‘Deal over Manbij is a gift for Erdoğan before elections’ - Middle East expert

The U.S. government gave Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan a gift before the upcoming elections on June 24 by agreeing on a roadmap for the northern Syrian town of Manbij, Middle East expert Henri J. Barkey said on June 5, during a panel organised by the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations in Washington. 

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on June 4 agreed to a roadmap over the withdrawal of the People’s Protection Units (YPG) from the Syrian province of Manbij following months of negotiations. Turkey recognises YPG as a terrorist organisation affiliated to Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), an armed group which has been fighting inside Turkey for more than 30 years, while the YPG forms the backbone of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) coalition in their fight against ISIS in the region.

“First of all, I think the Manbij issue was important to Erdogan for the elections. In a way, United States gave him a gift. So this is one thing he wanted. He finally got it,’ Barkey said regarding the deal on Manbij. “But if you look at Foreign Minister Cavusoglu’s comments after the meeting yesterday, he basically is saying that, well, now we’ve gotten Manbij. And then we’re going to go, and we’re going to go further east. But that, I don’t think, is part of the deal,” he added. 

According to Barkey, Manbij was never fundamental problem for Turkey, but after this deal, the Turkish government would oppose any kind of Kurdish-controlled area in both northwest and northeast Syria. 

Barkey does not think that president Erdoğan will reinvigorate a peace process with Kurds in Turkey, as he thinks Erdoğan is becoming ‘increasingly erratic’. “I mean, I used to think that he didn’t have a brain, he had a supercomputer, because he could keep track of so many different things at the same time. He’s losing it,” Barkey said. Erdoğan will win the second round of presidential elections according to Barkey. Yet, he does not think Erdoğan will become magnanimous towards Kurds in the aftermath of the elections.

Turkey issued an arrest warrant for Henri Barkey in November 2017 on charges of being one of the organisers of last year’s failed coup attempt. Barkey, who was attending a two-day workshop on the international relations of Iran at Istanbul’s Büyükada island at the time of the coup, is accused of working for the CIA to bring down the Turkish government.