Turkey faces myriad internal and external challenges, including an escalating conflict with Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militants, a crisis over three million Syrian refugees, threats posed by the Islamic State (ISIS), and growing social and political polarisation exacerbated by a July 2016 coup attempt. Crisis Group maintains a unique tracker of the death toll in the PKK conflict and conducts field research to prevent, mitigate or end deadly violence and its consequences. Our ten-year-old presence in Turkey puts us in a unique position to engage the government and all parties not just on domestic crises but also to help Turkey stabilise its exceptionally turbulent neighbourhood.
Turkish intervention in Libya’s war stopped the besieged Tripoli government from collapsing. But fighting with Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar’s forces has since escalated, threatening a protracted conflict. Both Ankara and Haftar’s regional backers should urge their allies toward a return to negotiations and a ceasefire.
Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) intensified attacks in south east while Turkish military targeted PKK within Turkey and in northern Iraq. PKK launched attacks on state-contracted workers in Nusaybin city 3 April, Kulp district 8 April, and Silopi city 14 April. Turkish military continued small-scale ground operations against PKK in rural areas of south east and carried out two air raids on PKK in northern Iraq, including airstrikes 15 April destroyed PKK base south of Qandil and armed drone attack same day targeted the Makhmur camp south west of Erbil. Within Turkey, prosecution on terrorism-related charges continued of eight pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) mayors who govt dismissed in March. In north east Syria, Turkish military targeted Kurdish-led People’s Protection Units (YPG) militants; YPG-attributed car bomb attack in Afrin on 28 April killed at least 42 civilians (see Syria). In Syria’s Idlib province, rebels continued to oppose fragile March Moscow-Ankara ceasefire agreement; Turkish security forces 13 April dispersed sit-in protests, apparently organised by jihadist coalition Hei’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), aimed at halting joint Turkish-Russian patrols. In response, HTS briefly abducted Turkey-backed rebel fighters. Nonetheless, Russia and Turkey 28 April conducted sixth joint patrol in area. As conflict in Libya continued to escalate, Turkey stepped up military support to Tripoli-based Government of National Accord; Turkish F16 fighter jets 18 April carried out first ever military exercise over Misrata (see Libya). Detentions of Islamic State (ISIS) suspects decreased, with only twelve individuals with suspected ISIS links detained during month, including six foreigners. Concerns grew over potential impact of COVID-19 on vulnerable Syrian refugee population in Turkey, as well as strain on economy.
Gulf states are competing for influence in the Horn of Africa to control the Red Sea, transposing internal rivalries onto a fragile region. Horn governments should increase their bargaining power with their powerful neighbours, who should recognise the risks their policies pose to regional security.
Turkey hosts 3.6 million Syrian refugees, half of whom are under eighteen. Despite European aid, tensions are rising as the country strains to accommodate the influx. The answer is smarter integration policies aimed particularly at meeting the needs of vulnerable youth.
Much of north-eastern Syria has been safe during the civil war. But in the event of U.S. military withdrawal, a mad scramble for control could be unleashed. Washington and Moscow should help their respective allies in Syria reach a decentralisation deal for the area.
Rivalry persists between Russia and Turkey in their shared neighbourhood of the Black Sea and the South Caucasus. But Moscow-Ankara relations have warmed overall. Building on their wider rapprochement, the two powers can work together to tamp down flare-ups of regional conflicts.
Ahead of Turkey’s presidential and parliamentary elections on 24 June, opinion polls suggest a tighter race than many anticipated. The country’s Kurds could be kingmakers, prompting politicians of different stripes to court their votes and opening much-needed debate about longstanding Kurdish demands.
Getting out [of Idlib] altogether, allowing the refugees to come into Turkey and letting Assad take that space is not an idea that’s going to resonate with Turkish society.
[Turkey has been using Russia] to push back against policies that it doesn’t like from its Western partners.
Escalation is likely going to continue [in Syria] as long as Turkey and Russia cannot agree on a new cease-fire.
L'EI constitue toujours une menace qui pourrait métastaser si les FDS voient leur attention et leurs ressources détournées [...] au profit d'une bataille défensive contre la Turquie.
[By deciding to withdraw its troops from North East Syria] the United States just threw away the last leverage it had.
Even if efforts to create a 'buffer zone' [in Northern Syria] succeed, the underlying source of tension will remain and with it, the potential for a Turkish military response to Ankara's perceived YPG threat.
In this interview, Crisis Group's Libya Expert Claudia Gazzini try to provide some insight into Turkey's relation with Libya and the Mediterranean neighbourhood.
A deadly attack on Turkish forces in Syria has brought Idlib’s crisis to a dangerous crossroads. In this Q&A, Crisis Group’s Turkey, Syria and Russia experts explain what happened and what’s at stake.
Last weekend, the presidents of Turkey, Iran and Russia met in Ankara to discuss, among other things, the latest developments in Syria amid Turkish concerns over the consequences of a Syrian government offensive in the last rebel enclave, Idlib.
Originally published in Valdai
Watch List Updates complement International Crisis Group’s annual Watch List, most recently published in January 2019. These early-warning publications identify major conflict situations in which prompt action, driven or supported by the European Union and its member states, would generate stronger prospects for peace. The Watch List Updates include situations identified in the annual Watch List and/or a new focus of concern.