Turkey | Turkey Initially Resists the Fight Against ISIS but Changes Course
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- Turkey Initially Resists the Fight Against ISIS but Changes Course
Turkey Initially Resists the Fight Against ISIS but Changes Course
Members of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria kidnapped 49 people from the Turkish consulate in Mosul, Iraq, in June 2014. Those abducted included Consul General Ozturk Yilmaz and several members of his family. Despite the threat posed by ISIS, Turkey has been reluctant to join the U.S.-led coalition fighting ISIS, presumably because of the hostages. The hostages were released in late September, and in early October Turkey's parliament voted to authorize military action against ISIS in Iraq and in Syria and also to allow other nations to launch attacks from its territory. However, as ISIS laid siege to Kobani, a Kurdish-dominated town in north-central Syria that borders Turkey, causing about 130,000 Kurdish refugees to flood into Turkey, Erdogan refused to intervene militarily or allow Kurdish fighters to enter Syria through Turkey because the Syrian wing of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) is fighting ISIS. The PKK has been at odds with the Turkish government for more than 30 years over independence. Before he deploys troops, Erdogan wants the U.S. to increase aid to the rebels fighting Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and create a no-fly zone in northern Syria. His stance outraged Kurds in Turkey, who have long felt oppressed by the government. Thousands of Kurds took to the streets to protest the government's unwillingness to intervene, and about 30 people were killed in the violence.
The U.S. launched airstrikes on Kobani, Syria, in early October, trying to prevent ISIS from taking over the strategically located town and thereby gaining additional smuggling routes to arm fighters. Rather than assist the U.S. in its fight against ISIS, Turkey in October attacked installations of the PKK in the southeast, near the border with Iraq. The move outraged Kurds and also frustrated U.S. officials who were counting on the NATO ally for support. The Turkish government shifted its policy in late October, and started to allow a limited number of Iraqi Kurdish members of the pesh merga to cross from Turkey into Kobani to fight ISIS. After five months of fighting, the Kurds—backed by 700 U.S.-led airstrikes—liberated Kobani from the grip of ISIS. The victory came at an enormous cost, as the city was devastated by ISIS militants and the airstrikes. Iraqi Kurds, called the pesh merga, and members of the PKK, joined Syrian Kurds in defending Kobani.
In March 2015, the imprisoned leader of the PKK, Abdullah Ocalan, called on party members to hold a congress and declare an end to its protracted insurgency against the Turkish government. "This struggle of our 40-year-old movement, which has been filled with pain, has not gone to waste but at the same time has become unsustainable," he said in a statement. More than 40,000 people have been killed in the fighting. A previous cease-fire, in 2013, collapsed after a few months.
A suicide bomber linked to the Islamic State killed at least 32 social activists at a cultural center in Suruc, a city in southeastern Turkey, in late July 2015. The activists were planning to rebuild Kobani.
Turkey changed its position on confronting the Islamic State militarily shortly after the suicide attack. The country initiated its first cross-border assaults on the militants in late July 2015. Fighter jets targeted command centers and weapons stockpiles. It also agreed to let the U.S. launch airstrikes into Syria from two Turkish bases. Turkey, however, is not giving up the fight against the PKK. Indeed, the Turkish military reportedly attacked PKK militants as it was striking ISIS and President Erdogan announced he could no longer comply with terms of the peace process that began in 2013.
In April 2015, Pope Francis called the 1915 murder of between 600,000 and 1.5 million Armenians at the hands of Ottoman Turks during World War I the first genocide of the 20th century. He made the comment at a mass commemorating the 100th anniversary of the massacre. Turkey withdrew its ambassador to the Vatican in response.
In late Nov. 2015, Turkey shot down a Russian warplane for invading its airspace. At least one of the two pilots was killed. Turkish officials said that the plane ignored repeated warnings as it crossed over into its airspace from Syria. In a statement, Russian President Vladimir Putin called the act a "stab in the back." He also said that there would be "significant consequences." It was the first time in fifty years that a NATO member had shot down a Russian aircraft.