Can the Turkish government be an ally of the PKK in Syria?
Several reasons compel the Turkish government to renegotiate with convicted the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) leader, Abdullah Öcalan. These are escalating PKK attacks, domestic politics under time pressure, seasonal conditions and political problems in its neighbor.
So far the PKK has benefited the most from the Syrian civil war. An accurate assessment of developments enabled the PKK to stop wasting energy and indirectly compromise with the Bashar al-Assad regime. It thereby reorganized itself and gained more power.
The developments in Syria empowered the PKK especially in the following terms: Firstly, the PKK seized control of nearly 1 million people. It can now tap into a pool of young people, something indispensable for an armed movement. It also gained access to logistical resources that will last for years to come. The PKK has never had a chance to utilize such resources before. More guerrillas, new weaponry and, more importantly, the experience of governing a population are the fruits of this opportune moment. Following the state collapse in Syria, no authority that can control the PKK’s activities will remain. As a matter of fact, there will be no such authority in Syria for a long time. And even if a new authority eventually comes into the picture, it will either accept a power-sharing arrangement with the Kurds or risk a long, bloody conflict. Either outcome will have important political consequences.
Secondly, a new regional and strategically important dimension has come to the fore. The PKK will be able to intensify not only armed activities, but also smuggling activities that bring great economic advantages along the Turkey-Syria border. Good news for the PKK, since there will be no authority to protect the Syrian side of the border for years to come.
Thirdly, the PKK not only managed to establish the most organized and most powerful political group in Syria where armed and political opposition remains highly disorganized, but also became the most disciplined group with the clearest political objective. It has acquired an important position in both Syrian politics and new diplomatic venues, legitimacy and self-confidence in the international arena.
Obviously, the Turkish government, which has recently started talking with Öcalan, is closely watching the developments in Syria. If talks turn into serious negotiations and Turkey leaves behind an uneventful summer, we may witness interesting developments. The PKK-affiliated Democratic Union Party (PYD) could end up becoming the most active and effective part of the Syrian opposition. Hence, a de facto alliance between Turkey and the PKK in Syria.
Still, the PKK, overwhelmed by its new position in Syria, might come up with the kind of demands that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan would find intolerable. This could potentially topple the negotiation table.