Syria, Turkey’s Syrians and Kurds

Syria, Turkey’s Syrians and Kurds

A recent video which was released by Syrian rebels in northern Syria shows fighters jeering a coalition convoy and rebels objecting to U.S. special forces on the ground. It also shows the complexity of the current situation in Syria. I think this picture should be taken into consideration by those who criticize U.S. President Barack Obama for his decision to not intervene militarily in Syria while advocating U.S. military intervention in Syria. The pro-interventionalists have long assumed that more U.S. involvement would solve the problems of Syria by helping the “moderate opposition.” In fact, the so-called moderate opposition made many appeals for more U.S. help to defeat the Bashar al-Assad regime. 

Nevertheless, things are not as clear as the intervention-mongers claim. First, there have been many occasions in which “moderates” have not proven to be that moderate on issues like radical Islamism, human rights, women’s rights and so on. It seems that the anti-Assad opposition in Syria is demanding Western support to remove al-Assad and then to be left to their own devices afterward to have a free hand in imposing their Islamist ideals. Under the circumstances, it is worth asking why they are so eager to cooperate with Turkey in northern Syria. Is it because Turkey is a Sunni country which is under the rule of Islamists, and Turkey’s help is not being considered imperialistic? Is it because they are willing to help Turkey fight its “enemy number one,” namely Kurdish forces in northern Syria?   

Turkey’s military campaign in northern Syria is backing the Free Syrian Army (FSA) which has long been presented as the “moderate opposition,” but we have no idea about the true identity of the FSA members supported by Turkey, whom they really represent and what they think of Syria’s future. We also do not know why the FSA is so anti-Kurdish that the U.S. alliance with the Syrian Kurds angers them as much as they complain in the aforementioned video. We know that Syrian opposition groups have largely excluded the Kurds and insisted on calling the future Syria an “Arab Republic” at the outset. Nevertheless, if Arab nationalism was one reason behind their anti-Kurdism, Islamism/sectarianism and cooperation with Turkey have been very influential factors, too. Last, it seems that the opposition groups that Turkey supports and coordinates are more loyal to Turkey’s Islamist rule than the well-being of Syria and its future. 

As for Turkey’s Syria policy, it is justifiable to be concerned with what happens along Turkey’s borders. It is true that Turkey’s rulers are more alarmed by the Kurdish advances in northern Syria than anything else, but Turkey cannot be expected to ignore the possibility of a Kurdish corridor along its border. Since such a major change of the status quo intimidates any sovereign nation, Turkey’s concerns should not be viewed as totally incomprehensible. Nevertheless, Turkey’s reaction concerning Kurdish gains in Syria is problematic from the outset given that despite the Democratic Union Party’s (PYD) willingness, the Turkish government has refused to pursue a policy of dialogue and negotiation. The other major problem derives from the interdependence of domestic Kurdish politics and of Kurdish politics in northern Syria. It was not only Turkey’s rulers that chose a policy of confrontation by ending the “peace process” which started in 2013 but also that of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK); the military conflict between them has further complicated Turkey’s relations with the Syrian Kurds.  

Regardless of its justification, Turkey’s main objective in northern Syria remains halting Kurdish advances, and it seems so far that the so-called Syrian fighters’ priorities are shaped by Turkey’s policy. Under the circumstances, if Turkey does not negotiate with its Western allies about its justified concerns and takes a different path by trying to use the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) as a pretext while keeping its Syrian proxies in line with its Kurdish policies, conditions in northern Syria will not only fail to improve but also foment further tension between the U.S. and Turkey. Still, Turkey’s Western allies should sincerely take the regional concerns of Turkey into consideration, otherwise the combined issues of Syria and the Kurdish conflict will endanger Turkey’s very stability and survival.