Former Trump National Security Advisor LTG (ret) Michael Flynn, now a registered and paid agent for the government of Turkey, is reported to have been on their payroll prior to President Trump’s inauguration. He revealed to Trump’s transition team in January that he had worked as a lobbyist for Turkey in 2016.
If that were not bad enough, he is reported to have vetoed a planned joint operation with Kurdish forces to retake the city of Raqqa in Syria from ISIS forces. Allowing a paid agent of Turkey to have any control over, much less veto, an operation which Turkey saw as against its interests is a definite conflict of interest and quite distressing.
This, however, begs the question: Why would Turkey not want to combat ISIS? They do, in fact, want to fight ISIS – but, not with the help of the Kurds. Turkey does not want the Kurds to come out of this conflict with any greater sense of Kurdish national unity and power than they already possess. Thus, Turkey is trying to balance its interests: it does not want ISIS infiltrating its territory, but it also does not want to lose territory to the Kurds.
The reason for Turkey’s opposition to the Kurds has its roots in the war going on since the 1980’s between Turkey and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The PKK has been fighting for an independent Kurdish state (“Kurdistan”) or at least greater autonomy from the Turkish government. In 2007, they helped organize a group of Kurds from Turkey, Iraq, Iran, and Syria into the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK). The PKK has been labeled a terrorist organization by many countries, including Turkey and NATO.
However, the Kurds have been one of the most effective forces in the fight against ISIS. To be clear, the Kurdish groups which the U.S. is fighting alongside are not part of the PKK (although Turkey makes allegations to the contrary). Turkey fears any inroads by the Kurds will embolden the PKK and eventually lead to an independent Kurdish state. The presence of a “Kurdistan” would then cause Kurds in Turkey to wish to join it, taking their territory with them. To get a better sense of why Turkey opposes Kurdish nationalism, take a look at this map; most of the Kurdish-populated territory lies within Turkey’s borders.
The U.S. is now, in fact, going to arm the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (Y.P.G.) in Syria to fight against ISIS, despite Turkish objections. This is significant and will likely help in the war against ISIS. It will also lead to greater tension between the U.S. and Turkey, since Turkey bombed Y.P.G. forces last month. In addition, it will likely lead to greater Turkish-Russian cooperation, as Russia seeks to protect Assad’s power in Syria and Turkey seeks to keep the Kurds in check.