An ambiguous relation
The relation between Turkey and ISIS is quite controversial and surrounded by ambiguity.
If it is true that, from an official point of view, Turkey is fighting against ISIS, from the other side there are many facts that suggest a complicity or a tacit approval of the ISIS operations by the Turkish government.
Before dealing with the analysis of this ambiguous relation, it is necessary to understand the Kurdish issue. After the wane of the Ottoman Empire and the foundation of the Republic of Turkey by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the Kurdish people were forced to live in a formally united State but made up of different ethnic groups, where everyone had to accept being forcibly integrated into the single identity of the majority.
What really matters to the present Turkish government is a possible independence of the Kurdish people, which President Erdogan fears more than anything else. In his vision, this fact would lead to a loss of the territorial integrity and perhaps to an institutional destabilization.
From 1984, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, has engaged in a terrorist war against Turkey, and even though in the mid-2013 a cease-fire was declared, the war started again in the mid-2015, after the Turkish army bombed the PKK positions in northern Iraq (www.worldaffairsjournal.org/article/trouble-turkey-erdogan-isis-and-kurds).
The terrorist attack in Istanbul that occurred last January, like the two previous attacks in Ankara and Suruc, showed the precarious position of Turkey in its fighting against ISIS. After these attacks, there was never a clear message of unity from the government. After the Ankara attack, there was instead a joint condemnation of the Kurdish militants with ISIS, which Erdogan had to dismiss after being criticised. Before the Istanbul attack, Ahmet Davutoglu, the Turkish prime minister, told that “the security forces’ lethal crackdown in indigenous Kurdish minority areas would continue indefinitely”(www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jan/12/istanbul-blast-time-erdogan-face-islamic-state-menace-kurds), thus emphasizing the fight against the Kurds instead of ISIS.
President Erdogan has also been crititcised by many Western countries of not doing enough to prevent such a flow of migration of refugees through the Turkish territory, not to mention the southwards flow of ISIS recruits from Europe and North America (www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jan/12/istanbul-blast-time-erdogan-face-islamic-state-menace-kurds). King Abdullah of Jordan said: “The fact that terrorists are going to Europe is part of Turkish policy” (www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/king-of-jordan-abdullah-says-turkey-isis-terrorists-and-unleashing-them-europe-erdogan-a6954841.html).
In his recent visit to Washington DC, Erdogan strongly criticised the US for supporting the People’s Protection Units, or YPG, in the war against ISIS, and labelled the Kurdish group in Syria as terroristic (foreignpolicy.com/2016/03/31/erdogan-washingtons-closest-allies-against-islamic-state-are-just-as-dangerous-as-the-islamic-state/).
The Turkish President sees YPG as a great threat, because of their support to PKK (www.worldaffairsjournal.org/article/trouble-turkey-erdogan-isis-and-kurds). About this point, the leader of the Peoples Democratic Party (HDP) in Turkey Selahattin Demirtas accused the government of being responsible for training and arming ISIS and all other terrorist organizations in Syria (sana.sy/en/?p=72342).
It is noteworthy that during last year summer, after the Kurdish forces rescued the Syrian town of Tel Abyad from ISIS, the Turkish government decided to set up a 30-km-deep buffer zone to prevent a Kurdish control of their own country, instead of fighting ISIS. It is also noteworthy that if we look at the Turkish border, ISIS has always been able so far to replenish its ranks, while the Kurds have not. If we consider that Turkey, with a long sealed border with Syria and the second-largest army in NATO, has always been able to prevent the Kurds from crossing that border, there is no reason why it cannot prevent ISIS militants from doing it too (www.worldaffairsjournal.org/article/trouble-turkey-erdogan-isis-and-kurds).
It is true that some measures against ISIS were adopted, like the capture and deportation of 2,896 people with suspected ISIS links last January, but they were not enough to prevent ISIS from exploiting the Turkish territory for their recruitments and as a transit point to Europe (www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jan/12/istanbul-blast-time-erdogan-face-islamic-state-menace-kurds).
All of what has been reported so far doesn’t imply that Turkey likes ISIS or that they have something in common, but it’s surely true that President Erdogan sees ISIS as “less evil” than the Kurds (www.worldaffairsjournal.org/article/trouble-turkey-erdogan-isis-and-kurds). It means that if it’s necessary to let ISIS carry on its operations in order to prevent the Kurds from obtaining their independence, the Turkish President is ready to do that.
Of course, if Turkey wants to stay within NATO, it must soon or late revisit its positions and stop with its ambiguity, otherwise its allies, and especially the US, will probably take the appropriate measures (www.worldaffairsjournal.org/article/trouble-turkey-erdogan-isis-and-kurds).