Erdoğan’s negotiations with the PKK and the Syrian Kurds

Erdoğan’s negotiations with the PKK and the Syrian Kurds

The Syrian opposition elected their first prime minister at an Istanbul meeting. The efforts to build an alternative government will continue. They hope that forming such a government will help organize the aid received, reinforce their military power and grant them international legitimacy. The plan is to put military and political pressure on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and thereby acquire a more powerful position at the negotiation table.

The disorganized state of the opposition is still a serious problem. Their plan can work only if they manage to stand united. Two groups are especially prominent: The Islamist Al-Nusra Front, designated by the U.S. as a terrorist organization and the Kurds under the control of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), which has been ostracized by Turkey.

Leaving aside the Al-Nusra Front, the Kurds under the wing of the PYD currently seem to be the most organized, powerful and politically determined force that could support the opposition. Although they have their own objectives and strategies, one of the reasons why the PYD distances itself from the opposition is the dismissive stance of Turkey. The PKK followed a smart strategy from the outset of the Syrian incidents and reinforced the PYD’s political, diplomatic and military power. Now the PYD works efficiently.

The outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) connection keeps Turkey from entering into friendly relations with the PYD. Turkey openly used its geopolitical leverage to ask its allies to keep away from the PYD. It even tried to weaken the PKK influence on Syria’s Kurds. It tried to strengthen Masoud Barzani, the president of northern Iraq, and supported certain Arab tribes and radical groups to put military and psychological pressure on the PYD. None of these attempts seem to have succeeded.

The government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is currently negotiating with the PKK, the “real boss” of the PYD, and discussing the future of the Kurds not only in Turkey, but in the whole region. These negotiations are likely to affect Syria’s Kurds, too. As the negotiations with the PKK continue, Turkey’s PYD policy will change. The pressure on the PYD will decline in the short run.

It won’t be a surprise to see the PKK shift the focus of its military strategy toward Syria. A militarily, politically and diplomatically well-organized PYD will become an important force within the Syrian opposition. The Kurds will acquire a status in post-al-Assad Syria similar to that in Iraq, though not in the short run. In the short run Erdoğan might seem to be on the winning side due to his management of the domestic Kurdish problem. In the middle run, however, he will have to face a more complicated Kurdish problem.