Syria, Turkey and the Kurds
NİHAT ALİ ÖZCANSyria is not falling off the agenda of the world media and politicians. Everybody relevant keeps on commenting on the point the problem has come to and what will happen. However, the most important question to be answered is this: When Bashar al-Assad falls, what happens next? Of course, it is not possible to indicate a certain date and tell what will happen like a fortune teller. But, by following the Kurds’ road map in Syria, one can largely predict whether the problem has reached a critical threshold and what might happen with the Kurds in a post-al-Assad era.
Nowadays there is a deep silence on the Kurdish front despite the earth-shattering changes in Syria. Behind that silence is a neither political snafu, nor the desire to make the al-Assad regime’s work easier. Apparently, Kurds have learned their lessons from the past and are following a strategy which is quite shrewd. They are waiting for the “high time” at which point their rival will be weak in order to participate in the regime-change game.
One year after the Iraqi invasion, in March 2004, Syrian Kurds rose in rebellion. The al-Assad regime suppressed it by using violence. Kurds are waiting during this current phase in light of both their own experiences and advice. In the meantime, they are starting to accelerate their activities, as well as increase their diplomatic and psychological capacity. Both northern Iraqi leader Masoud Barzani and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is active among Syrian Kurds, have agreed and are active on the implementation of the current strategy.
The PKK has been active for decades among the Kurds in Syria with the open consent of the Syrian regime. The formation of a political identity drove the militants that were recruited from among the Syrian Kurds into Turkey’s mountains. So much so that, 20-25 percent of the organization’s armed militants were recruited from that region. On the other hand, Barzani, not being idle, has improved his political network among Syrian Kurds.
Syrian Kurds will enter the game as a well-organized, fresh force once the insurgency reaches a critical threshold. It is true that they are obtaining money, arms and personnel that they need for that purpose from Turkey and Iraq. While the Arabs are dealing with themselves, Syrian Kurds are planning to secure an advantageous position like their relatives in Iraq. There is no reason that won’t be able to realize this plan. In the course of events, certain regions will have the power to protect areas in which they achieved political autonomy against the worn-out Arabs.
The Syrian Kurds’ new position will affect northern neighbor Turkey in the medium term, as well as the Arabs. The power vacuum and the Kurdish sovereign region that will emerge in the wake of the breakdown of the regime will mean the start of new problems for Turkey. The PKK will supposedly have arms from the al-Assad army, unlimited logistical capability, new personnel with high self-confidence and new safe havens on a strategic level. Above all is the superiority it will achieve on a psychological level. This situation is the moment that the superiority of political discourse disappears for Turkish governments. The Kurdish question will no longer be a domestic democracy problem for Turkey but will be rapidly transformed into an internationalized “national liberation movement.”
Those who try to cope with the PKK problem in the political and security domain will see that their problem has gained a new dimension and that the paradigm has shifted. Henceforth, there will be a different regional picture. Everything belonging to the past will lose its meaning and function in the new phase. Those who poured compliments upon Turkey for its contribution to al-Assad’s removal will naturally be out of step in the new period. Even if not as severe as al-Assad, they will show a clearer and more encouraging manner toward Turkey on how to realize a political environment for the Kurds like in Syria.