Ankara’s attacks reflect the increasing weight of the Kurdish national struggle in the region. Some 30 million Kurds are divided between Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Iran. They’re the largest nationality worldwide without their own country.
Ankara’s target in Syria was the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which is backed by Washington in leading the ground effort of the multinational Syrian Democratic Forces to drive the reactionary Islamic State out of its de facto capital in Raqqa.
Washington, Baghdad and Damascus condemned the attacks. To the chagrin of Ankara, the U.S. military, using armored cars flying large U.S. flags, launched joint patrols with the YPG near the Syrian-Turkish border.
Washington’s overall aim is to maintain its imperialist interests in the Middle East as a variety of wars and conflicts roil the region.
Erdogan’s military assaults on the Kurds reflect his failure to persuade Washington to drop its alliance with the YPG and instead turn to Ankara to capture Raqqa. The YPG has consistently shown its fighting capacity with a track record of pushing Islamic State out of Kurdish regions in Syria.
The YPG now controls 20,000 square miles in Syria along the Turkish border — home to about 2 million Kurds. In so doing, they have driven the reactionary Islamic State out of cities like Kobani and Manbij. The YPG seeks to link together territory it controls in northeastern and northwestern Syria in order to establish a contiguous autonomous Kurdish region. Last February Ankara, along with the Free Syrian Army — a force the Turkish government recruited and trained among Syrian refugees in Turkey — invaded Syria to prevent this from happening.
The YPG-led Syrian Democratic Forces recently announced formation of civilian and military councils to administer Raqqa after Islamic State is defeated there. Erdogan is terrified that the development of a Kurdish autonomous region in Syria will encourage the struggle for national rights and autonomy of the 15 million Kurds in Turkey.
Washington and all the capitalist regimes in the Middle East except Israel are opposed to the centurieslong struggle of the Kurds for a homeland.
Erdogan on April 28 said he cannot accept U.S. “cooperation with a terror organization.” He charges the YPG with being the Syrian arm of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) — an armed party based in Turkey with Stalinist roots that has fought a guerrilla war against Ankara for most of the last three decades.
Erdogan barely won an April 16 referendum for a stronger central government. Brushing aside calls by opposition parties and international observers for a recount or revote, his administration moved rapidly to deepen its crackdown on those they see as opponents.
In the last week the government fired almost 4,000 more people from army, university, media and government jobs. They closed down 45 political groups and foundations. They threw another 2,600 people into prison. And they said they carried out 579 attacks against the PKK.
Ankara, Washington and the European Union have all branded the PKK as a “terrorist” organization.
Over many years the PKK has established sanctuary bases in the mountainous Sinjar region of Iraq near Turkey’s border. It is part of the Kurdish region of Iraq, a semi-autonomous area of 8 million Kurds administered by the Kurdish Regional Government.
During airstrikes in Sinjar, Turkish warplanes killed six KRG peshmerga soldiers. Erdogan issued an apology to the KRG government in Erbil, with which he has tried to maintain collaborative relations.
The KRG was formed as one of the unintended consequences of Washington’s 1991 and 2003 invasions and wars against Iraq, part of its campaign to replace the Saddam Hussein regime with one more pliable to the interests of U.S. imperialism. Iraqi Kurdistan has significant oil resources. The KRG pershmega is playing an important role, along with the Iraqi army and U.S. air power, in the monthslong battle to capture the major Iraqi city of Mosul from Islamic State, the last major urban center the Islamist outfit holds in Iraq.
At the beginning of April the two main parties in the KRG parliament agreed to hold a KRG-wide referendum on forming an independent Kurdistan, including in disputed areas like Kirkuk. They predict overwhelming support.