TURKISH HERITAGE ORGANIZATION ASSEMBLES PANEL TO ADDRESS TURKEY’S PIVOTAL MOMENT: ISIS, KURDS AND THE PKK

WASHINGTON, D.C. October 5, 2015 —The Turkish Heritage Organization (THO), continued its roundtable discussion series last week at the National Press Club, focusing on the domestic and regional security challenges facing Turkey.

Moderated by Malik Mufti, chair of political science at Tufts University Michael Reynolds, professor of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University and Dr. Joshua Walker, a fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, highlighted Turkey’s delicate balancing act between domestic politics, security in the region and the view from Washington.

THO President Halil Danismaz pointed out the complexity of the Syrian and PKK issues and how they have forced Turkey to engage in a delicate balancing act. He noted that “Turkey has seen an increase in terrorism activity inside and around its borders. In response to a series of such attacks, the previous ceasefire between the Turkish government and the terrorist group PKK has ended. And since then, we’ve seen an escalation of violence that needs to be addressed.”

Professor Michael Reynolds said that he hasn’t quite seen the level of negativity towards Turkey that he does now and added that Americans are frustrated because Turkey is fighting with PKK instead of ISIS. “This is by far the biggest existential crisis that Turkey faces. It is very difficult to solve. The expectation from Turkey to turn around and fight ISIS when they have PKK is absurd” he noted. Questioning PKK’s strategy in Syria, Reynolds said that instead of focusing on ISIS, “dedicating so much effort to fight in Turkey shows that despite the ceasefire they have been preparing for this war”. Reynolds concluded that “backing of the Kurds by Americans runs the risk of making American foreign policy more difficult. A Turkey that is riddled by civil war and less democratic is not in the interest of American foreign policy.” 

Emphasizing both regional and Turkey’s dynamics, Dr. Joshua Walker said that “there is no solution in Syria that does not involve Turkey. I don’t think United States or the EU are being constructed in the process and as a result there is a constant miscalibration of expectations on both sides of the Atlantic”. Walker also said that due to Russia’s involvement there is now a “softening of U.S. policy on Syria and U.S. needs to help Turkey walk back its rhetoric on Assad”. 

Experts noted that under these new developments, the U.S. should put more emphasis on its cooperation with Turkey not on YPG, the organization that is part of the train and equip program, or any other entity.    

In addition to U.S and Turkish government officials, attendees to the roundtable discussion included representatives from the Syrian-American Council, Kurdistan Regional Government of Iraq and Middle East analysts from various think-tanks.