Cooperation with the YPG, wasn’t it tactical?
Foreign reporters covering Turkey’s latest military operation in Syria say that Kurdish fighters in the YPG are seen as terrorist by the Turkish government and that Turkey claims that YPG is the Syrian wing of the illegal PKK. But they do not add that Western capitals also admit that the YPG is the Syrian wing of the PKK, which they officially recognize as a terror organization.
Western leaders might not have said it openly to their public, but I have never come across any European diplomat who would deny the organic link between the PKK and the YPG. And in fact, they will rush to say in a rather apologetic way that their “cooperation with YPG is totally tactical” and that they needed a strong group on the ground to fight ISIL.
This rhetoric and policy were problematic from many aspects. It should have been problematic first for Syrian Kurds. But let’s make a distinction between civilian Syrian Kurds and the YPG.
As far as YPG is concerned they don’t seem to care about the underlying and humiliating message Ankara was told by the West. “So what? We are using one terrorist to kill another terrorist.”
YPG also preferred to ignore the “tactical” part of the cooperation, because “tactical” means it is temporary. But currently, acting as if they have been (unexpectedly) betrayed is serving them well in terms of their public relations campaign.
When it comes to the Turkish side, officials told their interlocutors time and again that countries “cannot have tactical cooperation with a terrorist organization.”
That rhetorical statement could easily be ignored by the Western capitals that would blame Turkey to turn a blind eye to the crossings of jihadists to Syria and arming radical elements in order to topple Bashar al – Assad. In return, the West’s accusations fall on deaf ears in Turkey. But ISIL’s deadly attacks in Turkey, the Turkish security apparatus pursuit against ISIL networks within the country as well as its cooperation with the Western capitals on foreign jihadist fighters (a cooperation that European diplomats will talk highly of to Turks but never tell their own public) has helped the Turkish ruling elites to push back these criticisms.
The rhetorically problematic side of the issue could be managed for some time, but on practical level, this situation was not sustainable, especially as there were no answers to the “aftermath.” What happens when the “work” on ISIL ends? What happens when the “tactical” cooperation ends? What happens to the “heavy weapons the YPG is being provided,” when this tactical cooperation ends?
Is it too unrealistic to assume that once ISIL is done, the PKK could have used these weapons against Turkey?
Was there anyone among Western decisionmakers to think that Turkey would just sit and watch the PKK to gain control of a vast amount of territory in its south (one-third of Syria which is obviously disproportionate to the population of Kurds in that country)?
Turkish and Western decisionmakers could spend days on who is to blame for why we are in Syria where we are now. Every regional and international player including Turkey is to blame for the current catastrophe. But we are where we are, and the blame game will not get us anywhere.
Now, that the Western capitals have reacted strongly against Turkey and declared a series of sanctions that involve a ban on arms sale, to calm down their public, (which, by the way, do not question at all why there is not a similar ban against Saudi Arabia, which has been bombing Yemen to starvation - a policy implemented by a ruler who accepts responsibility for the cruel execution of a dissident), it is high time for damage control.
It has been timely for the United States to send a high-level delegation to Ankara as the urgency of the matter requires a high-level conversation.
Relying on YPG, which Turkey sees as its enemy, to fight against ISIL and leaving Turkey to deal with all the side effects of the war, like the refugees, ISIL prisoners and their families, wives and children is no longer sustainable. Western capitals could at least start by repatriating their own nationals who are ISIL members, together with their families.
And then, they should also start thinking which one is better: to engage or confront Turkey in an area where Russia (and to a lesser degree, Iran) is the real game-changer.
And finally, once Turkey’s decisionmakers could get the sense that the country’s security concerns are being understood by its Western interlocutors, they might also be much more cooperative and rely less on Russia, as well as less on certain elements which could one day turn against them.