Between the 28th-29th July, Ankara committed to bombing raids along the Turkish-Syrian border. The targets of the bomb raids were Islamic State (IS) controlled areas along the Turkish-Syrian border as well as many areas contested by Kurdish freedom fighter group, The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). These actions come after a terrorist attack in the Suruc district of Turkey which killed 32 and injured over 100. IS claimed responsibility for the attack.
Prior to these bombings, Turkey had maintained a relatively neutral approach to IS; it has previously shown a lax record when it comes to border control with many individuals wishing to fight with IS using the border between Turkey and Syria as an easy means of access. With IS targeting pro-western countries, Turkey, as a member of NATO and by adopting aspects of western culture, has put itself on IS’s radar.
Alongside the bombings, the Turkish government has also detained over 1000 people associated with IS or militant Kurds. Turkish priorities have been criticised as only a small minority of those 1000 are related to IS; the majority being Kurds. Further criticism comes because the PKK, who are the main subjects of the Turkish bombing raids, are successfully defending against IS advances in Syria and Northern Iraq and are in fact keeping much of the Turkish-Syrian border out of IS control.
It appears that the current majority party in Turkey, the Justice and Development Party (AKP), are set to gain from this move. There is a huge nationalistic sentiment growing within Turkey and the AKP have taken advantage of this by exploiting the long-standing friction between the Turkish and Kurdish peoples; a pro-government section of the Turkish media have, in the past, claimed the Kurds to be more dangerous than IS. Although there is a certain hyperbole to this, 40,000 Kurds and Turks have been killed in conflict between Turkey and the PKK between 1984-2013. However, since 2013, there had been a truce which, based on these recent events, will most likely dissolve. It is an interesting political tactic to put the Kurdish people on the same level as IS. In the June elections the AKP lost their majority, they could be using this as an opportunity to rally nationalistic sentiment and regain their previously held majority.
This is not the only time the Kurdish peoples have been attacked; Saddam Hussein also attempted to eradicate the Kurdish population from Iraq. The Turkish have not gone to this extreme. However, they have historically made life difficult for the Kurds after being one of the main voices against the creation of a Kurdish state as well as being openly hostile to Kurdish independence groups such as the PKK. That the Kurds do not that their own country is farcical; they share a different language and culture to the rest of the Middle East and are the largest stateless minority in the world with 25 million people. However, it is not surprising that the UK has not intervened, the PKK are in some areas of the world considered a terrorist group and to aid them would surely sever any ties to Turkey which appears to be a bastion standing between IS and Europe.
It is easy to criticise Turkey from our relatively safe Island; the fact is that Turkey shares a border with Syria and Iraq which are controlled by a dangerous fundamentalist group in IS, and a militant group in the PKK. So, Turkey had to act sooner rather than later. Alongside the bombings Turkey has also built a temporary 2.5 metre high wall along the border with Syria to deter movement through Turkey which had been relatively easy until now. It is clear that Turkey has more to worry about than its international reputation. However, we may say it has muddled its priorities when it appears to be concentrating more on the minimal localised threat of the Kurdish PKK compared to the international threat of IS.