The answer to some of these queries is “yes” – but there’s more.
Of course we may indeed be “handling them badly”. Turks, like lots of other people, don’t like being “handled”. There is a spectre here of the capitulations whereby Europeans extorted from a Sublime Porte in decline trade, tax and other privileges for their business in Ottoman lands. Capitulations, with its imperialistic overtones, is a concept that can still raise Turkish hackles a century later. It is part of the baggage of Europe’s – and America’s – sensitive relations with Turkey, to be forgotten at one’s peril. Some Turkish bloody-mindedness, part of Turkey’s (and others’…) imperial heritage, goes with that baggage.
Arguably, and many Turks certainly see it thus, there are only three countries with any substance and depth in the region – Israel, Iran and themselves. Forget about the long-term prospects for Gulf Arab states, and even Egypt. Turks are not alone in thinking thus.
ISIS’s move on the Kobane Kurdish enclave in Syria is wrong-footing Ankara. An ISIS victory would give ISIS an unbroken 400 km swathe of occupied Syrian land on Turkey’s border. That is uncomfortable for Turkey, but its military can cope with that. And if (or when) Kobane falls ISIS will wipe out the Kurdish PYY defenders in the enclave. Which is what some in Ankara probably hope. Except that it may not happen. Kurdish fighters and remaining civilians will try and retreat into Turkey.
The Kurdish PYY fighters in Syria are related to Turkey’s own domestic Kurdish resistance, the PKK. Thus in Ankara’s eyes renewed Kurdish unrest and resistance, a major bugbear of Turkey’s modern history, becomes an even bigger threat. Compounding the problem now is the widespread surge of public anger from Turkish Kurds over the fate of their ethnic brothers and sisters in Syria, and in Iraq.
Few ethnic Turks now deny that Kurds make upon as much as 25% of Turkey’s population, not just limited to the southeast of the country. This is not a constituency Ankara can ignore. Letting the Kobani defenders retreat into Turkey may look unpalatable to Ankara; stopping them could make things worse.
It appears Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan fears that Kurds overall and on balance are doing quite well in the present conflict, helped by the fact that the state of Iraq is falling apart. In fairness to Erdoğan’s record, he has used his time in power to make progress in Ankara’s dealing with Turkey’s Kurds, notably in matters of education, use of the Kurdish language and local government. The head of MIT, Turkish intelligence, has been talking with Kurdish PKK resistance leader, Abdullah Ocalan in the latter’s island prison cell off Istanbul. Turkish business interests proliferate in Iraqi Kurdistan. Ankara has a hotline to the Iraqi Kurdish capital, Erbil. To Baghdad’s annoyance, a direct pipeline now supplies Turkey with Iraqi Kurdish oil.
Security and economic reasons alone therefore should encourage Turkey to put relations with all Kurds onto a new and productive footing. But many Turks panic at the spectre of an independent Kurdistan. In reality they should worry less given the propensity of Kurdish leaders to quarrel with each other. And many in Ankara aspire to greater control over Kurdistan’s oil – a commodity, the lack of which has always been a major Achilles heel in Turkey’s economy and balance of payments. The Turkish grudge at the post-1919 loss of Mosul, Kirkuk and Suleymaniye surfaces still.
But right now Mr. Erdoğan and consorts are more worried that events in Kurdish lands are getting beyond their control. The Kurds just might start quarrelling less and consolidating more. And what if the Americans and Europeans were discreetly to decide that that is a least bad option in the Middle Eastern mess and deserves some quiet help?
Mr. Erdoğan might be emotional – his priority of getting rid of Assad is fuelled by that pique - but he is not irrational. Rationality makes many Turks wary of politico-military adventures south the border without an exit strategy. And Turks must always look over their shoulders at their old rival, unpredictable Iran.
Turkish rationality also should now be invested in thinking out a long-term partnership strategy towards a resurgent Kurdistan, instead of focusing on what may appear to be short-term gains And perhaps Turkey’s Western partners should focus on ways to encourage the longer view
 The Alevis, a variant of Shi’a Islam, numerous and relatively comfortable in Kurdish lands, are another factor in the equation. Conservative estimates put Alevis at 10-15% of Turkey’s population. Some claim more. But no figures are trustworthy.