Western perspectives on the Kurds

Western perspectives on the Kurds

The highly anticipated corridor for the Peshmarga fighters has finally opened and they have marched into Turkish soil to move into Kobane. It all looked like a long wedding procession. As BBC and CNN International broadcast the crossing, ordinary Turks who only watch TV series or football matches were not able to see even a glimpse of it on their favorite channels. “Ankara does not want a Habur Dejavu” said a columnist close to the Justice and Development (AKP) government, referring to the first cease-fire in 2009 when outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) guerrillas came back home to Turkey with fireworks.

But the real outcome of the siege of Kobane has been the unification of the Kurdish cause in Europe. During a recent trip to Germany with the Friedrich Naumann Foundation, a young city council member in Hamburg told us that the campaign to take the PKK off of the terrorist list in Europe has gained a lot of support since the emergence of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

Germany is not the only nation feeling sympathy with the Kurdish cause. CNN’s recent reporting about female guerrillas in the Democratic Union Party (PYD) fighting for secular lives and equality is a welcoming sign from the U.S.

Ankara believes that if the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) leader Masoud Barzani’s troops land in Kobane, the tiny town will become more like Arbil. But on the contrary, the leftist and secular self-rule in Rojava has proven to be more attractive to young Kurds and Turks of Turkey, which is why a number of leftist university students from Istanbul have gone there to fight.

Still, there are questions left unanswered. NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, General Philip M. Breedlove, told me in Izmir last week that if Turkey needs more land support (meaning troops) to guard the long border with Syria, “NATO will be there.” Turkey’s demands about toppling Bashar al-Assad in return for the use of the İncirlik base have not gained any support in Western capitals. It seems that if and when Europe and the U.S. decide to get rid of al-Assad, the Kurds will be the main actor and beneficiary.

A couple of years ago, Ms. Yıldız Saray Alphan, a former deputy of the Democratic Left Party (DSP), the party of the late Prime Minister Bülent Ecevit, told me about a visit she had paid to Syria. At that time, al-Assad had written a letter to Ecevit about gas and oil fields in the northern part of his country.

“Al-Assad told me that they lacked the expertise to produce natural gas and sell it to Western markets. He asked for Turkey’s help. I gave his letters to Energy Ministry officials but I have not heard anything since,” Alphan said.

The story tells us that Western interest in Kobane and Rojava is not limited to the Kurdish cause. Just like the Iraqi experience shows, Kurds may be the only reliable guardians of energy routes to the Mediterranean. Surprisingly, this may be something that al-Assad and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan can agree on.