Turkey prevents PKK fighters from entering Syria to fight ISIS

The Washington Post reports: Hundreds of men from the Turkish Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) have tried to cross into Syria. “Turkey is preventing, not only PKK, but all Kurdish men from entering Syria,” said Redur Xelil, a spokesman for the People’s Protection Units (YGP), one of the Syrian Kurdish groups fighting the Islamic State. “But the men are entering illegally through some crossings.”

The Turkish government says it is illegal for fighters to enter Syria through its borders, but hundreds of foreign combatants have transited through Turkey in the past three years to join the war against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who Turkey has said must go. That has led to accusations that Turkey has fostered the growth of the Islamic State. Turkey has denied this, but has a long history of conflict with the autonomy-seeking Kurds and has been battling its own Kurdish separatists for decades.

“The reality is that Turkey is siding with ISIS,” said Xelil, using the acronym for the group’s previous name, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

Kurdish fighters managed to halt the militants’ advance Monday, but fierce fighting continued on several fronts. Kurdish Syrian forces say their weapons are no match for the militants’ arsenal, looted from fleeing Iraqi national troops in June. Kurdish leaders have been calling on the international community for support to defend the border against the militants, as well as for fighters from Turkey to join them and defend the Kurdish villages.

“Turkey does not have a problem with ISIS,” Xelil said. “Sometimes they facilitate the transit of their fighters and even open the hospitals for their injured, while they do not allow [our] injured to cross and use their hospitals.”

As Assad has battled to protect his regime in Damascus, the Syrian Kurds in the country’s north have taken the opportunity to increase their autonomy, much to the dislike of Turkey.

“The Turks are really happy seeing the Islamic State demolishing the political and administrative system, the self-governing system, that the Kurds were in the process of building in Kurdish areas in northern Syria,” said Hoshang Waziri, an Iraqi Kurdish analyst and writer who spent years in Syria. “Turkey much prefers an Islamic State neighbor over a semi-PKK-led Kurdish state.”

While Turkey is getting comfortable with the idea of an independent Iraqi Kurdish state — in part by building economic relations with the enclave — the Turks have seen autonomy for Syrian Kurds as a threat. Unlike the Iraqi Kurdish leadership, Syrian Kurds have a close relationship with the Turkish PKK Kurds who have been fighting Turkey for independence.

That could be changing as Turkey increasingly sees the threat posed by the expansionist Sunni militants of the Islamic State. Those leading the charge for this new caliphate have made it clear that the borders that now govern the Middle East are irrelevant for the caliph and the militants. [Continue reading…]

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