Syria Civil War: Why NATO and Kurdish Fighters Are the New Players in the Ongoing Revolution

The ongoing Syrian civil war that began in March of 2011 is now potentially escalating to regional warfare as NATO member Turkey fired back at Syria after a deadly round of Syrian mortar bombs left a family of five killed and eight wounded in a Turkish town near the border.

The Turkish artillery attacked targets in the province of Idlib, killing several Syrian soldiers. Turkey’s involvement in the Syrian conflict will not only prove to be a troubling issue for Bashar al-Assad’s oppressive regime but will also have major repercussions in Turkey’s actions against Kurdish separatist fighters. 

Following the recent cross-border violence, NATO convened an urgent meeting with member states on Wednesday night to discuss the shelling of the Turkish town of Akcakale. The meeting was held under article 4 of the NATO charter, which calls for consultations when a member feels its territorial integrity is under threat. During the meeting, the Alliance unilaterally condemned the act, urging Syria to end the “flagrant violations of international law,” and saying it will continue to stand by Turkey. The White House took the opportunity to once again place pressure on Assad to step down, as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed outrage over the incident. 

Wednesday’s mortar attack was the third instance of Syrian artillery reaching Turkish territory, virtually collapsing the already tense relationship between the two countries following the downing of a Turkish warplane by the Syrian military in June that killed two pilots.

While it was unclear as to whether the government’s army or rebel fighters fired the attack, Turkey believed it came from a government position, immediately striking the targets spotted by radar. Turkey has increased its military arsenal at the border, deploying more tanks, artillery, and missile batteries to the area. 

Turkey also reached out to the United Nations Security Council, urging them to take “necessary action” to stop further Syrian aggression. The Security Council however has been in a deadlock for nearly a year, unable to come to a unanimous decision regarding the conflict as Russia and China have continually vetoed resolutions condemning the Syrian regime. For the time being, nothing more is expected to come out of the Council besides a statement. 

Turkey, like Qatar and Saudi Arabia, has been an outspoken supporter of the Syrian uprising since the Syrian regime began its brutal campaign against its dissidents. Over 90,000 Syrian have found refugee in Turkey. In addition, Turkey has become a channel from which Syrian rebel fighters have received weaponry from abroad.  

However, while Turkey pushes for the ousting of Assad, the situation is further complicated by Kurdish PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) fighters, that have used the instability in northern Syria as a base to launch military attacks against Turkey in its struggle for an independent Kurdish state. Clashes between PKK fighters and the Turkish military have escalated in recent weeks.

In an interview with RT, Mark Almond, a professor of international relations at Bilkent University in Turkey highlighted several key important issues regarding Turkey’s difficult position. As he put it, “It [Ankara] wants to see the overthrow of Assad’s government, it is supporting the destabilization of that regime, but it seems to expect that the mosaic of Syrian society, its ethnic make-up, will remain stable. When you shake the kaleidoscope, you cannot be certain where the pieces will fall down.” 

Turkey has a long history of fighting with the PKK, most recently carrying out attacks against the militant group in Northern Iraq. Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has said Turkey will not hesitate to take steps against the PKK in northern Syria after reports found that the group took control of five cities along the Syrian-Turkish border.

Syria has become a battlefield for not only the Syrian regime and rebels fighters but also for Turkey and the PKK separatists. The recent attacks against Turkey have only solidified Turkish involvement in Syria, one that quite possibly could lead to a NATO intervention as well and further escalate the fragile situation.