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Turkey: Background and U.S. Relations In Brief

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Turkey: Background and U.S. Relations In Brief
March 18, 2016 (R44000)

Introduction

Several Turkish foreign and domestic policy issues have significant relevance for U.S. interests, and Congress plays an active role in shaping and overseeing U.S. relations with Turkey.

This report provides information and analysis relevant for Congress on the following:

  • General assessments of U.S.-Turkey relations and Turkish foreign policy.
  • Specific aspects of U.S.-Turkey dealings regarding Syria and Iraq, including a number of complicated issues involving the Islamic State organization (IS, also known as ISIS, ISIL, or the Arabic acronym Da'esh), Kurdish groups and other regional and international actors (i.e., Syrian government, Russia, European Union, Iran, Arab Gulf states), refugees and migrants, "safe zones," border security, and terrorism.
  • Key issues regarding Turkey's domestic politics. These include controversies and questions involving Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the ruling
    Turkey: Background and U.S. Relations In Brief Jim Zanotti Specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs November 13, 2015 Congressional Research Service 7-5700 www.crs.gov R44000 Turkey: Background and U.S. Relations In Brief Contents Introduction ..................................................................................................................................... 1 U.S.-Turkey Relations and Turkish Foreign Policy......................................................................... 1 U.S.-Turkey Coordination Against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq ........................................... 3 Overview ................................................................................................................................... 3 Complications Involving the Kurds .......................................................................................... 4 Looking Ahead .......................................................................................................................... 6 Domestic Politics and Stability ....................................................................................................... 7 2015 Elections and Questions Regarding Continued AKP Rule ............................................... 8 Recent Resumption of Turkey-PKK Violence and Future Prospects ...................................... 10 Turkey’s Strategic Orientation: Past, Present, Future ..................................................................... 11 Figures Figure 1. Turkey: Map and Basic Facts ........................................................................................... 2 Figure 2. Syria: Areas of Kurdish Control....................................................................................... 5 Figure 3. Turkish Election Results .................................................................................................. 8 Contacts Author Contact Information .......................................................................................................... 12 Congressional Research Service Turkey: Background and U.S. Relations In Brief Introduction Several Turkish foreign and domestic policy issues have significant relevance for U.S. interests, and Congress plays an active role in shaping and overseeing U.S. relations with Turkey. This report provides information and analysis relevant for Congress on the following:    Assessments of U.S.-Turkey relations, Turkish foreign policy, and Turkey’s strategic orientation. Turkish efforts to cooperate with the United States against the Islamic State (IS, also known as Daesh, ISIS, and ISIL) in Syria and Iraq. Key issues regarding Turkey’s domestic politics. These include controversies and questions involving Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the ruling Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi or AKP), and the Turkish government's ongoing hostilities with the or AKP) following the AKP’s November 2015 electoral victory, and the Turkish government’s renewed hostilities (since July) with the longtime Kurdish nationalist insurgent group PKK (Kurdistan Workers' Party or Partiya Karkeren Kurdistane). Kurdistan).For additional information and analysis, see CRS Report R41368, Turkey: Background and U.S. Relations, by Jim Zanotti. Relations, by [author name scrubbed]. U.S.-Turkey Relations and Turkish Foreign Policy There have been many situations in which the United States and Turkey have made common causecooperated during their decades-long alliance in NATO, but their strategic cooperation also has a history of complications. This is based largely on divergences in how the two countries’ leaders have assessed their respective interests given different geographical positions, threat perceptions, and at many times they have also been at odds. Differences have stemmed largely from on divergences in leaders' assessments of respective interests given their differing (1) geographical positions, (2) threat perceptions, and (3) roles in regional and global political and security architectures. Domestic politics in both countries have also played a role. YetNonetheless, both countries have continued to affirm the importance of an enduring strategic relationship. A number of policy differences have arisen in the past few years. It remains unclear whether these differences are mainly the latest manifestations of structural tension, or whether they signal a more substantive change in the bilateral relationship. Since the mid-2000s, President (formerly Prime Minister) Erdogan and Prime Minister (formerly Foreign Minister) Ahmet Davutoglu have consistently articulated an ambitious foreign policy vision. This vision—aspects of which Davutoglu has expressed at times through phrases such as “strategic depth” or “zero problems with neighbors”—draws upon Turkey’s historical, cultural, and religious knowledge of and ties with other regional actors, as well as its soft power appeal.1 Erdogan, Davutoglu, and other Turkish leaders often indicate to the United States and other countries that Turkey’s unique regional status as a Muslim-majority democracy with a robust economy and membership in NATO can positively influence surrounding geographical areas both politically and economically. Turkey has become a more influential actor in the Middle East in the past decade, having sought to leverage the regional status discussed above. However, recent foreign and domestic policy developments may have rendered Turkey less potent or desirable than once generally supposed as 1 See, e.g., Ahmet Davutoglu, “Principles of Turkish Foreign Policy and Regional Political Structuring,” International Policy and Leadership Institute and Economic Policy Research Foundation of Turkey (TEPAV), Turkey Policy Brief Series, 2012 – Third Edition. Congressional Research Service 1 Turkey: Background and U.S. Relations In Brief a shaper of regional outcomes, a model for neighboring countries, and a facilitator of U.S. interests.2 Still, it remains a key regional power that shares linkages and characteristics with the West that may distinguish it from other potentially region-shaping Muslim-majority powers such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Iran. Therefore, working with Turkey is likely to remain relevant for the advancement of U.S. interests in the volatile region.3 This may be especially true if there are significant changes in U.S. relations with Iran that affect the larger regional context of widespread instability and complex alignments among various states and non-state actors. Nevertheless, engagement with Turkey—critical as it might be on specific issues—is unlikely to overshadow other aspects of a U.S. multilateral approach to addressing problems in the region. Turkey’s NATO membership and economic interdependence with Europe appear to have contributed to important Turkish decisions to rely on, and partner with, sources of Western strength. However, as Turkey has prospered, its economic success has taken place alongside efforts to seek greater overall self-reliance and independence in foreign policy. Figure 1. Turkey: Map and Basic Facts Sources: Graphic created by CRS. Map boundaries and information generated by Hannah Fischer using Department of State Boundaries (2011); Esri (2014); ArcWorld (2014); DeLorme (2014). Fact information (2015 2 See, e.g., Blaise Misztal, et al., “Elections in Turkey: Foreign Policy Reset Unlikely Under President Erdogan,” The American Interest, August 7, 2014. 3 See, e.g., M. Hakan Yavuz and Mujeeb R. Khan, “Turkey Treads a Positive Path,” New York Times, February 12, 2015. Congressional Research Service 2 Turkey: Background and U.S. Relations In Brief an enduring strategic relationship.

    Since President (formerly Prime Minister) Erdogan and Prime Minister (formerly Foreign Minister) Davutoglu began exercising control over foreign policy in the previous decade, Turkey has sought greater influence in the Middle East as part of a more outward looking foreign policy vision than that embraced by past Turkish leaders.1 Turkey's "range of critical and overlapping roles" as a Muslim-majority democracy with a robust economy and membership in NATO has largely been viewed by the West as an asset for promoting its ties with the region.2 However, recent foreign and domestic policy developments may have constrained Turkey's role as a shaper of regional outcomes, a model for neighboring countries, and a facilitator of U.S. interests. In response to recent turmoil at and within Turkey's borders, and to some conflicting priorities Turkey appears to have with the United States and other major actors in the region, one Turkish analyst said in early 2016 that Turkey "cannot protect its vital interests, and it is at odds with everyone, including its allies."3 A journalist reporting on his extensive March 2016 interview with President Obama about his Administration's foreign policy decisions wrote the following:

    Early on, Obama saw Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the president of Turkey, as the sort of moderate Muslim leader who would bridge the divide between East and West—but Obama now considers him a failure and an authoritarian, one who refuses to use his enormous army to bring stability to Syria.4

    In providing context for Obama's apparent views, the White House press secretary said in a March 11 press gaggle that Turkey has engaged more effectively in the anti-IS coalition "over the last nine months or so" after the Administration spent some period of time urging it to do so.5 (For the press secretary's context on Turkish domestic issues, see "Domestic Politics and Stability" below.)

    Regardless of some difficulties with the United States and other key actors, Turkey remains a key regional power that shares linkages and characteristics with the West that may distinguish it from other Muslim-majority regional powers such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Iran. Therefore, cooperation with Turkey, along with other actors, is likely to remain relevant for the advancement of U.S. interests in the volatile region.6

    Turkey's NATO membership and economic interdependence with Europe appear to have contributed to important Turkish decisions to rely on, and partner with the West on security and other matters. However, Turkey's significant economic development over the past three decades has contributed to its efforts to seek greater overall self-reliance and independence in foreign policy.7

    Figure 1. Turkey: Map and Basic Facts Sources: Graphic created by CRS. Map boundaries and information generated by [author name scrubbed] using Department of State Boundaries (2011); Esri (2014); ArcWorld (2014); DeLorme (2014). Fact information (2015
    estimates unless otherwise specified) from International Monetary Fund, Global Economic Outlook; Turkish Statistical Institute; Economist Intelligence Unit; and Central Intelligence Agency, The World Factbook. Syria and Iraq Overall Assessment of U.S.-Turkey Dealings

    A number of developments, such as international jihadist terror incidents and refugee flows, particularly in the past year, have driven U.S. expectations regarding Turkish cooperation with respect to Syria and Iraq. Such expectations seem to center on Turkey's willingness and ability to

    • prevent the flow of fighters, weapons, oil, and other non-humanitarian supplies into and out of Syria from benefitting the Islamic State and other global jihadist movements; and
    • clearly prioritize anti-IS efforts in relation to other strategic concerns regarding Kurdish groups and the Asad regime in Syria.

    Though some observers alleged that Turkey had been slow in 2013 and 2014 to curtail activities involving its territory that were seen as bolstering ISIS and other Sunni extremist groups,8 Turkey has partnered with the U.S.-led anti-IS coalition, including through hosting coalition aircraft (since summer 2015) that strike targets in Syria and Iraq. Other regional U.S. partners include several Arab states, Iraq's central government, and Kurdish groups in Iraq and Syria.

    But Turkish leaders still confront domestic pressures and security vulnerabilities.9 They have sought greater intelligence sharing from foreign fighters' countries of origin, with some success.10 Turkey also faces the significant burden of hosting refugees from Syria and elsewhere; more than two million refugees have entered Turkey since 2011, and they are particularly concentrated in its southeast and its main urban centers. Turkish priorities for Syria and Iraq seem to include

    • countering threats to Turkish security, territorial integrity, and domestic stability;
    • reducing Turkey's responsibilities for refugees; and
    • achieving lasting resolutions in order to relieve refugee flows and other challenges to Turkey, promote Turkey's regional influence, and provide substantive political empowerment for Sunni Arabs and Turkmen.

    Over the past two years, Turkey has stepped up IS-focused border security and counterterrorism measures, presumably in response to international pressure,11 An additional motivation may be concerns regarding Turkey's stability and economic well-being (including its tourist industry).12 Since the last half of 2014, Turkey has introduced or boosted initiatives aimed at (1) preventing potential foreign fighters from entering Turkey, (2) preventing those who enter Turkey from traveling to Syria, and (3) curbing illicit oil smuggling used to finance jihadist activities.13 Since July 2015, a number of apparent Islamic State suicide bombings (though the Islamic State has not acknowledged responsibility for the bombings) have taken place in Turkey—in Suruc, Ankara, and Istanbulcausing significant fatalities. Brett McGurk, Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL, submitted written testimony for a February 10, 2016, House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing that stated:

    ISIL's only remaining outlet to the world remains a 98-kilometer strip of the Syrian border with Turkey. Our NATO ally Turkey has made clear that it considers ISIL on their border a national security threat, and the government, in part due to U.S. and international pressure, has taken aggressive measures in recent weeks to impede the flow of ISIL resources and fighters through that segment of the border. The importance of this effort cannot be overstated.14

    However, various interrelated dynamics may be preventing Turkish officials from undertaking more robust direct operations against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, including the following:

  • Possible Kurdish Emboldenment: Turkish concerns that external support for Kurdish territorial gains in Syria is bolstering Kurdish anti-government sentiment and PKK military capabilities in Turkey, and thus undermining national stability and cohesion.
  • Domestic Political Priorities: President Erdogan's efforts to expand his constitutional powers may be part of the reason for his recent focus on nationalistic criticisms of Kurdish militants and activists,15 an apparent departure from his previous domestic and regional approach to the Kurds that appeared to be more accommodating.
  • Possible Leverage with Europe: European Union (EU) dependence on Turkey as a refugee and migrant "gatekeeper" may be leading Turkey to seek European (1) assistance with Turkey's own refugee burdens; (2) support for or acquiescence to Turkish domestic and foreign policies more generally; and (3) offering to Turks enhanced access to the EU and its markets, including possible progress on Turkey's EU accession negotiations.16
  • Regional and Sectarian Rivalries: Turkish concerns that recent Syrian government and Syrian Kurdish military gains could bolster Iranian and Russian influence in the region at the expense of Turkey and other Sunni-majority countries.17The Turkey-Syria Border Turkey's Strategic Concerns

    Turkey's strategic calculations in areas close to its border with Syria have been affected by late 2015 and early 2016 military operations by the Syrian government, its allies (including Russia, Iran, and various Shiite militias). These calculations may factor into larger Turkish geopolitical anxieties regarding (as mentioned above) the regional influence of Turkey and other Sunni-majority countries relative to the Kurds, Russia, and Iran, particularly if these recent developments play a decisive role in shaping the political outcome of Syria's civil war. Short-term Turkish concerns apparently include the following:

    • Turkey's reduced ability to supply Syrian opposition militias via the Bab al Salam crossing south of the Turkish border town of Kilis; and
    • External (Syrian, Russian, even U.S.) efforts that could possibly facilitate Syrian Kurdish territorial ambitions in a key area between the town of Azaz and the Euphrates River that would connect other Kurdish-controlled enclaves.18 The leading Syrian Kurdish militia, the People's Protection Units (Kurdish acronym YPG), is dominated by the Syrian Kurdish group known as the Democratic Union Party (Kurdish acronym PYD).

    Figure 2. Syria: Map of Territorial Control

    (as of February 2016)

    In early 2016, Turkish artillery has periodically targeted YPG positions in or around the Azaz-Euphrates corridor, and Turkish officials have hinted that more direct military action is possible if the YPG continues operations in the area.19 Yet, most reports indicate that the Turkish military strongly opposes mounting large-scale operations in Syria, especially without U.N. Security Council backing.20 Moreover, stepped-up Western intervention seems unlikely.21 U.S. officials have "urged the YPG to avoid moves that will heighten tensions with Turkey and with other Arab opposition forces in northern Syria," while also urging Turkey to cease artillery fire across the border.22 In February, Turkey invited Saudi Arabia to base fighter aircraft at Incirlik air base, ostensibly in connection with anti-IS coalition efforts.23 The invitation may also been part of a larger effort to communicate Sunni resolve against Bashar al Asad's regime24 at a time when recent conflict and international diplomacy (including a partial cease-fire that began in February and Russia's March announcement of a drawdown of some type) may have led to greater confidence among Asad and his Russian and Iranian allies regarding their position in Syria.25

    The Syrian Kurds

    Given that the PYD/YPG has close ties with the PKK, gains by the YPG during the Syrian conflict have raised the possibility of PKK-affiliated control over most of Syria's northern border.26 Media reports from March 2016 indicate that Syrian Kurdish leaders are considering declaring a federal region for the various ethnic groups (including Arabs and Turkmen) in areas under de facto PYD control.27 Turkey would oppose such a move, and it would have implications for a number of other stakeholders in Syria's conflict.28 In a March 17 daily press briefing, the State Department spokesperson said, in response to whether the United States would accept a choice by "the Syrian people" to have a federal system, "I think we'd have to wait and see what the outcome of this transitional process is.... And when you say 'federal,' you and I might think something different in 'federal.' We're not interested in self-rule, self-autonomous zones. That can be a completely different thing than a federal system."

    PYD leaders routinely insist that their organization maintains an independent identity, yet several sources indicate that PYD-PKK links persist, including with respect to personnel.29 In June 2015, President Erdogan said, "We will never allow the establishment of a state in Syria's north and our south. We will continue to fight in this regard no matter what it costs."30 In September 2015, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said:

    By mounting operations against [IS] and the PKK at the same time [in summer 2015], we also prevented the PKK from legitimizing itself. Until the PYD changes its stance, we will continue to see it in the same way that we see the PKK.31

    Although the United States has considered the PKK to be a terrorist group since 1997, it does not apply this characterization to the PYD/YPG. A State Department deputy spokesperson said in an October 20, 2014, daily press briefing that "the PYD is a different group than the PKK legally, under United States law." In a September 21, 2015, daily press briefing, the State Department spokesperson said that the United States does not consider the YPG to be a terrorist organization, and in a February 23, 2016, press briefing, the Defense Department spokesperson said that "we will continue to disagree with Turkey [with] regard [to] … our support for those particular [Kurdish] groups that are taking the fight to ISIL, understanding their concerns about terrorist activities."

    While the U.S. military has provided air support to the YPG, the State Department deputy spokesperson said at a February 17, 2016, daily press briefing that U.S. support for the YPG has not included directly arming the group. U.S. officials have referred to U.S. military airdrops of arms or ammunition in Syria to non-YPG groups, including groups that associate or may associate with the YPG via an umbrella group known as the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).32 Most media reports, however, support one source's claim that "the YPG is the main element of the [SDF] coalition and outnumbers all other groups."33 Evidence of significant Turkish Kurdish participation in YPG military operations34 and of cross-border tunnels35 suggest the possibility that fighters and weapons have traveled from Syria to Turkey to assist PKK or PKK-affiliated militants against the Turkish government (see "Ongoing Turkey-PKK Violence and Future Prospects" below).36 In a February 8, 2016, daily press briefing, the State Department spokesperson responded to a question about whether "arms given to [the] PYD" might have been used against the Turkish military by saying that "we've seen no indication that that's borne out by the facts."

    In February 2016, Erdogan demanded that the United States choose between Turkey and the PYD,37 and in March he alleged that weapons confiscated from the PKK and PYD/YPG have Russian and Western (including U.S.) origins.38 U.S. officials have expressed their intentions to continue cooperating with both Turkey and the PYD/YPG on specific aspects of the crisis in Syria.39 Media reports suggest ongoing debates among U.S. officials about how closely to work with the PYD/YPG in the context of other partnering options and the PYD's relations with Russia and other regional and international actors.40 In March 2016, Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that U.S. officials have "made it very clear to the PYD that any actions it takes to either support the PKK or to [militarily] engage the other opposition groups [beyond the Islamic State] are profoundly problematic and we look to the PYD to act responsibly and to focus its efforts on the fight against Daesh."41 Later in March, Turkey's interior ministry blamed a deadly suicide car bombing in Ankara on a PKK member whom the YPG allegedly trained.42

    "Safe Zones" in Syria?

    Turkey has long advocated the creation of one or more "safe zones" within Syria along the two countries' border. To some extent, such advocacy resembles pleas that Turkish leaders made following the 1991 Gulf War for help in preventing refugee burdens.43 In that case, the United States established a humanitarian safe zone with ground forces and then patrolled a no-fly zone in northern Iraq.44 In December 9, 2015, testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter addressed the case of Syria:

    With respect to safe zones, ... I've certainly thought about that a great deal. [The] concept of a safe zone would be to create a patch of Syria [wherein] people who are inclined to go there, could go there and be protected. They would need to be protected because you can foresee that at least ISIL and other radical groups, and quite possibly elements of the Assad regime, [would] undertake to prove that it wasn't safe.

    And so it would have to be made safe. And that takes us back to the question of [what's] an appropriate force of that size to protect a zone of that size. [In] our estimate, it's substantial. And again, I don't see, much as I wish otherwise, anybody offering to furnish that force.

    I also think we have thought about who might want to reside in such a zone. I think it would be undesirable [if it] became a place into which people were pushed, say, from Turkey or Europe, expelled, so to speak, into this zone. I don't know what the people who now live in the zone would think about other people coming into the zone. That would have to be taken into account, and whether other people want to live there.

    [So] we have thought about it. It's complicated. We have not recommended that because it's an undertaking of substantial scale where [in] my judgment, the costs outweigh the benefits.

    In a December 1, 2015, House Armed Services Committee hearing, General Joseph Dunford (USMC), Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, equated a hypothetical establishment of a no-fly zone to declaring war on Syria.

    The United States and Turkey reportedly started discussions about possible operations to clear the Azaz-Euphrates corridor in Syria of IS control and border transit after Turkey decided (in summer 2015) to allow U.S. and coalition use of its bases for anti-IS strikes in Syria and Iraq, and to join in some of those strikes. However, subsequent developments, including Russia's step-up in military involvement in Syria in late 2015, and its apparent installation of S-400 air defense systems in Syria following the November 2015 Turkish downing of a Russian aircraft, reportedly reduced U.S. willingness to consider establishing an "IS-free" zone.45 After the aircraft downing, Turkey has reportedly not flown missions inside Syria,46 presumably due to concerns about possible Russian retaliation. Whether the Russian drawdown announced in March 2016 might substantively change U.S. or Turkish calculations on these issues is unclear and may depend on a number of circumstances. Refugee Flows and a Turkey-European Union Arrangement

    Turkish officials have expressed hopes that a protected zone of some type in northern Syria might create opportunities for the more than two million Syrian refugees that Turkey currently hosts—as well as others from Iraq and elsewhere—to return to their home country and to mitigate future refugee flows.47 Various media reports from early 2016 indicate that the IHH Humanitarian Relief Foundation48 has coordinated the setup of tent camps for displaced persons on the Syrian side of the Syria-Turkey border because Turkey has closed its crossings to most refugees.49 Some observers question what might happen were these camps to face attack or impending danger.50

    Many refugees have lived in Turkey for months or years and have reportedly had difficulty accessing basic services and jobs because Turkey does not grant them full refugee status.51 Some refugees from third countries and undocumented migrants have crossed over Turkish territory to Europe via land. However, given relatively strong controls at Turkey's land borders with European Union countries, particularly under current circumstances, many refugees and migrants have opted for sea routes—especially to nearby Greek islands—on crowded boats under dangerous conditions. According to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), more than one million refugees and migrants—many of whom use Turkey as a point of transit—arrived in Europe via sea in 2015, and more than 130,000 have arrived in 2016 through early March,52 with higher rates of migration reportedly expected in the coming warm-weather months.53 According to a Turkish government source,54 in 2015 the Turkish Coast Guard initiated two new operations—one in the Aegean Sea and one in the Mediterranean—aimed at maintaining safety and security via rescue and interdiction efforts.55

    The European Union (EU) has engaged with Turkey to assist it in its efforts to deal with refugee and migrant populations while stemming or controlling the flow of these populations to Europe. In November 2015, Turkey and the EU finalized a joint action plan, which included an initial EU pledge of €3 billion in humanitarian aid56 for Syrian refugees in Turkey (along with other pledges related to possible visa-free travel and resumption of EU accession negotiations) in return for more robust Turkish cooperation in stopping migrant smugglers and human traffickers.57 Some observers questioned, however, whether Turkish authorities—including those with the mandate to prevent smugglers and traffickers from leaving shore—would be able or willing to control refugee and migrant flows under this arrangement.58

    Following the November 2015 summit, European leaders such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel have met frequently with Turkish leaders in efforts to reach more specific understandings. Additionally, in February 2016, NATO announced that it would deploy a maritime mission in the Aegean Sea to help support efforts "to stem illegal trafficking and illegal migration in the Aegean."59 The mission seeks to increase the capacity of Turkish and Greek security and border control personnel, and improve information-sharing, including with national coast guards of EU countries and Frontex (the EU's borders management agency, which oversees two EU maritime rescue missions—one in the Aegean and the other in the central Mediterranean between Italy and Libya). In early March, NATO announced that its ships would expand their area of operation to include Greek and Turkish territorial waters.60

    In light of ongoing refugee and migrant flows into Europe, the EU agreed in principle in early March to (1) expedite the disbursement of the aid promised in November 2015 and contemplate additional aid to help Turkey with its efforts; (2) consider allowing visa-free travel for Turks by June 2016 and opening new chapters in Turkey's EU accession negotiations; and (3) potentially cooperate with Turkey in facilitating within Syria areas for the local population that would be "more safe."61 In concert with these proposals, Turkey would agree to take back "all new irregular migrants crossing from Turkey into the Greek islands" and, in exchange, one Syrian refugee from Turkey would be resettled in the EU for every Syrian "readmitted by Turkey from Greek islands."62

    Officials from international organizations and other observers have raised concerns regarding the legality and morality of the proposed Turkey-EU arrangement:

    • On March 8, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi expressed deep concern "about any arrangement that would involve the blanket return of anyone from one country to another without spelling out the refugee protection safeguards under international law."63 Perhaps partly in hopes of addressing such concerns to some extent, the Turkish government issued a regulation in January permitting employment (with some limitations) for those Syrians who have officially registered for temporary protection in Turkey.64 UNHCR also said on March 8 that "Europe's resettlement commitments remain however, very low compared to the needs."65
    • A leader of one of the political blocs in the European Parliament warned in March about the EU making a deal with "a country [Turkey] that imprisons journalists, attacks civil liberties and [has] a highly worrying human rights situation."66
    • Amnesty International released a statement decrying the EU's dependence on Turkey as its "border guard," given the burdens Turkey already faces with three million refugees. Amnesty claimed that it had evidence of Turkish maltreatment of some refugees and asylum-seekers, including "unlawful detentions and deportations" and the "forcible return" of some refugees to Syria.67

    On March 18, Turkish Prime Minister Davutoglu finalized the proposed arrangement with EU leaders in Brussels. The resulting EU-Turkey statement included the following passage:

    All new irregular migrants crossing from Turkey into Greek islands as from 20 March 2016 will be returned to Turkey. This will take place in full accordance with EU and international law, thus excluding any kind of collective expulsion. All migrants will be protected in accordance with the relevant international standards and in respect of the principle of non-refoulement. It will be a temporary and extraordinary measure which is necessary to end the human suffering and restore public order. Migrants arriving in the Greek islands will be duly registered and any application for asylum will be processed individually by the Greek authorities in accordance with the Asylum Procedures Directive, in cooperation with UNHCR. Migrants not applying for asylum or whose application has been found unfounded or inadmissible in accordance with the said directive will be returned to Turkey.68

    According to one media report, returns from Greek islands to Turkey will commence on April 4.69

    Domestic Politics and Stability Overview

    Turkish domestic politics feature controversies regarding power, constitutional democracy, corruption, and civil liberties. Contentious discussions also focus on ongoing Turkey-PKK conflict with the potential to destabilize significant areas of the country, security concerns regarding Syria and Iraq, and economic issues.70 Vigorous debate over whether (and, if so, how) President Erdogan exercises authoritarian control over Turkey's government and society will likely continue for the foreseeable future, especially after the AKP, the party he founded and still leads de facto, regained its parliamentary majority in November 2015 elections (after having lost the majority in June 2015 elections). Since the November elections, Erdogan and Davutoglu have sought sufficient popular and cross-party support to enact constitutional changes that would increase Erdogan's presidential power.

    During and since the recent election campaigns, the government has reportedly intimidated or arrested several Turkish journalists with a history of criticizing Erdogan and the AKP, and has taken over a number of media outlets. In March 2016, Turkey's constitutional court ordered the release of two prominent journalists from prison, though they still face charges of aiding terrorism and violating state security.71 Also in March, the government appointed a trustee to run Zaman, Turkey's largest-circulating newspaper. A Turkish court approved the action on the basis of Zaman's affiliation with the Fethullah Gulen movement, a civil society network that had largely aligned itself with the AKP until the government branded the movement a hostile actor and terrorist group based on its purported role in a late 2013 corruption crisis.72 In a March 4 daily press briefing, the State Department spokesman said that the Zaman takeover was "the latest in a series of troubling judicial and law enforcement actions taken by the Turkish Government targeting media outlets and others critical of it." A week later, on March 11, the White House press secretary provided context for views attributed to President Obama on Turkish domestic issues (see "Overall Assessment of U.S.-Turkey Dealings" above)73 by stating, "There are some ways in which we feel the [Turkish] government has not been sufficiently supportive of universal human rights—the kind of human rights that we obviously deeply value here in the United States and that we advocate for around the world."74 The press secretary cited the Zaman takeover as one example.75

    Despite this criticism, it is unclear whether non-Turkish actors will play a significant role in resolving questions about Turkey's commitment to democracy and limited government, its secular-religious balance, and its Kurdish question. Moreover, some observers assert that various security-related concerns—such as those involving the Islamic State and refugees—make the United States and the European Union less likely to take significant measures to check Turkish officials' domestic actions.76 Erdogan and his supporters periodically resort to criticism of Western countries in apparent efforts to galvanize domestic political support against outside influences,77 and some officials and pro-government media have pushed back against U.S. criticism of the Zaman takeover.78

    Ongoing Turkey-PKK Violence and Future Prospects

    Turkey's government and the PKK resumed hostilities in July 2015 amid mutual recrimination, ending a cease-fire that had been in place since March 2013 as part of a broader Turkey-PKK "peace process." Since the resumption, Turkish authorities have arrested hundreds of terrorism suspects in southeastern Turkey, and Turkey-PKK violence in Turkey and the PKK's northern Iraqi safe havens has resulted in hundreds of casualties79 and the reported displacement of around 200,000 people.80

    Turkey-PKK violence has led Turkish authorities to take emergency measures to pacify conflict in key southeastern urban areas.81 This has fueled international concerns about possible human rights abuses.82 The October 10, 2015, suicide bombings—linked by many reports to the Islamic State organization—that killed more than 100 people at a pro-Kurdish rally in Ankara led to renewed nationalistic recriminations and allegations that the government provided insufficient security for the event.83 Subsequently, a number of events have further fueled nationalistic tensions, including (1) the assassination of a prominent Kurdish nationalist figure under disputed circumstances in late November 2015,84 (2) controversial December 2015 statements from the leaders of the pro-Kurdish party in Turkey's parliament that may endanger their parliamentary immunity,85 and (3) suspected PKK-linked suicide car bombings against targets in Ankara in February and March 2016.

    U.S. officials, while supportive of Turkey's prerogative to defend itself from attacks, have advised Turkey to show restraint and proportionality in its actions against the PKK. They also have expressed desires for the parties to resolve their differences peaceably.86 Many European officials have called for an immediate end to violence and resumption of peace talks.87 In early 2016, some observers have called for greater Western efforts to press Turkey, the PKK, and possibly the PYD/YPG to calm tensions and facilitate a renewed domestic political process on the issue in Turkey.88 Analysts anticipate that fighting could intensify in spring conditions.89

    Author Contact Information

    [author name scrubbed], Specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs ([email address scrubbed], [phone number scrubbed])

    Footnotes

    1.

    See, e.g., Omer Taspinar, "Turkey's Strategic Vision and Syria," Washington Quarterly, vol. 35, no. 3, Summer 2012, pp. 127-140.

    2.

    "Foreign policy: Alone in the world," Economist, February 6, 2016.

    3.

    Soli Ozel of Kadir Has University in Istanbul, quoted in Liz Sly, "Turkey's increasingly desperate predicament poses real dangers," Washington Post, February 20, 2016.

    4.

    Jeffrey Goldberg, "The Obama Doctrine," The Atlantic, from the April 2016 issue.

    5.

    Text available at https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2016/03/14/press-gaggle-press-secretary-en-route-austin-texas-31116.

    6.

    See, e.g., M. Hakan Yavuz and Mujeeb R. Khan, "Turkey Treads a Positive Path," New York Times, February 12, 2015.

    7.

    Among other Turkish foreign policy initiatives, Turkey announced in mid-December 2015 that it would construct a multipurpose military base in Qatar. The base, which is being established pursuant to a 2014 bilateral security agreement, appears to be calculated to intensify the two countries' partnership against common security threats. Both countries "have provided support for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, backed rebels fighting to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and raised the alarm about creeping Iranian influence in the region." Tom Finn, "Turkey to set up Qatar military base to face 'common enemies,'" Reuters, December 16, 2015. In another initiative, Turkey boosted a troop deployment in northern Iraq in late 2015 against the wishes of the Iraqi central government, reportedly prompting President Obama to intercede with President Erdogan to have Turkey withdraw some of the troops. "Turkey will withdraw more troops from Iraq after US request," Associated Press, December 20, 2015. The deployment remains a source of Turkey-Iraq tension.

    8.

    See, e.g., Alison Smale, "Turkey's Role as Migrant Gateway Is Source of New Urgency for E.U.," nytimes.com, November 18, 2016; Lale Sariibrahimoglu, "On the borderline–Turkey's ambiguous approach to Islamic State," Jane's Intelligence Review, October 16, 2014.

    9.

    Sly, op. cit.

    10.

    Greg Miller and Souad Mekhennet, "Undercover teams, increased surveillance and hardened borders: Turkey cracks down on foreign fighters," washingtonpost.com, March 6, 2016.

    11.

    U.N. Security Council Resolutions 2170 and 2178 (passed in August and September 2014, respectively) call upon member states to curtail flows of weapons, financing, and fighters to various terrorist groups.

    12.

    Craig Bonfield, "The Turkish Economy in 2015," Center for Strategic and International Studies Turkey Update, February 23, 2016.

    13.

    Information on these initiatives were provided to CRS by a Turkish government official to CRS via (1) a March 17, 2015, factsheet and (2) December 9, 2015, email correspondence. The initiatives include enforcing an existing "no-entry" list, establishing "risk analysis" units, boosting border security personnel from 12,000 to 20,000, strengthening border infrastructure, adding border air reconnaissance, carrying out zero-point checks for goods crossing the border, capturing oil stores, and destroying illegal pipelines. See also Miller and Mekhennet, op. cit. for a discussion of U.S.-Turkey intelligence cooperation. For information on oil smuggling from Syria into Turkey, see CRS Report R43980, Islamic State Financing and U.S. Policy Approaches, by [author name scrubbed], [author name scrubbed], and [author name scrubbed].

    14.

    Available at http://docs.house.gov/meetings/FA/FA00/20160210/104449/HHRG-114-FA00-Wstate-McGurkB-20160210.pdf . See also a February 23 White House briefing by McGurk at https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2016/02/23/press-briefing-press-secretary-josh-earnest-and-special-presidential.

    15.

    Hearing testimony of Nate Schenkkan of Freedom House, House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia and Emerging Threats, February 3, 2016.

    16.

    See, e.g., "Turkey's Erdogan threatened to flood Europe with migrants: Greek website," Reuters, February 8, 2016.

    17.

    See, e.g., Fabrice Balanche, "The Battle of Aleppo Is the Center of the Syrian Chessboard," Washington Institute for Near East Policy, PolicyWatch 2554, February 5, 2016.

    18.

    Amberin Zaman, "How the Kurds Became Syria's New Power Brokers," foreignpolicy.com, February 18, 2016.

    19.

    Ibid., citing Deputy Prime Minister Yalcin Akdogan as saying that Turkey wants to create a "secure" strip of territory roughly six miles deep into Syria.

    20.

    Sly, op. cit.

    21.

    "Vladimir Putin's war in Syria: Why would he stop now?," Economist, February 20, 2016.

    22.

    Mark Toner, State Department Deputy Spokesperson, Daily Press Briefing, February 16, 2016.

    23.

    Ugur Ergan, "Saudi committee to visit İncirlik base prior to fighter jet deployment," hurriyetdailynews.com, February 25, 2016.

    24.

    Jamie Dettmer, "Turkey Shells US-Allied Kurds in Northern Syria," Voice of America, February 14, 2016.

    25.

    See, e.g., Alan Cullison, "Analysis: In Pullout, Moscow Aims to Avoid Quagmire," Wall Street Journal, March 16, 2016.

    26.

    For information on various Kurdish groups in the region and their interrelationships, see CRS In Focus IF10350, The Kurds in Iraq, Turkey, Syria, and Iran, by [author name scrubbed] and [author name scrubbed]. Reportedly, the PYD was "established in 2003 by Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants of Syrian origin in the Qandil mountains of northern Iraq." Heiko Wimmen and Müzehher Selcuk, "The Rise of Syria's Kurds," Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, February 5, 2013. See also Jonathan Steele, "The Syrian Kurds Are Winning!," New York Review of Books, December 3, 2015.

    27.

    Anne Barnard, "Syrian Kurds Look to Create Federal Region in Nation's North," New York Times, March 17, 2016.

    28.

    Ibid.

    29.

    See, e.g., Aaron Stein and Michelle Foley, "The YPG-PKK Connection," Atlantic Council MENASource Blog, January 26, 2016.

    30.

    Wes Enzinna, "A Dream of Secular Utopia in ISIS' Backyard," New York Times Magazine, November 24, 2015.

    31.

    Semih Idiz, "Turkey's Middle East policy 'fiasco,'" Al-Monitor Turkey Pulse, September 28, 2015.

    32.

    Department of Defense Press Briefings, October 13 and October 21, 2015; Brett McGurk, Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL, Written Testimony Submitted for House Foreign Affairs Committee Hearing, February 10, 2016. For background information on the SDF, see, e.g., Aron Lund, "Origins of the Syrian Democratic Forces: A Primer," January 22, 2016.

    33.

    Benedetta Argentieri, "Are the Syrian Democratic Forces any of the above?," Reuters, January 26, 2016. See also Zaman, op. cit., asserting, "Since last year, the Kurds have teamed up with a gaggle of opposition Arab, Turkmen, and non-Muslim brigades to form the SDF, mostly as a kind of fig leaf that allows Washington to justify its support for them." One U.S. journalist has claimed that "the SDF umbrella group now numbers about 40,000, of which 7,000 are Arabs." David Ignatius, "A Pivotal Moment in a Tangled War," Washington Post, February 19, 2016.

    34.

    Stein and Foley, op. cit.

    35.

    Katrin Kuntz et al., "Children of the PKK: The Growing Intensity of Turkey's Civil War," spiegel.de, February 16, 2016.

    36.

    See, e.g., Daren Butler, "Turkish soldiers clash with Kurdish militants crossing from Syria: army," Reuters, February 10, 2016.

    37.

    "Erdogan: US should choose between Turkey, Kurdish forces," Associated Press, February 8, 2016.

    38.

    "The Latest: Syrian group 'optimistic' about Geneva talks," Associated Press, March 16, 2016.

    39.

    See, e.g., John Kirby, State Department spokesperson, Daily Press Briefing, February 8, 2016.

    40.

    See, e.g., Josh Rogin and Eli Lake, "Obama Administration Argues Over Support for Syrian Kurds," Bloomberg View, February 23, 2016; Zaman, op. cit.; Charles Lister, "U.S. Must Tell Kurds to Stop Attacking Syrian Rebels," nytimes.com, February 24, 2016.

    41.

    Fatih Erel, "US warns PYD not to support PKK in Turkey," Anadolu Agency, March 2, 2016.

    42.

    Emre Peker, "Turkey Links Bomber to Syrian Kurds," Wall Street Journal, March 15, 2016.

    43.

    Morton Abramowitz, "Remembering Turgut Ozal: Some Personal Recollections," Insight Turkey, vol. 15, no. 2, 2013, pp. 42-43.

    44.

    For information on some of those operations, see Gordon W. Rudd, Humanitarian Intervention: Assisting the Iraqi Kurds in Operation PROVIDE COMFORT, 1991, Washington, DC: Department of the Army, 2004, available at http://www.history.army.mil/html/books/humanitarian_intervention/CMH_70-78.pdf.

    45.

    Tara Copp, "Pentagon hesitant to commit to no-fly zone, given challenges," Stars and Stripes, November 24, 2015.

    46.

    Sly, op. cit.

    47.

    Jack Moore, "Turkey Proposes Syria 'Safe Zone' in Return for Cooperation with EU on Refugee Crisis," Newsweek, September 28, 2015.

    48.

    IHH is a Turkish Islamist NGO. It is largely known internationally for helping organize the May 2010 Gaza flotilla, which produced an international incident between Turkey and Israel.

    49.

    "Syria refugee camps set up as Turkey limits entries," BBC News, February 8, 2016; Anshel Pfeffer, "Turkish Group Behind Gaza Flotilla Setting Up First Refugee 'Safe Haven' on Syrian Soil," haaretz.com, February 8, 2016.

    50.

    Pfeffer, op. cit.

    51.

    According to the instrument of its accession to the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, "the Government of Turkey maintains the provisions of the declaration made under section B of article 1 of the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, done at Geneva on 28 July 1951, according to which it applies the Convention only to persons who have become refugees as a result of events occurring in Europe," http://www.geneva-academy.ch/RULAC/international_treaties.php?id_state=226. In 2014, Turkey enacted a Law on Foreigners and International Protection which—despite the geographical limitation to the 1951 Convention—provides protection and assistance for asylum-seekers and refugees, regardless of their country of origin. 2015 UNHCR country operations profile—Turkey.

    52.

    See http://data.unhcr.org/mediterranean/regional.php.

    53.

    Ayla Albarak, "Turkey Struggles to Stop Migrant Boats," Wall Street Journal, March 7, 2016.

    54.

    This source was provided via CRS email correspondence with a Turkish official on December 16, 2015.

    55.

    According to the Turkish government source, the operations cost approximately $65 million on an annualized basis. For some figures on Turkey-Greece migration and interdiction in January and February 2016, see Albarak, op. cit.

    56.

    The funding details were laid out in a Council of the European Union document entitled "Refugee facility for Turkey: Member states agree on details of financing," dated February 3, 2016. Turkey has spent approximately $8.73 billion on refugee needs since 2011. "Turkey provides education for 300,000 Syrian refugees," Anadolu Agency, December 23, 2015. As of February 2016, U.S. assistance for Syrian refugees in Turkey since FY2012 totaled more than $379 million. February 4, 2016, Department of State factsheet available at http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2016/02/252113.htm. For additional context, see http://www.cidi.org/wp-content/uploads/02.04.16-USG-Syria-Complex-Emergency-Fact-Sheet-2.pdf and http://www.unhcr.org/pages/49e48e0fa7f.html.

    57.

    Council of the European Union, Meeting of heads of state or government with Turkey - EU-Turkey statement, 29/11/2015.

    58.

    See, e.g., "The EU's refugee crisis: A smuggler's-eye view of Turkey's effort to stop the migrants," Economist, February 8, 2016.

    59.

    NATO, Press Conference by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg following the meeting of the North Atlantic Council at the Level of Defence Ministers, February 11, 2016.

    60.

    NATO press release, NATO Secretary General welcomes expansion of NATO deployment in the Aegean Sea, March 6, 2016.

    61.

    Council of the European Union, Statement of the EU Heads of State or Government, 07/03/2016; Valentina Pop and Laurence Norman, "EU, Turkey Agree on Draft of Migrant Deal," Wall Street Journal, March 8, 2016. Merkel, in a February 2016 interview, was quoted as saying (translated from German), "In the current situation, it would be helpful if there was an area there in which none of the warring parties carry out attacks by air—so a type of no-fly zone," after having previously criticized the idea because of difficulties involved in guaranteeing civilians' security. Michelle Martin, "Merkel says supports some kind of no-fly zone in Syria," Reuters, February 15, 2016.

    62.

    Council of the European Union, Statement of the EU Heads of State or Government, 07/03/2016.

    63.

    The statement is available at http://www.unhcr.org/56dec2e99.html, and also said, "An asylum-seeker should only be returned to a third state, if the responsibility for assessing the particular asylum application in substance is assumed by the third country; the asylum-seeker will be protected from refoulement; and if the individual will be able to seek and, if recognized, enjoy asylum in accordance with accepted international standards, and have full and effective access to education, work, health care and, as necessary, social assistance."

    64.

    Mehmet Celik, "IOM praises Turkey's new regulation granting work permits to Syrian refugees," January 16, 2016; "The EU's refugee crisis: A smuggler's-eye view of Turkey's effort to stop the migrants," op. cit.

    65.

    UNHCR's reaction to Statement of the EU Heads of State and Government of Turkey, 7 March, March 8, 2016.

    66.

    Guy Verhofstadt, the leader of the European Parliaments' Alliance of Liberals and Democrats group, quoted in James Kanter, "NATO Takes Fight to Human Traffickers in Aegean," New York Times, March 7, 2016. For additional information on European concerns regarding Turkey's human rights profile, see European Parliament press release, [European Parliament President Martin] Schulz on the EU-Turkey Summit, March 7, 2016.

    67.

    Amnesty International, "EU-Turkey Summit: Don't wash hands of refugee rights," March 7, 2016.

    68. Council of the European Union, EU-Turkey statement, 18 March 2016, available at http://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/press/press-releases/2016/03/18-eu-turkey-statement/. 69.

    "EU, Turkey, Reach a Landmark Deal on Migrant Crisis," Voice of America, March 18, 2016.

    70.

    See, e.g., "The economy: Erdoganomics," Economist, February 6, 2016.

    71.

    "Turkish Journalist Calls His Release From Jail 'Defeat' for Erdogan," Reuters, March 2, 2016.

    72.

    Ayla Jean Yackley, "Turkish police fire tear gas at protesters, EU laments rights record," Reuters, March 5, 2016.

    73.

    Goldberg, op. cit.

    74.

    See footnote 5.

    75.

    Ibid.

    76.

    See, e.g., "Charlemagne: A graveyard of ambition," Economist, February 20, 2016; "Turkey's AK party: Another victory for illiberalism," Economist, November 4, 2015.

    77.

    Mustafa Akyol, "What turned Erdogan against the West?," Al-Monitor Turkey Pulse, February 3, 2015; "Congressional Turkish caucus raps Erdogan for Israel comments," Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA), August 6, 2014; Eli Lake, "Turkish Leader Doubles Down on Blaming Israel for Anti-Semitism," Daily Beast, August 6, 2014.

    78.

    Ragip Soylu, "US envoy attracts ire of Turkish social media over meddling in judicial process, politics," Daily Sabah, March 5, 2016.

    79.

    Kuntz, et al., op. cit.

    80.

    Helicopters strike PKK targets within Turkey, Deutsche Welle, February 24, 2016.

    81.

    Orhan Coskun, "Turkish warplanes strike northern Iraq after Ankara bombing blamed on Kurdish militants," Reuters, March 14, 2016; Kuntz, et al., op. cit.

    82.

    Suzan Fraser, "Turkey's military has ended a three-month operation against Kurdish militants in the largest city in the country's mostly Kurdish southeast," Associated Press, March 9, 2016.

    83.

    Ceylan Yeginsu, "Turkey Fires Security Officials After Attack in Ankara," nytimes.com, October 15, 2015.

    84.

    "Diyarbakır bar association president Tahir Elçi killed," todayszaman.com, November 28, 2015.

    85.

    "Turkish government submits motion to lift pro-Kurdish MPs' immunity," Ekurd Daily, March 9, 2016; Mustafa Akyol, "The rapid rise and fall of Turkey's pro-Kurdish party," Al-Monitor Turkey Pulse, January 4, 2016.

    86.

    See, e.g., "US backs Turkey's 'right to self-defense,'" Anadolu Agency, July 26, 2015.

    87.

    "EU slams PKK violence, calls for return to peace process," hurriyetdailynews.com, February 17, 2016. Many Western European countries have sizeable populations of Turkish Kurdish origin (more than a million Kurds live in Europe), and the PKK reportedly maintains a presence in some of these countries as well.

    88.

    Hearing testimony of Gonul Tol of Middle East Institute, House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia, and Emerging Threats, February 3, 2016; Henri Barkey, "Kurds are now key to a Middle East solution," Financial Times, February 25, 2016; Zaman, op. cit.

    89.

    See, e.g., Peker, op. cit.

    The World Factbook. Turkish leaders sometimes express concern that U.S. expectations of Turkish cooperation regarding Syria and Iraq are insufficiently sensitive to Turkey’s domestic pressures and security vulnerabilities. Turkey faces the significant burden of hosting refugees from both Syria and Iraq; more than 1.9 million Syrian refugees have entered Turkey since 2011, and they are particularly concentrated in its southeast and its main urban centers. Erdogan (first as prime minister and now as president) and President Obama reportedly have had less direct interaction since 2013, perhaps owing to differences over both foreign policy and the Turkish government’s handling of domestic affairs.4 Additionally, as discussed further below, developments since 2014 regarding the Syrian Kurds’ control of territory and military capabilities have led to some U.S.-Turkey differences. Yet, as described below, Turkey is partnering with the U.S.-led anti-Islamic State coalition in a number of ways. U.S.-Turkey Coordination Against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq Overview In late July 2015, Turkish officials confirmed that they would allow the United States and other members of the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State organization to use Turkish territory and airspace for anti-IS airstrikes in Syria and Iraq, significantly easing the logistical burdens of coalition operations.5 The Obama Administration and Turkish officials agreed to these arrangements as part of a larger plan to coordinate U.S.-Turkey action to counter the Islamic State. Turkish officials had previously limited Turkey-based coalition operations to surveillance flights, reportedly as a means of insisting on a “safe zone” in Syria and seeking U.S. support for more aggressive efforts to oust the Iranian-backed Syrian government. Past Turkish insistence on these measures appear to have resembled pleas that Turkish leaders made similar pleas following the 1991 Gulf War for help in preventing refugee burdens.6 In that case, the United States established a humanitarian safe zone with ground forces and then patrolled a no-fly zone in northern Iraq.7 In November 4, 2015, testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Anne Patterson said that the establishment of a safe zone …is a hugely complex and resource-intensive issue. And the administration has looked at this over and over and over again, and there is no option on the table, nor recommended by the Department of Defense, that does not require a massive, massive amount of air support that would then detract from the effort against ISIL. We continue to look at this. We continue to study this. But there is no viable option on the table at this time. 4 Soner Cagaptay, “The Fragile Thaw in U.S.-Turkey Relations,” Washington Institute for Near East Policy, PolicyWatch 2402, April 7, 2015. 5 Chris Kozak, “Turkey Expands Campaign Against ISIS and the PKK,” Institute for the Study of War, July 25, 2015. 6 Morton Abramowitz, “Remembering Turgut Ozal: Some Personal Recollections,” Insight Turkey, vol. 15, no. 2, 2013, pp. 42-43. 7 For information on some of those operations, see Gordon W. Rudd, Humanitarian Intervention: Assisting the Iraqi Kurds in Operation PROVIDE COMFORT, 1991, Washington, D.C.: Department of the Army, 2004, available at http://www.history.army.mil/html/books/humanitarian_intervention/CMH_70-78.pdf. Congressional Research Service 3 Turkey: Background and U.S. Relations In Brief U.S. airstrikes from Turkey commenced in August 2015 via drone aircraft, which have since been joined at Turkish bases by manned fighter and support aircraft,9 along with accompanying personnel deployments. Turkey also took its first open, direct military action against the Islamic State in Syria during that late July timeframe. In late August, the first joint U.S.Turkey airstrikes against IS targets in Syria reportedly took place. Terrorist Attacks on U.S. Targets and Threats to U.S. Citizens Since the outbreak of conflict in Syria, there have been two terrorist attacks against U.S. installations in Turkey. On November 1, 2013, a suicide bomber killed himself and a Turkish security guard outside the U.S. embassy in Ankara. On August 10, 2015, two female militants attacked the U.S. consulate in Istanbul without inflicting casualties and were apprehended by Turkish authorities. Both attacks have been attributed to the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front (DHKP-C), a U.S.designated terrorist organization with anti-U.S. and anti-NATO views and some historical links to the Syrian government. On September 3, 2015, the State Department issued a travel warning authorizing the voluntary departure of government family members “out of an abundance of caution following the commencement of military operations [as described below in relation to the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq] out of Incirlik Air Base.” The Defense Department said that the military would pay for the departure of families of servicemembers who choose to leave.8 The travel warning also announced specific travel restrictions for U.S. government employees in southeastern Turkey, and strongly recommended that U.S. citizens avoid (1) areas in close proximity to the Syrian border and (2) demonstrations and large gatherings. Congress and other U.S. policymakers, along with many international actors, have shown significant concern about the use of Turkish territory by various groups and individuals involved in Syria’s conflict—including foreign fighters from around the world—for transit, safe haven, and smuggling. Most sources and U.S. officials acknowledge that Turkey has introduced or bolstered existing anti-IS initiatives over the past year, in response to international pressure10 and growing Turkish official recognition of threats posed to Turkish security by the Islamic State and other jihadists. Such initiatives are aimed at (1) preventing potential foreign fighters from entering Turkey, (2) preventing those who enter Turkey from traveling to Syria, and (3) curbing illicit oil smuggling used to finance jihadist activities.11 Complications Involving the Kurds Many observers speculate that Turkey’s increased coordination with the United States is aimed at gaining greater influence over the unfolding geopolitical, ethnic, and sectarian struggle along the Turkey-Syria frontier.12 Shortly after Turkey commenced military strikes against the Islamic State in Syria in late July, Turkey resumed hostilities with the PKK. Since a fall 2014 crisis in the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobane, a number of analysts have speculated that Turkey is more 8 David Francis, “U.S. Officials Authorize Families of American Personnel Near Key Turkish Air Base to Leave,” foreignpolicy.com, September 3, 2015. 9 Susan Fraser, “U.S. Deploys 6 F-15 Fighter Jets to Turkish Air Base,” Associated Press, November 6, 2015; Nicholas de Larrinaga, “USAF deploys A-10s to Incerlik for Syria strikes,” Jane’s Defence Weekly, October 22, 2015; Searchand-rescue aircraft (helicopters and transport planes) have been deployed to a base in the southeastern Turkish city of Diyarbakir. “US sends search-and-rescue aircraft, crew to Turkey,” Associated Press, September 30, 2015. 10 U.N. Security Council Resolutions 2170 and 2178 (passed in August and September 2014, respectively) call upon member states to curtail flows of weapons, financing, and fighters to various terrorist groups. 11 For information on oil smuggling from Syria into Turkey, see CRS Report R43980, Islamic State Financing and U.S. Policy Approaches, by Carla E. Humud, Robert Pirog, and Liana W. Rosen. 12 Liz Sly and Karen DeYoung, “Turkey agrees to allow U.S. military to use its base to attack Islamic State,” Washington Post, July 23, 2015. Congressional Research Service 4 Turkey: Background and U.S. Relations In Brief concerned about containing Kurdish political aspirations (with their potential cross-border implications) than countering Islamist extremism at and within its borders.13 Turkey is reportedly worried about recent gains by the People’s Protection Units (Kurdish acronym YPG), a militia dominated by the Syrian Kurdish group known as the Democratic Union Party (Kurdish acronym PYD),14 as well as about U.S.-PYD/YPG coordination. The PYD is closely affiliated with the PKK. Recent YPG gains raise the possibility of PKK-affiliated control over most of Syria’s northern border (see Figure 2 below).15 In September 2015, Turkish Prime Minister Davutoglu said: By mounting operations against [IS] and the PKK at the same time, we also prevented the PKK from legitimizing itself. Until the PYD changes its stance, we will continue to see it in the same way that we see the PKK.16 Although the United States has considered the PKK to be a terrorist group since 1997, it does not apply this characterization to the Syrian Kurdish PYD/YPG. A State Department deputy spokesperson said in an October 20, 2014, daily press briefing that “the PYD is a different group than the PKK legally, under United States law.” In a September 21, 2015, daily press briefing, the State Department spokesperson said that the United States does not consider the YPG to be a terrorist organization, and that despite Turkish concerns about the group, a coalition of the willing does not “have to agree on every issue.” Figure 2. Syria: Areas of Kurdish Control Source: Mike King, New York Review of Books (accessed November 13, 2015). Notes: All locations are approximate 13 Orhan Coskun and Dasha Afanasieva, “Turkey stages first air strikes on Islamic State in Syria,” Reuters, July 24, 2015. 14 The YPG is formally the military arm of a de facto government established by the PYD and the Kurdish National Council (KNC). The KNC is aligned with the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), the dominant faction within the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) of Iraq led by President Masoud Barzani. Soner Cagaptay and Andrew Tabler, “The U.S.-PYD-Turkey Puzzle,” Washington Institute for Near East Policy, PolicyWatch 2510, October 25, 2015. 15 Henri J. Barkey, “What’s Behind Turkey’s U-Turn on the Islamic State?,” Woodrow Wilson Center, July 29, 2015. 16 Semih Idiz, “Turkey’s Middle East policy ‘fiasco,’” Al-Monitor Turkey Pulse, September 28, 2015. Congressional Research Service 5 Turkey: Background and U.S. Relations In Brief Looking Ahead The overall trajectory of U.S.-Turkey cooperation in Syria remains unclear. In the summer of 2015, officials from both countries anticipated coordinating air operations to clear a specific area of northwest Syria of IS forces (roughly between the Afrin and Kobane cantons found in Figure 2 above). However, the following developments appear to have subsequently complicated prospects for such operations, even as the United States, Turkey, Russia, Iran, and other countries meet periodically to discuss diplomatic options:   Russia’s growing direct military involvement in Syria (including at least two instances in October in which Russian aircraft reportedly breached Turkish airspace) and renewed international diplomacy aimed at addressing the conflict. The October reconfiguration of the U.S. train-and-equip program toward U.S. arming of groups in Syria (including an umbrella organization involving the YPG, various Syrian Arab rebel factions, and some Assyrian Christians), and the direct insertion of U.S. special forces.17 The Obama Administration announced the reconfiguration after a few cases in which Syrian anti-IS fighters trained in Turkey were captured by or provided weapons to other militant groups. Even if these or other complications do not prevent the United States and Turkey from eventually moving forward with establishing some sort of patrolled zone, who might secure such an area on the ground remains unclear. Turkey clearly rejects the notion of permitting Syrian Kurdish forces (PYD/YPG) to occupy the area. Possible Russian interest in partnering with the YPG against Sunni Islamist fighters18 could fuel U.S.-Russia competition for Kurdish support that might isolate Turkey further in its adversarial stance toward the YPG. Meanwhile, media reports indicate that the United States is unwilling to accept, as patrollers of a zone, the Islamist-led Syrian opposition forces that Turkey and various Arab Gulf states are reportedly supporting.19 Turkish officials have expressed hopes that an “IS free” zone might create opportunities for Syrian refugees to return to their home country and to mitigate future refugee flows.20 An unknown number of refugees living in Turkey—originally from Syria, Iraq, or elsewhere—are seeking permanent refuge in Europe. Reportedly, some “have been living in Turkey for months, sometimes years. They complain that Turkey’s failure to grant them full refugee status has made it a struggle to access basic services and jobs.”21 Crossings over land to Europe are generally 17 According to one U.S. journalist, “Pentagon officials say the Turks should be reassured, because the U.S. will now have greater oversight of the YPG's 25,000 fighters and can prevent supplies from getting to the PKK, which Turkey views as a terrorist group.” David Ignatius, “The Syrian Tinderbox,” Washington Post, November 4, 2015. 18 See, e.g., “YPG says it is ready to cooperate with Russia against IS,” Kurdpress, October 1, 2015; “Pro-Hezbollah daily says party in Syria pact with Russia,” Now, September 23, 2015. 19 See, e.g., Jamie Dettmer, “Russia’s Buildup in Syria May Thwart Idea of Safe Haven,” Voice of America, September 30, 2015. 20 Anne Barnard, et al., “Turkey and U.S. Plan to Create Syria ‘Safe Zone’ Free of ISIS,” New York Times, July 27, 2015. 21 “Refugees dispersed from Turkey-Greece border in buses,” Agence France Presse, September 20, 2015. According to the instrument of its accession to the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, “the Government of Turkey maintains the provisions of the declaration made under section B of article 1 of the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, done at Geneva on 28 July 1951, according to which it applies the Convention only to persons who have become refugees as a result of events occurring in Europe,” http://www.genevaacademy.ch/RULAC/international_treaties.php?id_state=226. In 2014, Turkey enacted a Law on Foreigners and International Protection which—despite the geographical limitation to the 1951 Convention—provides protection and assistance for asylum-seekers and refugees, regardless of their country of origin. 2015 UNHCR country operations (continued...) Congressional Research Service 6 Turkey: Background and U.S. Relations In Brief closed to refugees and undocumented migrants. Some people have nevertheless found their way past the official checkpoints on land, while many others try sea routes—especially to nearby Greek islands—on crowded boats under questionable safety conditions.22 European leaders such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel have opened discussions with Turkey about the possibility of providing Turkey with humanitarian aid to increase its cooperation in stemming refugee and migrant flows. As part of such an arrangement, Europeans might show greater consideration of Turkish aspirations for visa-free travel to European countries, and for resuming European Union accession negotiations.23 However, some human rights activists have expressed concern about any arrangement that might result in reduced international scrutiny of Turkey’s commitment to civil liberties.24 A number of questions surround U.S.-Turkey dealings regarding Syria and Iraq. These include:     To what extent might Russian-Iranian and U.S.-led actions in Syria—potentially seen by significant segments of Turkey’s population as bolstering anti-Sunni and pro-Kurdish outcomes—affect Turkey’s willingness to combat the Islamic State? How can the United States coordinate operations with both Turkey and the PYD/YPG, and what are the larger implications for the parties and the region? What effect will U.S.-Turkey dealings have on military and political outcomes in Syria? Will they make the survival of Bashar al Asad and his regime more or less likely? Would Turkey benefit from a de facto or formal partition of Syria? How will developments in the region and in potential destination countries in Europe affect the situation of Syrian and Iraqi refugees currently in Turkey? To what extent are refugees likely to remain in Turkey, return to Syria or Iraq, or resettle in third countries? Domestic Politics and Stability Turkish domestic politics feature controversies regarding power, constitutional democracy, corruption, and civil liberties; renewed Turkey-PKK conflict with the potential to destabilize significant areas of the country; security concerns regarding Syria and Iraq; and economic anxieties. The vigorous debate over whether (and, if so, how) President Erdogan exercises authoritarian control over Turkey’s government and society will likely continue for the foreseeable future. It is unclear to what extent non-Turkish actors will play a significant role in resolving unanswered questions regarding Turkey’s commitment to democracy and limited government, its secularreligious balance, and its Kurdish question. Erdogan and his supporters periodically resort to criticism of Western countries in apparent efforts to galvanize domestic political support against outside influences.25 Moreover, some observers assert that various security-related concerns— (...continued) profile – Turkey. 22 Rick Lyman, “Bulgaria Puts Up a New Wall, but This One Keeps People Out,” New York Times, April 6, 2015. 23 Valentina Pop, “EU Readies Migrant Aid for Turkey,” Wall Street Journal, November 13, 2015. 24 Tim Arango, “Merkel Links Turkey’s E.U. Hopes to Stemming Flow of Refugees,” New York Times, October 18, 2015. 25 Mustafa Akyol, “What turned Erdogan against the West?,” Al-Monitor Turkey Pulse, February 3, 2015. “Congressional Turkish caucus raps Erdogan for Israel comments,” Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA), August 6, 2014. (continued...) Congressional Research Service 7 Turkey: Background and U.S. Relations In Brief such as those involving the Islamic State and refugees—make the United States and the European Union less likely to try to check Turkish officials’ domestic actions.26 See CRS Report R41368, Turkey: Background and U.S. Relations, by Jim Zanotti, for additional background information and analysis on Turkey’s domestic politics, including the Fethullah Gulen movement. 2015 Elections and Questions Regarding Continued AKP Rule On November 1, 2015, the AKP (or AK Party) won back the majority it had lost during elections five months earlier in June, in which no party won a majority. The November Figure 3. Turkish Election Results result surprised most pollsters and other (June and November 2015) observers, but represented a return to form for the AKP, which had enjoyed consistent electoral success since first coming to power in 2002. It also signaled an end to a long season in Turkish politics that featured two solid years of electoral campaigns. The run-up to the November election featured intense controversy over reports of intimidation of and government interference with a number of media outlets,27 as well as over major terrorist suicide bombings at a largely Kurdish peace rally in Ankara on October 10. The bombing, which was apparently linked to the Islamic State, left more than 100 dead. The day after the election, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said: We look forward to working with the newly elected parliament and with the future government. As a friend and NATO ally, the United States is committed to continuing our close coordination with Turkey to advance our shared political, security and prosperity agendas. We are, however, deeply concerned that media outlets and individual journalists critical of the government were subject to pressure and intimidation during the campaign, seemingly in a manner calculated to weaken political opposition. We note that the OSCE released a statement today highlighting that parliamentary elections in Turkey offered voters a variety of choices but that the campaign was affected by violence and restrictions on media freedom. We have both publicly and privately raised our concerns about freedom of the press, freedom of speech and freedom of assembly in Turkey, and we (...continued) An AKP parliamentary leader subsequently sent a written response disputing the letter’s assertions. Eli Lake, “Turkish Leader Doubles Down on Blaming Israel for Anti-Semitism,” Daily Beast, August 6, 2014. 26 See, e.g., “Turkey’s AK party: Another victory for illiberalism,” Economist, November 4, 2015. 27 See, e.g., “Erdogan’s Formula for Consolidating Clout in Turkey,” New York Times, November 2, 2015. Congressional Research Service 8 Turkey: Background and U.S. Relations In Brief continue to urge Turkish authorities to uphold the universal democratic values that are enshrined in Turkey’s constitution.28 The AKP gained from President Erdogan’s decision to call new elections rather than contemplate a coalition arrangement based on the June outcome. The AKP’s results improved despite the multiple internal and external challenges that intensified for Turkey in the months between the two elections—increased security concerns, a seemingly slowing economy, and issues regarding civil liberties. Erdogan (officially a nonpartisan actor, but still the AKP’s leading figure) and Prime Minister Davutoglu appear to have won back votes for the AKP largely based on (1) the argument (using selective examples from past decades of Turkey’s republican history) that a majority government would provide greater stability than a coalition, (2) an assertive approach to combating and criticizing the PKK after the July outbreak of violence that apparently resonated with Turkish nationalists and conservative Kurds, and (3) reassurances of economic security.29 The Kurdish nationalist-rooted Peoples’ Democratic Party (Halklarin Demokratik Partisi, HDP) still managed to get the 10% of the vote it needed to maintain its place in Turkey’s parliament, thereby preventing the AKP from the supermajority it would need (330 parliamentary seats) to call a constitutional referendum. President Erdogan and his associates frequently proclaim their interest in holding such a referendum to expand Erdogan’s formal powers. Under Turkey’s 1982 constitution, as amended, most executive power resides with the prime minister. Barring any midterm changes in leadership, Erdogan, Davutoglu, and the AKP will remain in power until presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for 2019. With post-election Turkey facing a daunting array of challenges, U.S. policymakers and other observers are focused on the following questions, each of which has implications for the others:   Security Issues: How will AKP’s victory affect Turkey’s approaches to Syria and Iraq, and to challenges both domestic and foreign regarding Kurds and the Islamic State? To what extent will Turkish leaders countenance or oppose U.S. assistance for the PYD/YPG and/or proposals permitting a continued role in Syria for Bashar al Asad? To what extent will Turkish leaders feel emboldened to continue objecting to these initiatives and/or to pursue conflict with adversaries? Domestic Policy: Will Erdogan and Davutoglu seek greater accommodation with non-AKP constituencies and opposing or independent voices from civil society now that Turkey’s two-year electoral season has ended, or will they use their mandate more confrontationally? Specifically, how might they seek to bolster Erdogan’s powers either via constitutional change or the broad use of Erdogan’s existing legal prerogatives and his personal control or influence over key economic, bureaucratic, and media networks?30 28 White House, Office of the Press Secretary, Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Josh Earnest en route Newark, New Jersey, 11/2/2015. On October 26, 65 Members of Congress signed an October 26 letter to President Obama to “support and encourage free, open, and fair elections in Turkey.” Text of letter available at http://rokita.house.gov/sites/rokita.house.gov/files/10-26-2015-Turkey-Free-Open-Fair-Elections.pdf. 29 For various analyses, see Yusuf Muftuoglu, “How Erdogan's Dramatic Comeback Happened, and How Far Its Impact Might Reach,” Huffington Post, November 2, 2015; Mustafa Akyol, “How the AKP dominated yesterday's election in Turkey,” Al-Monitor Turkey Pulse, November 2, 2015; Tim Arango and Ceylan Yeginsu, “Islamist Party Gains Majority in Turkish Vote,” New York Times, November 2, 2015; “Second time’s a charm: A huge win for Turkey’s ruling AK party,” economist.com, November 2, 2015. 30 One U.S.-based analyst claims that Erdogan and his associates control approximately 70 percent of Turkey’s media outlets. Henri J. Barkey, “Turkey’s Elections, the Syrian Crisis, and the US,” American Interest, November 4, 2015. Congressional Research Service 9 Turkey: Background and U.S. Relations In Brief  Economy: How will the AKP deliver on its promises of economic security in light of negative economic trends in Turkey regarding growth, exports, currency strength, and security-related disruptions to tourism and other key sectors? Recent Resumption of Turkey-PKK Violence and Future Prospects As mentioned above, Turkey’s government and the PKK resumed hostilities in July 2015 amid mutual recrimination, ending a cease-fire that had been in place since March 2013 as part of a broader Turkey-PKK “peace process.” Subsequently, Turkish authorities have arrested hundreds of terrorism suspects in southeastern Turkey and Turkey-PKK violence has resulted in hundreds of casualties.31 A temporary cease-fire to allow for the November 1 elections to take place ended almost immediately afterwards, with Erdogan vowing to bring about the PKK’s defeat and disarmament.32 The following is one Turkish journalist’s explanation of key contributing factors to the resumption of violence: …the growing strength of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Iraq and the civil war in Syria have given a boost to Kurdish nationalism and have been advantageous for the PKK. PKK leadership, aware of the fact that the government was not sincere in advancing the peace process, was ensuring its readiness during the cease-fire period in case the process failed.33 Turkey-PKK violence has led Turkish authorities to take emergency measures in hopes of pacifying conflict in key southeastern urban areas. This has fueled international concerns about possible human rights abuses.34 In the summer of 2015, Turkish citizens opposed to the PKK violence launched demonstrations throughout the country. A number of attacks on HDP political offices, as part of mass demonstrations, took place in apparent reprisal for PKK actions. Some HDP offices were also attacked prior to the June elections. Theories about who provoked these reprisals focused on Turkish nationalist groups,35 with some commentators claiming that Erdogan may have provided partial incitement with public statements conflating the HDP with the PKK.36 The October 10 suicide bombings in Ankara led to renewed nationalistic recriminations and allegations that the government provided insufficient security for the targeted pro-Kurdish rally. U.S. officials, while supportive of Turkey’s prerogative to defend itself from attacks, have advised Turkey to show restraint and proportionality in its actions against the PKK. They also have expressed desires for the parties to resolve their differences peaceably. Many European officials have called for an immediate end to violence and resumption of peace talks.37 31 One estimate claims that since June 2015, “more than 150 Turkish security officials and hundreds of PKK fighters have been killed in the conflict.” Dion Nissenbaum, “Turkish Jets Strike at Kurds,” Wall Street Journal, November 4, 2015. 32 Emre Peker, “Turkish Leader Seeks More Powers,” Wall Street Journal, November 5, 2015. 33 Lale Kemal, “Cease-fire may spoil political game,” Today’s Zaman, September 10, 2015. 34 Statement by the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights, “Turkey should ensure immediate access to Cizre by independent observers,” September 11, 2015. 35 Alex McDonald, “Far-right activists attack HDP offices across Turkey after anti-PKK demos,” Middle East Eye, September 8, 2015. 36 Emma Sinclair-Webb, “Turkey: media crackdown amid escalating violence,” openDemocracy, September 11, 2015. 37 Many Western European countries have sizeable populations of Turkish Kurdish origin (more than a million Kurds live in Europe), and the PKK reportedly maintains a presence in some of these countries as well. Congressional Research Service 10 Turkey: Background and U.S. Relations In Brief The future trajectory of Turkey-PKK violence and political negotiation may depend on a number of factors, including:     Which Kurdish figures and groups (the imprisoned PKK founder Abdullah Ocalan, various PKK militant leaders, the professedly nonviolent HDP) are most influential in choosing between armed struggle and political negotiation. Erdogan’s approach to and influence on Turkish government policy regarding the Kurdish issue. Most domestic and international observers previously considered Erdogan to be the only Turkish leader strong enough to deliver a peaceful solution, but Turkey’s recent turn to military force has led many to question this assumption. How the resumption of violence might affect Turkey’s internal stability, governing institutions, and ability to administer the southeast. Some analysts express concern about civil conflict, and also question whether the military’s involvement in this issue could lead to its return to a more prominent role in Turkish governance.38 Many Kurdish militants, activists, and local leaders in various parts of southeastern Turkey appear to be pressing for imminent autonomy. The extent to which the United States and perhaps European actors might—based on their view of the issue’s priority—offer incentives to or impose costs on Turkey and the PKK in efforts to mitigate violence and promote a political resolution. Turkey’s Strategic Orientation: Past, Present, Future Many observers express opinions on the future trend of Turkey’s strategic orientation. Turkey’s embrace of the United States and NATO during the Cold War came largely as a reaction to postWorld War II actions by the Soviet Union seemingly aimed at moving Turkey and its strategic control of maritime access points into a Soviet sphere of influence. Turkey’s historically driven efforts to avoid domination by outside powers—sometimes called the “Sèvres syndrome”39— resonate in its ongoing attempts to achieve greater military, economic, and political selfsufficiency and to influence its surrounding environment. Such initiatives could—based on a number of variables—lead Turkey toward a more independent stance, in which decreased dependence on the West might come at least partly through dealings with a number of other regional and global powers. Whether this could ultimately lead to new dynamics of dependence on or alignment with other powers has become a subject of speculation. In recent years, Turkey has boosted cooperation in certain areas with Russia (energy and trade) and China (trade and defense), among other countries. Some observers assert that domestic developments in Turkey appearing to challenge Western liberal norms may partially echo those in Russia and in some other countries. These observations fuel debate regarding how such trends might affect Turkey’s foreign policy partnerships.40 38 See, e.g., Barcin Yinanc, “New army chief’s faces four challenges to transform Armed Forces,” hurriyetdailynews.com, August 10, 2015. 39 See, e.g., Nick Danforth, “Forget Sykes-Picot. It’s the Treaty of Sèvres That Explains the Modern Middle East,” foreignpolicy.com, August 10, 2015. 40 Daniel Dombey, “Putin and Erdogan: not quite kindred spirits,” ft.com, December 2, 2014. Congressional Research Service 11 Turkey: Background and U.S. Relations In Brief A more assertively independent Turkey might still seek to remain within the framework of the NATO alliance. However, the extent to which strategic and practical coordination with other NATO members would continue is unclear, especially if Turkey strengthens ties with countries that challenge U.S. policies globally or regionally. For the time being, Turkey lacks comparable alternatives to its security and economic ties with the West, with which it shares a more than 60year legacy of institutionalized cooperation. Its leaders may therefore be responsive to efforts by allies and key trading partners to identify priorities relating to this legacy of cooperation. For example, after Turkey’s initial announcement in September 2013 that it planned to co-produce a missile defense system with China, it has since reconsidered.41 Also, following Russia’s military escalation in Syria during the fall of 2015, Turkey has apparently bolstered its cooperation with the United States and has stated it might be willing to redefine some aspects of its energy cooperation with Russia.42 However, Turkish leaders’ receptivity to Turkey’s traditional Western allies could wane over time if they believe that Turkey’s interests and preferred approaches to issues are not addressed by or reflected in key Western initiatives or institutional frameworks and processes. Author Contact Information Jim Zanotti Specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs jzanotti@crs.loc.gov, 7-1441 41 Lale Sariibrahimoglu and Nicholas de Larrinaga, “T-Loramids decision nearing, says Turkish procurement chief,” Jane’s Defence Weekly, October 27, 2015. 42 Daren Butler, “Turkey's Erdogan warns Russia on nuclear project, natural gas – papers,” Reuters, October 8, 2015. Congressional Research Service 12