Turkey

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, Polish Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz, and German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen stressed the importance of unity in the Alliance during a panel discussion in Brussels on July 11. Although each of the ministers implored the Alliance to find common ground on the challenges facing the bloc, divergent views on these central questions also emerged. The ministers participated in NATO Engages, a two-day event co-hosted by the Atlantic Council on the sidelines of the NATO Summit in Brussels.

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With the Turkish presidential and parliamentary elections that took place on June 24, the issue of naturalized Syrian refugees’ participation was a major point of contention. Turkish parties have divergent views on the Syrian refugee situation in Turkey, and there was an increase of public campaigns rejecting their stay in the country. A wide range of opposition party campaigns called for refugee repatriation, while Syrians with Turkish citizenship were expected to vote for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

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Of all the things that could hurt Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in this weekend’s election—authoritarian tendencies, a poor human rights record, and reports of rampant corruption—one of its more liberal policies may be its undoing.

Polls indicate that the AKP could possibly lose its grip on power for the first time in years, and it may have something to do with the party’s welcoming stance towards Syrian refugees. With elections approaching, the 3.9 million Syrian refugees that Turkey hosts have become a rallying point for opposition leaders, who seek to gain from increasingly intolerant public opinion towards Syrian refugees.

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After sixteen years in power, Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) is facing a serious challenge from an allied opposition in the run-up to the June 24 national election. In a first, Turkish voters will head to the polls that Sunday to vote on candidates for parliament and the presidency. The election is the first up-or-down vote for the AKP’s leader and current Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, following a national referendum last April. In the referendum, voters narrowly passed a series of changes to the constitution to transform the Turkish political system from a parliamentary model to a highly centralized presidential system of governance.

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US President Donald J. Trump is weighing his options as he decides how to respond to an alleged chemical weapons attack in Syria. He has not ruled out military strikes.

In a tweet on April 11, Trump warned Russia that missiles targeting its ally, Syria, "will be coming, nice and new and 'smart!'"

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Turkey’s cross-border intervention in Afrin, the Kurdish-controlled enclave in northwestern Syria separated from other Kurdish territory in northeastern Syria, has advanced to the outskirts of Afrin city. The offensive began on January 20th, 2018, with the intention of ousting the Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG) from the territory it controls in the northwest. After breaking YPG defenses surrounding the city, Turkish ground forces have moved swiftly to besiege the city and, presumably, will begin urban combat operations in the next few days.

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US support for a Kurdish militia in Syria has become a point of contention in the US-Turkey relationship.

Who are the Kurds and why is US support so contentious?

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The US military continues to support a Kurdish militia in Syria that Turkey considers a terrorist organization, and Ankara has had enough.

Now, as the Turkish military threatens to advance on Manbij, a town in northeastern Syria held by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces that includes the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), Ankara is “going to try to force a showdown to gain concessions from the United States,” said Aaron Stein, a resident fellow in the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East.

However, he added, “I just don’t see a willingness from the United States to give the types of concessions that Turkey wants.”

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The recent downturn in US-Turkish relations following the Turkish military’s cross-border military operation in Kurdish-held Afrin, dubbed Operation Olive Branch, should prompt a re-evaluation of American interests in Syria. Afrin is an enclave under the control of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its militia, the Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG). The PYD is the Syrian branch of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), an insurgent group active in Turkey since the early 1980s. The YPG is also the main-militia in the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, the multi-ethnic grouping of militias that has done the bulk of the fighting against Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL, Daesh) east of the Euphrates River.

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US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s current trip to the Middle East reportedly seeks to attempt to restore stability in the region following the virtual destruction of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) by US and coalition forces. What is his way forward with the Turks and how should Washington manage its differences with Ankara on Syria? 

Given the raft of other problems in the relationship—the fate of the Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen, the detention of American Consulate staff in Adana and Istanbul, disagreement about the US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Ankara’s dalliance with Moscow and Tehran, and the difficulty of dealing with an increasingly authoritarian and erratic ally—how much can Tillerson actually achieve?

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