Turkey Strikes Back
On Wednesday night, for the second time in the last six months, Turkey invoked Article IV of the NATO charter, prompting a late-night consultation with its allies in Brussels over a perceived threat to its sovereignty and security. Last time, it was over the Syrian Air Force’s downing of an Turkish F4 reconnaissance plane, which Ankara maintains was hit by a surface-to-air missile in international airspace after apparently straying briefly into Syria’s. This time, it was because the Syrian Army fired three mortar rounds into the Turkish border town of Akcakale, killing five civilians and injuring eight others.
Turkey’s immediate response to what appeared to be an “errant” attack was to engage in reprisal shelling of undisclosed Syrian air bases and outposts, which, according to the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, killed several soldiers. However, following NATO’s perfunctory rhetorical support for its member state, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan then invoked Article 92 of the Turkish Constitution, which, according to the parliamentary motion that subsequently passed, grants him “one-year-long permission to make the necessary arrangements for sending the Turkish Armed Forces to foreign countries.” Erdogan’s deputy promptly explained that this measure was “not for war” but for deterring further cross-border violence. The prime minister’s assessment was somewhat less varnished. “We are not interested in war,” he said on Friday, “but we’re not far from it either.” As of this writing, more mortars have fallen on Turkish soil, in Akcakale and Hatay, and Turkey has responded with reprisal shelling for six consecutive days.
The interesting thing to note about the war powers bill was that it was dated September 20th and originally meant for deploying forces to Iraq’s Qandil Mountains to flush out militants of the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK), which Turkey, the US, and the EU all designate a terrorist group. The bill was only revised last week to include Syria after the Akcakale attack. There were certainly other factors that influenced Turkey’s responses last week, including the rising Sunni-Alawite sectarian tension in the southwestern city of Antakya, temporary home to the bulk of some 120,000 Syrian refugees and untold scores of rebel fighters. But, as so often in Turkey, the Kurdish question is the prism through which the country’s foreign policy must be filtered.