In the 19th century, Britain, France, and Russia occupied or fostered the independence of Greece, Serbia, Romania, Montenegro, Bulgaria, Tunisia, and Egypt—each one part of the Ottoman Empire. In 1920, the victors of World War I forced the Ottomans to sign the Treaty of Sèvres, which detached what would become Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Israel from the House of Osman. The agreement also granted the French a zone of influence in the southeastern portion of Anatolia, adjacent to its Mandate for Lebanon and Syria, while the Italians were ceded an area that included southern and central parts of Anatolian territory, including Antalya and Konya. The Greeks established a protectorate in Smyrna, now known as Izmir.
In response, an Ottoman officer named Mustafa Kemal, later known as Atatürk, and a cadre of nationalist collaborators, raised an army and drove the Allies out of what became the Republic of Turkey on October 29, 1923. Despite Atatürk’s triumph and Turkey’s subsequent growth into a regional power, the dissection of the empire and the attempted division of its remnant has sowed a profound and pronounced mistrust of foreign powers—even allies—in Turkey’s political culture.
Through 94 years of independence, Turkish leaders have made clear that the nightmare of post-World-War-I dismemberment can never repeat itself. But it has, despite their best efforts—albeit in an updated form, involving the United States and Syrian territory that the Kurds call Rojava, or Western Kurdistan. This explains why, last weekend, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan ordered his army to attack a district in northwestern Syria called Afrin. The area is under the control of the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its affiliated fighting force, the People’s Protection Units (YPG). This force has been an effective partner of the United States in the fight against the self-declared Islamic State, but it is also a creature of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK)—a Turkish Kurdish group that both the United States and Turkey identify as a terrorist organization.