Syrian Kurds and their fragile autonomy move
The talks between the Syrian opposition and the government tilted toward an unsurprising end of collapse while the two sides cannot even stand each other in a same room to make the first face-to-face direction. Amid the slim hopes for any deal during the so-called Geneva II meetings, Syrian Kurds, whose request to attend the meeting was rejected, silently, but keenly declared autonomy in northern Syria. So far, they seem to be the “secret winner” of Geneva II, but the question is how would their autonomy last and ultimately reach their goal of federalism in northern Syria.
Syrian Kurds clearly took advantage of the power vacuum in northern Syria amid the multi-party conflict in the country. Like many others, the regime forces did not bother much with the declaration amid other pressing woes in the civil-war-hit country.
The Kurds’ ties with the opposition led by the Syrian National Coalition (SNC) have often been challenging since the latter refused to ally with Kurds due to pressure from one of its main patrons, Turkey. Islamists and other armed groups have been too busy to fight, not only with regime forces, but each other, too. So it was an easy call for the PYD to make and after being rebuffed for a Geneva II ticket, it went ahead with the plans for autonomy.
However, the problems are daunting. The declaration for autonomy has even been questioned among Kurds themselves. The move was taken by the Democratic Union Party (PYD) - the region’s powerful Kurdish group and an offshoot of Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in Turkey. The other Kurdish groups, particularly those supported by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) leader Massoud Barzani and his Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) rejected the declaration.
On the surface, they have been accusing the PYD of having ties with the Damascus regime and its autonomy would weaken the opposition against President Bashar al-Assad. But groups supported by Barzani also have other reasons to oppose the idea.
Clearly, they don’t want to see another federal Kurdish entity in the region since it would weaken Barzani’s firm influence on the region’s Kurdish population. Due to his recently flourishing diplomatic and trade ties with Turkey, which repeatedly made calls against a possible autonomy decision, Barzani has taken sides with Ankara in order to not jeopardize his relations.
For Turkey’s part, the plot is a bit trickier. The Turkish government has been trying to solve its own Kurdish problem in a process that has been hardly moving and is now widely frozen after the corruption scandal involving Cabinet ministers. Turkey’s warnings and opposition to the autonomy of Kurds in Syria has been creating a conflicting situation for its efforts to find a settlement to the Kurdish question via talks with the jailed PKK leader, Abdullah Öcalan.
Having hosted PYD leader Saleh Muslim during his frequent visits in the past, Turkey apparently lost influence on him, if there ever was any. It also fears a similar PKK demand, which would put the final nail in the coffin of the settlement process with Kurds and, perhaps, the return to violence after a short pause.
The return to violence would be catastrophic for Turkey, and particularly for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). Deeply troubled with a corruption case and a fight with the self-declared “parallel state” governed by its ally-turned-foe Islamist Hizmet (Service) Movement, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been repeating his success in silencing guns in the east and southeast, where he seeks more votes in the upcoming local, general and presidential elections.
So, an autonomous region in Syria is not only the PYD’s problem. There are many other regional actors involved and they have high stakes in the issue. Although, the Kurdish region in Syria seems to be having a sigh of relief lately, the question of stability and reaching the ultimate goal of federalism is a huge question, as the chaos and conflicts are unlikely to see an end in the near future.