Following official declarations of support via humanitarian aid for the minority populations of Iraq currently fighting an onslaught from the jihadist terror group Islamic State, Kurdish publication Rudaw claims that the government of Turkey has vowed to do all in its power to maintain stability and fend off the Islamic State in Iraq.
Turkey has made overtures to the Kurdish population of Iraq, and declared that it would work to maintain stability on its border, as it stands to gain from the stability of greater Kurdistan (which includes regions in Turkey and Syria). Speaking to Reuters, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu confirmed that the government of Turkey has “sent thousands of tents as well as more than 200 trucks” sent to northern Iraq, and added, “there will be additional humanitarian assistance.” Explaining that, by Kurdish estimates, there are currently 1.5 million internally displaced refugees in Iraq, Davutoglu added, “this turmoil is really a threat to regional stability, not only to Turkey, to everybody.”
According to Kurdish outlet Rudaw, Turkey is taking their support one step further. “As a strategic neighbor the stability and security of the Kurdistan Region is important to Turkey and to keep that stability Turkey will do whatever falls on its shoulders,” Rudaw reports Huseyin Celik, the deputy leader of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), as saying in a speech Thursday. “The Kurds and Turkmen of Iraq are our relatives and now that they are facing difficulties we will not stay silent,” he concluded.
Rudaw is also speculating on what such statements mean for the presence of Turkey on the ground. According to the publication, “Turkish F-16 fighters have taken off from an air base in Diyarbakir for skies over Iraq where Kurdish Peshmerga forces are locked in fierce fighting against the Islamic State (IS/ISIS).” The presence of Turkish fighters in Iraqi would dramatically change the international scope of the fight against the jihadist group.
The Turkish government, however, has denied that it has any military presence in Iraq. Bloomberg reports that Turkish military spokespersons have flatly denied that Turkish planes are entering Iraqi airspace through the military’s website.
A similar incident occurred yesterday afternoon regarding the presence of American planes. Kurdish television sources began to report that American planes were flying over Erbil and the surrounding areas, attacking ISIS targets. The New York Times published the story, and the United States military denied any such reports. Hours later, however, President Obama appeared on American televisions, announcing that, indeed, the United States would be sending planes to defend Erbil and help the starving Yazidi population stranded on Sinjar mountain, after being expelled from their towns by ISIS.
Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has yet to make a similar declaration, however.
The positive tone of the Turkish government towards the Kurdish fighters keeping ISIS at bay and their vow to keep civilians safe may come as a surprise to many familiar with the turmoil between Turkey and its own native Kurdish population. The Turkish government considered a major Kurdish political organization– the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK)– a “terrorist organization,” and only last June legalized the teaching of the Kurdish language in Turkish schools. In addition, sources within the Islamic State have claimed that the Turkish government, and Erdogan in particular, has provided funding for their massacres and conquests. “Turkey paved the way for us. Had Turkey not shown such understanding for us, the Islamic State would not be in its current place,” an unidentified mujahideen told The Jerusalem Post.
At the same time, the legalization of Kurdish language teaching and other overtures toward the community, like an expanded peace process with the PKK, have led many Kurds to consider voting for Erdogan in this year’s election. The New York Times even called Iraqi Kurdistan “Turkey’s best ally in Iraq, if not the whole region.”
The current international outcry for help for Iraq’s Kurds follows an assault by the Islamic State (the former Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, ISIS) on towns cradling the road the connects Mosul to Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan. ISIS captured Mosul, the second-largest city in Iraq, a month ago, and ethnically cleansed the city of its Christian, Shi’ite, and other minority populations. Erbil is now home to the largest Christian population in Iraq after the Islamic State conquered the Christian town of Qaraqosh, sending its population fleeing to Erbil, where the streets are flooded with refugees.