Sparking international tensions is nothing new in the Middle-East. However, no matter how disliked Syria is globally, Turkey’s desire to invade Kurdistan is no laughing matter. The infringement on national borders by a rising power in the region is undoubtedly not a minor issue.
The answer to why Turkey, a NATO member, would decide to invade its neighbor is not a single reason. Rather, it is an amalgamation of reasons that mostly boil down to geography, money, and influence. One thing remains certain: there are too many incentives for Erdogan to ignore.
Not Winning is Losing
First and foremost, the risk of the Kurdish population standing its ground against a weakened Syria holds the risk of inspiring Kurdish separatists in Turkey to do the same. This would leave the country with much of Eastern Anatolia, as well as up to twenty million of Turkey’s 81 million inhabitants.
This would bring a shockwave to Turkey, making it less capable of projecting power towards Iraq and Iran. These countries border Turkey only through Kurdish territory. For Turkey, invading Kurdistan’s cradle in Syria is stopping this before it spirals out of control and affects the Turkish themselves.
Why Turkey Can Lose Everything
Despite the fact that Kurdish dominated territory does not constitute more than just a sizeable fraction of Turkish territory, one must investigate what is in Eastern Anatolia. The Taurus mountains, where the Kurds live, are the most oil-rich regions of the country. For Erdogan, losing oil is not something that an economy with growing public spending can afford.
Secondly, the region gives Turkey enormous leverage over Syria and Iraq. This is all thanks to Turkey’s control over the Tigris and Euphrates rivers’ tributaries. Right now, the Euphrates is the main source of water for Syria. As much as 44% of Syrian drinkable water comes from the river. This weakness will be exploited with the completion of the Atatürk Dam, which will grant Turkey the ability to curb the country’s water supply by nearly half.
On the other hand, Iraq’s dependency on Turkish water sources is even more pronounced, with 98% of the country’s water coming from the Euphrates or the Tigris. The Ilisu, a massive dam on the Tigris, is under construction. The possibility of using the dam’s capabilities to limit water during warfare is enough to alarm many in Mosul.
To Invade Or Not To Invade The Kurds
Kurdish fighters have already made attempts at sabotaging the building of the Ilisu dam in 2008. The upcoming Atatürk dam is also within their reach. There are already reasons for them to take up destructive measures. Particularly, to take revenge for the political persecution of their identity in Turkey.
However, taking the active measure of invading more Kurdish lands to assert dominance over their own oil reserves, hydro-influence and population will in no measure soften the reaction from the internal Kurdish side of the conflict. To complicate matters further, the lands of Northern Syria are the most resource-rich in Syria. These are the lands that Turkey’s army is planning to take over. If Syria is to weaken further, even greater destabilization in the region can be expected. This is true especially from the side of Iran.
Invading Kurdistan in Syria will devastate millions of people. So can Turkey’s failure to do so. What is certain, though, is that one cannot be certain of anything when it comes to this part of the world.
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