Syrian war presents ‘do-or-die’ case to Turkey’s Kurdish peace bid
Amid the increasing tensions and threats over the Turkish government’s nearly frozen reconciliation bid to solve the long-standing Kurdish problem, last week’s deadly clashes just a few miles across the Syrian border have brought a “do-or-die” moment for Turkey’s peace efforts amid Ankara’s confusing approach to the Kurdish group both within and out.
Amid the nationalist discourse in the Turkish media on the fragile victory of Kurdish militant groups against the al-Qaeda-linked al-Nusra and Islamic State of Iraq and Syria fighters in the battle-ridden Syrian town of Ras al-Ayn, the cementing Kurdish control in northern Syria has found the regional players shifting their “usual” stances toward each other.
For starters, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), which is supposedly the armed wing of the deeply divided Syrian Kurds but more aligned with the Democratic Union Party in Syria - an offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) fighting in Turkey - had engaged in another round of flare up with the Turkey-backed main Syrian rebel group, the Free Syrian Army (FSA) before fierce clashes against the al-Qaeda-linked groups in Ras al-Ayn. While the FSA fighters vanished in the battle field against the YPG forces amid recent calls for calm by its “moderate” political patron, the Syrian National Council (SNC), the Kurdish militants overpowered the Islamists in a development that raised eyebrows in Ankara.
The recent victory of Kurdish militants was not a first since they somehow became dominant after months of an inactive role in the Syrian Civil War, after the withdrawal of the government troops in mainly the Kurdish-inhabited areas of northern Syria. But Kurdish rule has been hampered many times due to the sporadic clashes with the FSA and Islamist fighters, as well as their infighting fueled by their regional backers, such as Iraqi Kurd leaders in Arbil, Sulaymaniah, or Kandil. As the main Kurdish group in the barely-united Western Kurdistan Council (PYD), on one hand, was time-to-time isolated by other rival Kurdish groups thanks to the political interest plans of their patrons in the wider drama, on the another, its alliance with the Syrian rebels – mainly FSA fighters – had lived shortly upon Ankara’s “untold” order to the Syrian opposition to kill the pact with the PKK-linked group.
However, in the latest of the violent episodes, the PYD appeared closer to the Turkish side with one of its officials arguing that they had witnessed a shift in the attitude of Turkey during the recent fighting with the Islamists, so therefore had not allowed the al-Qaeda-linked groups to enter Turkish soil in return. Furthermore, the PYD leader Saleh Muslim’s statement ruling out an autonomous Kurdish region in northern Syria, at least for now, as he admitted that the offer had been on the table for a couple of years, appeared as a tactical move to soothe Turkish concerns.
On the other side of the border, Turkish officials have pursued voicing their typical threats against a sectarian - or ethnicity-based - “de facto” or “fait accompli” situations, particularly after what they’ve labeled the regime’s “move to put one group against another.” However, the tone of the statements have so far seemed lesser, compared to previous comments on the similar worst case scenario of another Kurdish rule in Syria after the one in Iraq. The remarks of the Turkish foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu, who said: “Turkey will retaliate to any attack by any group, no matter what their motivation was,” are also not directly aimed at the PKK-linked PYD fighters. Besides, they implied that Turkey would strike back at the Islamists, who used to be an ally, but not so much anymore due to the lingering pressure of the West on Ankara.
What spoils the shifting alliances, in the meantime, was the Kandil-based PKK leadership’s “final” warning to the Turkish government for its failure to fulfil its promises in the Kurdish peace process. Accusing the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) of “sabotaging” the peace bid by not taking steps to move the process into its second phase, the PKK leadership has blamed the government for the recent violence in northern Syria, linking the fate of Turkey’s peace bid to the Syrian war, hoping a resolution will rise from a catastrophe.
Having sat right in the middle of a ticking Syrian bomb donated by the many-sided fighting, Turkey now stands at a Kurdish crossroad, which offers more violent trouble with the (re)openings of a new front, or a rehabilitated pact with Kurds empowered by forces in Turkey, Iraq and Syria.