Not in the SOTEU: Turkey

The President of the European Commission, Jean Claude-Junker delivered his first “State of the European Union” (SOTEU) address today, mainly focusing on the serious and ongoing refugee crisis that Europe has struggled to cope with. With his calls for the EU to disperse 160,000 migrants across its member states, along with his smaller focus on the UK or Ukraine, Junker did leave out one serious issue that is happening to a (candidate) country that borders the EU–that is the security situation in Turkey.

While Junker delivered his address, reports emerged that hundreds of protesters attacked an opposition party headquarters in the capital Ankara, while the Hurriyet newspaper (often critical of the government) had its offices attacked for the second time this week. The tense situation marks the beginning of what is expected to be an exceptionally violent election campaign to the November 1st general elections. An election campaign that will occur as the country sees renewed fighting with the Kurds and has entered the war against the Islamic State (IS).

Turkey is seeing almost daily incidents of violence, particularly in the southeast. Just this week, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) carried out two of its deadliest attacks against Turkish forces – one killing 16 soldiers and the other killing 14 police officers. The government retaliated with airstrikes targeting PKK bases in the southeast but also in northern Iraq, where the army even temporarily entered Iraqi territory to chase PKK militants. Turkey has vowed to rid the area of “terrorists”.

Not a day goes by anymore in the country without a PKK attack in eastern and southeastern provinces. The government is carrying out a massive anti-terror raid that has seen at least 1,600 people arrested so far. Many of these raids result in activists being killed, as has happened in Istanbul, leading to violent protests and rioting.

Civilians have been killed, pipelines targeted by bomb attacks, the Iranian government closed its border with Turkey after its trucks were attacked, and media and political establishments have been targeted. Violent acts were common in the run-up to the June 7 general election, before the current crisis started after the Suruc bomb attack in late July that left 33 people dead.

The security situation in the country is precarious and the violence has certainly increased in the past few days. Meanwhile, Europe has been silent on the issue. Junker did not mention Turkey in his address, even though the country and is now involved in the Syrian conflict (airstrikes, shared border, ect.). Turkey borders the EU and is still technically a candidate country, yet the EU has largely been silent on the recent deterioration of the security situation.

It has, in the past, urged Turkey to use “proportionate” force when dealing with the PKK. Many accuse Turkey of using the conflict against IS to attack its real enemy–the PKK. The country has allowed the US and its allies to use an airbase in the south to carry out strikes against IS, and has started its own–and yet the majority of Turkey’s attention is focused on the Kurds, who are fighting IS themselves, creating a bizarre triangle where everyone is fighting everyone.

This complex and delicate security situation needs to be addressed by Europe. The refugee crisis proves that the continent can no longer ignore what is happening around its borders and beyond. The conflict in Turkey shows no signs of abating, and further Turkish bombardments in Iraq and Syria will only increase the number of displaced people in the region, many of whom will flee to Europe for safety.

The EU should be working towards another ceasefire between Turkey and the PKK, and to ensure Turkey targets IS rather than the Kurds in northern Iraq and Syria as they are the boots on the ground that are fighting (and often winning) against IS militants. Unfortunately, one crisis does not stop other potential crises from occurring and they all need proper attention simultaneously. Violence in a country bordering the EU cannot be ignored and it is puzzling why it is not getting more attention.

Politicians must act with foresight, the lack of which has lead to the current failure to deal with the influx of migrants. If the European Union had acted previously, or done more to bring an end to the conflicts in the region, it would be better prepared today and not be faced with chaotic scenes of migrants breaking through borders or walking down motorways. Hundreds of thousands had already arrived when politicians finally took notice (after public outcry) and decided to try and do something. It is not wise to wait until a conflict reaches a state where millions must flee. It is not wise to apply band-aid solutions to problems that are large and complex and require a coordinated and significant effort to try and solve. The EU needs to take a lesson from this current crisis and act with foresight to new conflicts in the region, or else it risks putting itself in this same position in a few more years time.

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