Ankara’s ‘PYD nightmare’ not over yet

Ankara’s ‘PYD nightmare’ not over yet

It is not clear if Salih Muslim, the co-chair of the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), was not invited to the Geneva talks because of pressure from Turkey or much broader considerations. Ankara says the PYD is a terrorist organization allied to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said on Jan. 26 that if the PYD was present in Geneva, Turkey would boycott the talks, which are due to start Jan. 29. Whatever the reasons for Muslim not being invited, this has saved Ankara from a difficult situation. 

Boycotting talks aimed at bringing peace to Syria would not have enhanced Turkey’s already shaky reputation in the eyes of its allies. It would also have given the impression that Turkey was willing to let the bloodshed in Syria continue if its demands were not met. 

It seems, however, that the U.S. is not going to object to the exclusion of the PYD leader, even though it is allied with the People’s Protection Units (YPG), the group’s military wing, against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). 

Russia was pushing for the PYD’s inclusion in the Geneva talks but appears to have conceded on this point too. This does not mean that Washington and Moscow have given up supporting the PYD or the YPG. 

The U.N.’s special envoy, Staffan de Mistura, reportedly sent out invitations to a number of Kurds, including Haytham Manna and Ilham Ahmed, the co-chairs of the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC).

The SDC, which is billed as “a secular democratic Arab-Kurdish coalition,” was established in December 2015 with Washington and Moscow’s blessing. It is the political wing of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which is allied with the U.S.-led coalition against ISIL.

Although it comprises Arab, Assyrian and some Turkmen fighters, the YPG forms its backbone. The PYD is therefore not totally without representation in Geneva. The problem that awaits clarification now is whether Manaa and Ahmed will attend the talks. 

Their problem is not so much that they are objecting to the fact that Muslim was not invited, although they do not appear too happy about this. They want a separate place for themselves at the table. In other words, they do not want to sit with the opposition group Saudi Arabia was tasked with establishing. 

So the Kurds could end up boycotting the Geneva talks. This would clearly put the U.S. in a difficult situation, given its close ties with the PYD and the YPG. The appearance of having betrayed the Syrian Kurds is something the U.S. wants to avoid. 

Washington’s endorsement of the invitation sent to key SDC names, while leaving out Muslim, most likely to avoid further controversy with Ankara, seems, therefore, to be a tactical rather than a strategic move.
Although it may appear that Turkey has won a diplomatic victory by successfully demanding that the PYD be kept away from Geneva, there is a very good chance that this will turn out to be a hollow victory. 

The reason for this is that it is still not clear whether the Geneva talks will go anywhere. There are too many technical problems to be resolved still before the talks begin in earnest. 

While attempts to solve these continue, the shape Syria takes in the future will to be determined by the fighting on the ground. This means the Syrian army will continue to advance against the opposition with Russian air support, while the YPG continues to advance against ISIL with U.S. air support. 

The last points reached by the Syrian regime and the Kurds will determine the lines of demarcation between the warring sides at the peace table. In other words, Turkey’s nightmare of seeing an autonomous Kurdish region along its Syrian border, controlled by U.S. and Russian backed factions that it opposes, is far from over yet.