For weeks, idle Turkish tanks have been watching from the hills in southeastern Turkey as Islamic State forces pound the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobane, just a few hundred meters across the border. That lassitude has prompted many Westerners to voice doubts about Turkey’s commitment to eradicating the Islamic State. But it is fears rooted in Turkey’s own history that are exerting the most influence over Ankara’s stance in the international war against this terrorist group.
“The Kurdish phobias have been revised again with the events in Kobane,” warned diplomatic columnist Semih Idiz of Turkey’s Taraf newspaper.
For three decades, the Turkish state waged a bitter war against the rebel Kurdistan Workers’ Group (PKK) over rights for ethnic Kurds, the country’s largest minority. The fighting killed or displaced tens of thousands and left a deep divide in Turkish society over how to preserve stability while respecting minority rights.
A nearly two-year-long peace process between Ankara and the PKK has done nothing to answer these questions, or to allay officials’ mistrust of Kurds.
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Dorian Jones is a freelance reporter based in Istanbul.