Analysis: Kurdish pain or gain? Turkey faces dilemma via Syrian war, PKK talks

Analysis: Kurdish pain or gain? Turkey faces dilemma via Syrian war, PKK talks

Analysis: Kurdish pain or gain Turkey faces dilemma via Syrian war, PKK talks

The YPG and al-Nusra are engaging in fighting close to the Turkish border town of Ceylanpınar. AA photo

Turkey is facing a dire dilemma over “winning the hearts and minds” of Kurds - both in the national and regional context - as Ankara’s slow-moving bid to reconcile with its Kurds in the deadlocked peace talks has recently been intertwined more than ever with the growing Kurdish military influence in Syria.

The upper hand gained by the Kurdish militants of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) in Syria against the al-Qaeda-linked al-Nusra fighters during the recent clashes has delivered a morale and power boost to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The PKK leadership has been in a desperate need for such a boost, since its calls on government to fulfill its promises in the peace process have so far fallen on deaf ears.

Signals of possible thaw with central gov’t

Now, the PKK has been given a decisive chip on the negotiation table with the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), thanks to the march and rise of Kurdish militants in Syria. Regional Kurdish players, including the leader of Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq, have tacitly admitted this growing PKK influence. In an anxious effort not to lose his self-proclaimed leadership of Kurds in the region, KRG leader Massoud Barzani has gather a “national conference” and invited all Kurdish groups with different political backgrounds to Arbil. However, Barzani should be wise enough to see such ethnic-based moves might not be enough to counter a new rise of the PKK, as he also gave signals of a possible thaw with the Shiite Arab central government in Baghdad. Baghdad and Arbil have been at odds over oil and gas revenues in war-ridden Iraq and they even came close to war over the issue. Recently, the direction of winds has slightly shifted, with senior officials from both sides saying the KRG and the central government have made progress on a settlement.

The subtext of the thaw statements was surely to give political signals, as finding a resolution on sharing energy revenues would be a very difficult task for the two sides. The central government in Baghdad, for its part, has been irked by the blooming relationship between Arbil and Ankara, while Barzani is feeling increasingly insecure over the AKP’s reconciliation efforts with Turkey’s Kurds.

If the tense Arbil-Baghdad route sees a bit of relief, it would not be the end of world for Turkey, considering the heavy dominance of Turkish firms there, but it would be a huge setback for its neo-Ottoman regional aspirations, particularly considering the Turkish military’s increasing involvement in the Syrian conflict.

Making almost daily statements about its “retaliation-in-kind” against firings from Syria, the Turkish military is now confronting the lingering threat of having a new front in a neighboring country, after a short ease in battle over recent months due to the PKK’s withdrawal from Turkey as part of the peace plans.

The Turkish military has been showing its usual “mighty-confident” stance over the Syrian conflict. However, the pain of the war would be catastrophic and puzzling, as Turkish soldiers might find themselves under cross fire from both Kurds and Islamists, not knowing who to fight in Syria. As of now, the PYD in Syria has appeared to be trying to avoid a confrontation with Turkey, but that would not be case if the PKK peace talks fail. That being said, if the Turkish government plays its cards sagely by leaving archaic foreign policy engagements behind, it might gain loyal satellites controlled by Kurds and backed by the West against the upcoming threat of “extremists” in the region.