It may be a hard pill to swallow for Turkey that the Syrian followers of jailed Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan are establishing autonomy in Syria and being praised by the world for fighting ISIS. Comparing the YPG to ISIS and even saying that ISIS did not chase these people from their homes is devoid of reason and conscience.

A road map

Everybody asks what's going to happen next. If you look at the existing cantons of Kobane, Afrin and Cezire and exclude the first two because their populations are mostly Kurdish, the third one may offer a clue about what will happen in Tal Abyad.

The road map as Muslim outlines it is as follows:

• The booby traps and mines at the city center and villages will be cleared. Defense lines will be formed for outer attacks simultaneously.

• When the city is secure, those who have fled will be able to return.

• When the people are back, a civilian government that features all ethnic groups will be founded.

• The YPG and other fighting forces will transfer the city's security to local law enforcement.

In terms of how the Akcakale-Tal Abyad border gate will be run, Muslim offers cooperation to Turkey. Turkey's policy for border crossings, which open to Kurdish-controlled areas, may be defined as: open for humanitarian aid with a heavy heart, otherwise closed.

Muslim suggests that his forces can control the border gate alongside the Free Syrian Army. "We want Turkey to be relaxed about this," he says. "We're not saying the YPG should hold the gate alone."

Would this process produce a new canton? I asked Idris Nassan, the foreign relations associate minister for the Kobani Canton. "Right now, our priority is for Tal Abyad to be completely secure," he says. "The danger hasn't passed. Its people will decide how Tal Abyad will be governed. The civilian governing council will be formed by Arabs, Kurds, Turkmen and other ethnic groups. They will decide, not the YPG."

Civilians returning to their homes may create problems. Syrian Journalist Barzan Iso has been traveling from village to village alongside the YPG forces. I asked him his impressions.

"There were few people in the villages," he says. "Most were the elderly, women and children. The people who see the YPG forces come out of their houses and wave. Some come and ask, "Do you need anything?""

Iso concedes that such a warm welcome may be driven by fear. "People don't know what the YPG will do. The Arabs who left the area would wait and return depending on the attitude of the YPG," he says. "Some of the families have lived under the rule of ISIS and had to cooperate somehow. Now they are afraid whether they will pay a price."

The AKP government succeeded in casting Kurds in the same light as ISIS in Tal Abyad, just as they did in Kobane. Now it makes it even harder to change the image of who is and isn't a terrorist.

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