With ISIS At Its Border, Turkey Can't Decide What To Do Turkey is divided over how to respond to ISIS on its border and to Kurdish unrest within the country, making Turkey a shaky partner for the U.S.-led coalition.
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With ISIS At Its Border, Turkey Can't Decide What To Do

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With ISIS At Its Border, Turkey Can't Decide What To Do

With ISIS At Its Border, Turkey Can't Decide What To Do

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Dozens of U.S. airstrikes in recent days have not prevented the so-called Islamic State from moving deeper into the Syrian Kurdish border town of Kobani. The U.N. warns that thousands of people could be killed if the town falls. But as NPR's Peter Kenyon reports from southeastern Turkey, Ankara's reluctance to intervene reflects deep divisions among Turks about how to proceed if at all.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Sanliurfa, the closest Turkish city to Kobani, is a meeting point for Syrians who fled the onslaught from ISIS fighters and Kurdish activists trying to help the embattled Syrian Kurdish militiamen defending the town.

In one crowded cafe, a Kurdish NGO worker says the protests that rocked Turkey this week over the government's refusal to intervene alarmed Turks and Kurds alike. They reawakened old fears about the bloody days before Turkey embarked on a peace process with its Kurdish minority. Thirty-year-old Rezan Bilan says the government should've know people would rise up when Turkey decided to leave its tanks and troops within sight of Kobani, but not helping.

REZAN BILAN: This is first thing they are asking, and the second thing's, if not - if you can't send your tanks and your army to Syria - so let us go. And they are not doing them both even.

KENYON: But with more than two dozen people killed in the protests, Kurdish leaders asked demonstrators to return to their homes. Bilan says even amid the mounting frustration over the plight of Kobani, people here really don't want return to the kind of Kurdish-Turkish violence that claimed tens of thousands of lives over the past 30 years.

BILAN: That's why Kurds will not continue this - their protests for Kobani. And Kobani, of course, it will - it continues like that, Kobani will fall for sure.

KENYON: That sense of resignation is a sharp contrast to the warnings of U.N. envoy Staffan de Mistura who compared what could happen in Kobani to the massacre in Srebrenica during the Bosnian War in the 1990s. He urged Turkey to at least allow volunteers to cross and help defend the town.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

STAFFAN DE MISTURA: (Speaking Turkish).

KENYON: So far, Turkey isn't moved by such appeals. Foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu repeated this week that Turkey won't intervene on its own in Syria. And just to complicate things further, he said the anti-ISIS coalition should also be an anti-Assad coalition, saying that as long as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad remain in power, there will be nothing but blood, cruelty, massacres and tears.

That idea has gotten a chilly reception in Washington, as has Turkey's proposal for safe zones inside Syria. The pressure on Turkey to jump into the fighting has a strong emotional pull, analysts say. But few people seem to have considered what might happened if Turkey actually did intervene. As Hugh Pope, with the International Crisis Group, puts it, if Turkey opens up another front in the long-running Syria conflict, it risks spreading the violence to yet another country.

HUGH POPE: Where will it not be vulnerable? There's a 500-mile border that is porous, that is already multiply penetrated by the jihadis. We have 1.5 million Syrian refugees in Turkey. How many of them may be sleeper cells? Turkey will face real domestic problems if it tries to take really decisive action one way or the other in Syria.

KENYON: Beyond inviting a backlash from ISIS and possibly the Syrian regime as well, Pope says the current crisis is deepening Turkey's many divisions at home between Sunnis and non-Sunnis, Turks and Kurds, and religious and secular Turks. The one positive element Turkey should be trying to salvage in all this, says Pope, is the tenuous peace process between the government and Kurdish PKK militants. The calming of the street protests may be a hopeful sign. But frustration will flare again if Kobani falls, and if the goal is an international consensus on who will do what to confront ISIS in northern Syria, Pope for one has a bleak view at the moment.

POPE: I don't see any chance that there will be such an international coalition or U.N.-mandated move. And I think that unfortunately, Turkey's just finding a complicated way of saying, I can't do this.

KENYON: Over time that may change. And some see Turkey's still-vague agreement to help train and equip the so-called moderate Syrian opposition forces as a positive sign. But for the people and fighters of Kobani, time is running out. Peter Kenyon, NPR News, southeastern Turkey.

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