The disastrous march of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) in Syria and Iraq does not only force hundreds of thousands of people to flee the war and take refuge in Turkey, it also has a direct impact on a number of issues concerning Turkey's internal politics. The most important of these, beyond any doubt, was the matter of the 49 diplomatic staff who were taken hostage by ISIS at the Turkish Consulate in Mosul, Iraq and were returned after a 100-day endeavor. This move by ISIS put Ankara in a tight spot, as it was turned into an instrument to suppress policymakers both inside and outside Turkey. Due to all of this, Turkey initially very cautiously approached the U.S.-led coalition that was formed to eliminate ISIS. However, the rescue of the 49 hostages with a masterful operation relieved Ankara to a significant extent, allowing it to take a much clearer stance against ISIS.
ISIS's threat against the Tomb of Suleiman Shah and its outpost, which lie on an official exclave protected by Turkish special troops in Syria, is the second most important issue that affects Turkish politics. Since ISIS expanded into northern Syria and captured the territories around the tomb, Ankara worries that it may also assault the outpost. Turkish political leaders insistently underscore that if it comes true, it will push Turkey to make a decision on military action. As it has been plainly said by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, everything is already planned and any attack against the outpost will be repelled. The General Staff is also making plans regarding how to fire back against attacks on the outpost in the fastest way possible. Chief of the General Staff Necdet Özel gave the message that they will go to the outpost the moment it is in danger.
The third risk that is posed by ISIS in Syria and Iraq is regarding the reconciliation process, which is already on vulnerable ground. By intimidating the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) a few months ago, ISIS also targeted Turkey's interests in the KRG and high-level relationships between them. Fortunately, ISIS gave up advancing toward the KRG due to pressure by the coalition, but this time it is occupying the Kurdish canton of Kobani (Ayn al-Arab) in northern Syria.
The seizure of the outskirts of Kobani and outbreak of clashes between Kurdish forces and ISIS militants in downtown Kobani set Turkey in motion. Salih Muslim, chairman of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) - the Syrian affiliate of the PKK - who established Kurdish cantons in northern Syria in an attempt to form an autonomous government, visited Ankara and held talks with the Foreign Ministry and the National Intelligence Organization (MİT). He asked Turkey to facilitate the flow of heavy weapons to Kurds, saying that ISIS attacked Kobani with heavy artillery. At the same time, Turkey's pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) incited its proponents to pour into the streets in support of Kobani. They attacked public buildings, burned vehicles and clashed with police claiming that Turkey does not support Kobani.
These attempts, which create pressure on the reconciliation process, are aiming to push Ankara to take steps regarding Kobani and to strengthen the hands of Kurdish fighters. However, Ankara is behaving very gingerly as it looks from a different perspective than the PYD at the strategic picture in Kobani. We can summarize the reasons that shape Ankara's perspective on Kobani as follows. Since Turkey feels obliged to render humanitarian assistance to Kurds fleeing Kobani, it opened its border gates to anyone coming from there. In only one night, a total of 130,000 crossed the border into Turkey. Ankara has placed these Syrian Kurds, who rise in number every passing day, in refugee camps to take care of them.
Turkey cares about Kobani, as we understand from Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu's statements. He said that they will try their best in order to prevent Kobani from falling. However, it seems rather difficult to prevent ISIS from seizing Kobani due to the heavy weapons it uses. ISIS can only be stopped by providing heavy weaponry to the PYD and with a military intervention from outside. Well, what does Ankara think about that?
Ankara does not sympathize with the idea of providing arms to the PYD as it is affiliated with the PKK with which Turkey is carrying out the reconciliation process. In this regard, providing arms to the PYD does not match the core principles of the reconciliation process. The primary objective of reconciliation is disarming the PKK by hindering it from having more heavy weaponry. Ankara cannot make sure that the PYD will not use this weaponry against Turkey once ISIS is eliminated.
Ankara's mistrust of the PYD stems from past experiences. Up until now, the PYD has not accepted suggestions to dissociate itself from Syrian President Bashar Assad. It did not support the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and other moderate opposition groups fighting in Syria and turned a blind eye to the civilian massacres committed by Assad in addition to the claims that it collaborated with Assad sometime in the past. It did not tolerate the existence of any other political movement except itself in the region where it achieved dominance. It accused Turkey at every opportunity and nurtured enmity against Turkey. We have not yet forgotten this self-centered approach of the PYD.
It is totally out of question that Ankara will launch a military intervention in Kobani on its own as it thinks that the main problem in Syria results from the Assad regime. Ankara suggests that the Syrian crisis cannot be handled unless the Assad regime is toppled. Confining the Syria crisis to ISIS and Kobani merely offers makeshift solutions rather than presenting a comprehensive strategy over Syria. Unless this is achieved, the rest of Syria will be left in Assad's hands and to ISIS even if Kobani is saved, meaning the continuation of massacres elsewhere. Thus, the cost of war will increase both for Turkey and the region. That is why Ankara looks at the goings on from a broad perspective. Ankara claims that both fighting ISIS and freeing Kobani is possible, however, in the meantime, changing the Assad regime is imperative to eliminating the problems permanently. Turkey wants the anti-ISIS coalition to act in line with this holistic strategy. Unless this strategy is admitted, it seems difficult for Ankara to take a step.