WASHINGTON DC (Kurdistan 24) – “The best solution” is for Kurds and Turks to come together to fight against the terrorism of the so-called Islamic State, Can Dundar, former editor-in-chief of Cumhuriyet, one of Turkey’s oldest and most well-known newspapers, told Kurdistan 24.
Soon after Dundar became head of Cumhuriyet, in February 2015, the paper received a prize from Reporters Without Borders for its "independent and courageous journalism.” But shortly after that, Dundar was arrested, along with Cumhuriyet’s Ankara bureau chief, Erdem Gul.
The paper had published reports revealing that Turkish intelligence was covertly shipping arms to Islamic extremists in Syria. Dundar and Gul were charged with espionage and membership in a terrorist organization.
The journalists spent three months in prison, before being released, after a constitutional court ruled that their rights had been violated and their detention was illegal.
Now, Dundar lives in exile in Germany. The Carnegie Endowment just recognized him with a “Leaders for Democracy Award,” and he spoke there on Friday, after which he talked to Kurdistan 24.
Dundar stressed that the right approach to the Islamic State was for Turks and Kurds to join forces against it, rather than what is happening now: Turkey’s assault across the border into northeast Syria, with its army, backed by a proxy militia of some 10,000 Syrian fighters, many scarcely indistinguishable from the fighters of the Islamic State.
Dundar is strongly opposed to that assault. “The only way to stop this bloodshed,” Dundar said, is cooperation between Turks and Kurds against the terrorist group.
“This is the only way to assure peace in Turkey and in the region,” he continued, as he added, “It’s difficult for us to understand why we [Turks and Kurds] are fighting with each other.”
US President Donald Trump is counting on Turkey to prevent the re-emergence of the Islamic State, but asked if he thought Turkey would do so, Dundar thought not.
“Turkey has been hosting ISIS for years,” he replied. “Everyone knows it in the region.”
Turkey was “hosting them in different cities, ISIS headquarters,” and “they were releasing their guerrillas,” Dundar continued. “So I don’t think the Turkish government is the best choice to get rid of ISIS.”
Indeed, Kurdistan 24 spoke with some female Islamic State prisoners in al-Hol camp in northeast Syria. They are hoping for Turkey to attack their camp.
“If the Turkish army comes to this area, I will be able to flee and meet my husband, who I know well is in Turkey,” as one woman explained.
The basic cause of Turkey’s assault into Syria, Dundar suggested, was domestic politics—specifically, the weakening base of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has been in office for over 16 years.
“The official narrative is that they are fighting against terrorism, PKK terrorism,” Dundar said, “But, I guess, Erdogan needed this war.”
Erdogan “was really in a very difficult position,” Dindar suggested. In addition to serious economic problems, “he was challenged by a very strong alliance of the democratic opposition,” including the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP), and “he was faced with a challenge within his own party.”
“So he needed something to unify his supporters and enhance his own power,” Dundar continued. “So declaring war is the best solution for him, unfortunately, but not for Turkey, not for us.”
Alan Makovsky, a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, agreed. Makovsky explained there were “two primary reasons” for the Turkish attack.
Noting Erdogan’s eroding political standing, Makovsky said, “First of all, his popularity has been sagging. The economy has been going down,” and “he lost the local elections.”
“He wanted to revive his popularity and support,” Makovsky continued, “and the surest way to do that is through a military operation.”
Related to that, “Erdogan wants to rid Turkey of as many Syrian refugees as he possibly can,” Makovsky stated. “There’s strong opposition” in Turkey “to the presence of so many refugees.”
Makovsky also warned that Erdogan may well be intending to effect a major demographic shift in northeast Syria.
People need to “watch carefully,” Makovsky said. “Is there going to be a lot of forced repatriation of Syrian refugees, who are not from northeast Syria. Most of them are from Aleppo and Idlib and other places. Are they going to be forced into that area?”
Finally, Makovsky stressed that the US withdrawal from northeast Syria has boosted Russia’s standing and influence.
“The United States has largely removed itself from the scene,” he stated. “The Kurds—because they had no other choice—have linked up” with the Syrian regime, “which is a client of Russia.”
“Russia is present,” Makovsky concluded. “I think Russia is the one who’s going to arbitrate this.”