Al-Qaeda-PKK fight on Turkish-Syrian border
In the current atmosphere of a “Second Cold War,” there are different layers of proxy wars.
The Syrian Civil War, for example, has turned into a new proxy war between the United States and Russia.
In the first stages of the civil war, the U.S. and its allies (in Europe and the Arab world) had an upper hand. The reason for that was the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood (Ikhwan-i Muslimin) in Syria – as the main opposition group against Bashar al-Assad – in parallel to the rise of the Ikhwan in Tunisia and Egypt in the wake of the Arab Spring. The Tayyip Erdoğan government’s links with the Sunni opposition in Syria helped the West gain the advantage against the Russian-backed regime in Damascus.
But Russia, with the help of China, stood firm in the United Nations to veto any resolution on Syria, foiling an international operation like the one in Libya in 2011.
In the meantime, something else started to take place among the Syrian opposition. On the Ikhwan-dominated Sunni front, a radical movement calling itself al-Nusra emerged in early 2012 and became part of al-Qaeda in early 2013. On the Kurdish front, the Democratic Union Party (PYD) started to disassociate itself from the rest of the Syrian opposition for its own political goals, that is, to gain autonomy where Kurds live – regions bordering Turkey.
The PYD is actually the Syria branch of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in Turkey, which has been carrying out an armed campaign for the last three decades and is currently in talks with the Turkish government to reach a political settlement.
Those two developments, plus the decline of the Ikhwan with the coup in Egypt toppling Ikhwan-backed President Mohamed Morsi, weakened the Syrian opposition. It thus weakened Ankara’s position regarding the Syrian civil war and strengthened Damascus’ position; as another result, the Russian hand in the game got stronger.
Now Ankara is watching a more local proxy war on its border between al-Nusra and the PYD fighters; a proxy war between al-Qaeda and the PKK. Al-Qaeda is not a piece of cake for the Western security system as observed during the week-long alert of the U.S. in the region recently, but the PKK fighting al-Nusra is no child’s play either. And the fight between the two along the Turkish border has both political and economical aspects, as those are the oil and gas production areas of Syria.
In addition, Kurdish organizations from Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Iran reportedly held a meeting last weekend in the PKK military headquarters in the Kandil Mountains in Iraq, in order to discuss how to help their compatriots in Syria.
Ankara is in a dilemma. The Erdoğan government does not want the Syrian opposition to weaken further, and it doesn’t want the talks over the Kurdish settlement to collapse, amid “We told you so” remarks from the Turkish opposition, who have been warning the government about becoming too involved in the Syrian Civil War.