A Kurdish state out of the anti-ISIL fight?
Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu had an unscheduled meeting in the late afternoon of Dec. 27 in Istanbul before Erdoğan left for Saudi Arabia.
The meeting took place at a time when key developments have been taking place in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) in Syria and Iraq and in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish-populated southeast in relation to those developments.
The link in between is Syria’s Democratic Union Party (PYD), seen by Ankara as the Syrian branch of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) which has resumed its armed campaign against the government after a three year period of silence during dialogue with the state.
The PYD’s militia, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), plays a key role in the advance of coalition forces taking the strategic Tashrin dam on the Euphrates from ISIL, to get closer to Raqqa, ISIL’s headquarters in Syria. Turkey is a major partner of the anti-ISIL coalition, opening its strategic air base of İncirlik and its air space for the coalition’s use.
But two reasons stop Turkey from taking an active part in the air strikes in Syrian air space. The first is a de facto situation after the downing of a Russian jet by a Turkish jet on Nov. 24 after violating Syria-Turkey border; Russia has deployed additional missiles to Syria and declared that Turkish planes would not be welcomed.
The second reason is the Turkish government’s refusal to take an active part in any operation with the participation of the PYD, which Ankara considers as a terrorist organization, even though it is not on Turkey’s black list. Ankara previously declared the west bank of the Euphrates a “red line” for the PYD/PKK, considering it a threat to Turkish border security.
But Meral Beştaş a member of Turkish parliament on the Kurdish-problem-focused Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), mocked the government on Dec. 27, saying that the red line was crossed and asking what the government would do.
The government has already been extremely annoyed with the recent stance of the HDP. When the HDP co-chairman Selahattin Demirtaş joined a declaration over the weekend in the southeastern city of Diyarbakır and said he supported self-rule or autonomy rights for Kurds, PM Davutoğlu cancelled the meeting he had asked to have with the HDP (along with other parties) to talk over a new constitution. The HDP statement came at a time when the government was already accusing the HDP of supporting the PKK policy in certain towns and neighborhoods in the region of digging ditches and erecting barricades, clashing with the security forces for nearly three months and costing more than 200 lives so far, with more than 50 who were civilians caught in between.
The HDP’s backing of autonomy demands came at a time when Prime Minister Nachirvan Barzani of Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Govenment (KRG), whose recent close relations with Ankara the PKK despises, was in Turkey to talk both with Erdoğan and Davutoğlu. As the Iraqi army, backed by coalition forces and pro-Iran militia on the ground, has been moving to take Ramadi from ISIL, the importance of the KRG to hold on to northern Iraq (the area bordering Turkey and Iran) increases.
The outlook is quite complicated for the time being. The PKK is seemingly calculating on carving out an independent Kurdish state, or at least an autonomy, out of the fight against ISIL, thinking that their contribution to the fight was indispensable. One of the questions that the PKK has to find an answer to is whether they are more indispensable than Turkey, and not only in fight against ISIL but being Turkey in an area of political and economic influence from the Balkans to the Black Sea, from the Caucasus to the East Mediterranean.
Considering that neither the U.S. nor the European Union are too keen on the quality of democracy in Turkey regarding rights and freedoms nowadays, calculating their strategic interests first, the calculation of the PKK might prove to be a risky one, without even mentioning the consequences of changing borders in this fragile part of the world.