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Turkey is Playing with Fire

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is moving ahead with his plans for a state visit to the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. While the United States and the European Union may consider Hamas a terrorist organization, Erdoğan instead describes Hamas as “resistance fighters who are struggling to defend their land.”

Erdoğan may wish to use anti-Israel activism to propel Turkey’s leadership bid among Arab states, but he should take care with the precedent he sets. It is hard to square his demand that Israel apologize for killing nine Turks on the Mavi Marmara (one of whom held dual American citizenship) with Turkey’s refusal to apologize for the murders of hundreds of thousands, if not a million Armenians in the waning years of the Ottoman Empire; or its role in the deaths of myriad Kurdish civilians during its fight against the Kurdish insurgency of the 1980s and 1990s. Indeed, the Turkish government leveled hundreds of Kurdish villages as it tried to create a cordon sanitaire along its frontiers with Iraq and Iran.

Erdoğan’s pro-Hamas activism may ultimately endanger Turkish national security. Earlier this month, the Congress for a Democratic Society, an umbrella group of legal Kurdish organizations in Turkey, declared the autonomy of Kurds in southeastern Turkey. Certainly, this is a shot across the bow, and a most provocative step. While the declaration of autonomy is controversial even among Turkey’s Kurds, let alone Turkish citizens who are not ethnically Kurdish, it creates a situation in which any Turkish outreach to the Palestinians will reverberate through the precedent to Kurdish areas in Turkey. Erdoğan considers Hamas simply as legitimate resistance fighters struggling from liberty and to defend their land? Well, couldn’t the PKK describe themselves the same way?  And if Erdoğan feels himself able to make a state visit to Gaza, couldn’t others—perhaps not now but a decade down the road—use the precedent he sets to decide that they will make state visits to Diyarbakir to meet with Kurdish authorities, yet skip any meetings in Ankara?

Erdoğan should take care. He may revel in the adoring embrace of Hamas, but Turkey has no shortage of enemies in either the East or the West. Kurdish nationalism is not going away, and the Kurdish Diaspora is growing and becoming more influential in Europe. Erdoğan’s antipathy toward Israel today may sow the seeds of Turkey’s partition down the road.


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