Syrian Kurds and the Turkish government

Syrian Kurds and the Turkish government

The Turkish government thought the Syrian uprising was going to end in no time. Bashar al-Assad was going to fall soon, to be replaced by “our close friends,” the Muslim Brotherhood. With “our boys” in power, a broad Middle Eastern alliance was going to be established. This plan seemed sound with no real obstruction in sight.

Of course, things didn’t turn out as planned. Al-Assad enjoyed an unexpected level of international support, cleverly implemented his counterinsurgency strategies and reinforced his position. The armed opposition, however, remained fragmented and disorderly.

Unlike the early days of the conflict, Turkey is trying to deal with economic, social, diplomatic and security problems caused by Syria. The most important issue on both the government’s and the people’s minds is security. Politically motivated security problems are visible in both the Democratic Union Party (PYD) phenomenon and the Reyhanlı attack. Still, a new wave of security threats is around the corner. Warlords in the region have not only pillaged humanitarian aid, but also organized a nightmarish network of mass smuggling threatening border security between Turkey and Syria.

According to the Turkish General Staff, even in a single locality, around 4,000 armed smugglers try to cross the border at night, either on horseback or on foot, ready to risk clashes.

At the outset of the Syrian uprising, the Turkish government did not take the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) presence in Syria very seriously. After all, the plan involved the capture of power by the Muslim Brotherhood. The picture changed fast. The PYD seized every opportunity and, in response, Turkey tried to change its Syrian Kurdish strategy. It cooperated with northern Iraqi leader Masoud Barzani and supported Sunni Arabs and organizations like the al-Nusra Front. These moves, it hoped, would hold the PKK/PYD down. The PYD bided its time and assessed the conditions effectively.

First, it frustrated Barzani’s attempts and weakened his influence in Syria. Then, the Turkish government’s strategy failed completely when the United States put the al-Nusra Front on its list of terrorist organizations. The PKK is reading the regional dynamics carefully. Currently, it is not only fighting the al-Nusra Front and signaling the U.S., but also gaining control along the Turkish-Syrian border and sending powerful messages to both the public and the government in Turkey.

The Turkish public is curious. As negotiations with the PKK continue and persuading the public becomes more and more difficult, the context favoring the PKK in Syria is not good news for PM Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. He is also concerned that foreign actors could play the “Kurdish card.” This concern resonates with the Gezi events “with roots outside Turkey” and the Egyptian army’s ousting of Mohamed Morsi.

All these developments put Erdoğan in a difficult position and bestow upon the PKK advantages unprecedented in its history. On the whole, there is nothing much that the “Muslim Brothers” can do.