While Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan announced on July 24 that Turkey expects regime change in Syria, the Turkish military took steps to upgrade its preparedness for further hostilities. Erdogan has stressed that the country would retaliate to any further hostile actions following the downing of a Turkish F4 on June 22; this preparation and related military build up however will be of equal use for potential action against the power vacuum that will almost certainly follow Assad’s fall, and the Turkish government have several pressing security concerns to consider.The first and most obvious of these is the ongoing and potentially increasing stream of refugees attempting to escape violence by fleeing into Turkey (Turkey today closed its Syrian border to all vehicular traffic, but this does not include refugee flows). Equally important for Turkey though are considerations over how instability in Syria may affect the issue of an independent Kurdish state.
A video posted yesterday (24/07) on a Turkish website appears to show Kurdish soldiers moving through Iraq towards the Syrian border with the intention of securing the town of Qamishli, which borders both Iraq and Turkey. These were Syrian Kurds who have received training from their Iraqi counterparts. The Turkish military has reacted by increasing its buildup of forces along the Turkish/Syrian border and this may escalate the risk of the Syrian Civil War spilling over into a regional conflict. The move comes as concerns over the potential use of Syria’s chemical weapons stock enhances the likelihood of external action in Syria significantly, adding further turmoil to the already acutely unstable security dynamic of a country in the midst of a civil war.
The display of Kurdish force and the interaction between Kurds in Syria and the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq will inflame fears in Ankara of more PKK inspired terrorism and increased calls for a Kurdish state. If Kurds in Syria can earn as much legitimacy in a post-Assad Syria as those in Iraq, the two Kurdish elements could prove a significant diplomatic and increased military concern to the Turkish state, which currently seeks to avoid granting autonomy to its primarily Kurdish regions.
Although the Turks have immediate obvious reasons to cheer the fall of Assad, the inevitable uncertainty that will follow is likely to create significant problems for Erdogan and his government. The Turks will clearly be watching the situation for further developments.
Tom Dixon, Research Associate