Center for Global & International Studies, College of Liberal Arts & Sciences

Media advisory: Expert available to speak on Turkey's reaction to ISIS, Kurdish fighting

Thursday, October 16, 2014

LAWRENCE – As fighting in Syria pushes up against the Turkish border, a University of Kansas scholar can provide insight into Turkey’s political mindset.

At home and around the world, Turkey has been called into question for its reluctance to provide military support to the Syrian Kurdish border town of Kobani, which is under attack by Islamic State fighters.

Michael Wuthrich, the assistant director for the Center for Global & International Studies, is an expert on Turkish and Middle East politics. Wuthrich, who lived in Turkey for nine years, researches political parties, political opposition, social movements and Kurdish ethnic groups. Wuthrich’s book “Turkey’s Dynamic Arena: The Party System, Political Elites and the Electorate in General Turkish Elections, 1950 - 2011” will be published in 2015 by Syracuse University Press.

Unlike other coalition members, but much like the United States, Turkey’s political leaders have to consider how voters will react to any action taken in Syria, Wuthrich said. And, those actions are sure to influence next year’s national elections.  

“Turkey more than any other member of the coalition has to think about what the voters will think,” Wuthrich said. “It is not that they are supporting ISIS, but the idea of being a occupying force in a neighboring Muslim country has very negative popular opinion.”

Complicating matters is Turkey’s relationship with ethnic Kurdish groups in the region. While Turkey has worked in recent years to come to a solution with the PKK and Kurdish nationalist populations in the southeast region of its own country and to build the kind of relationship with Kurds in northern Iraq that would enable them to accept, or at least resign themselves to, a Kurdish state emerging from northern Iraq, Wuthrich said the recent conflicts drawing Iraqi, Turkish and Syrian Kurds together in solidarity is concerning for the country.

“A pan-Kurdish movement would be seen as really dangerous for Turkey, which is home to the largest total population of Kurds,” Wuthrich said.

Turkey’s top priority is regime change in Syria, Wuthrich said. While at one time the country had strong relations with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Turkey was among the first countries to speak out against the leader in 2011 and has accepted more than a million Syrian refugees since the civil war started.

 “They’ve burdened the economy and changed the social fabric,” Wuthrich said of the refugees. “They are generating a lot of frustration among the Turkish population, and there is nowhere for them to go as long as Assad stays in power.”

Ultimately, Wuthrich said Turkey will continue to be reluctant to actively join in opposition against ISIS until there is commitment from the United States and the rest of the coalition to also fight Assad’s forces.

To schedule an interview with Wuthrich, contact Christine Metz Howard at 785-864-8852 or cmetzhoward@ku.edu


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