The Kurdish phobia rears its head again

The Kurdish phobia rears its head again

Prime Minister Erdoğan cannot have it both ways. Referring to Sunni Arabs who have risen against the al-Assad regime as “freedom fighters who are combating state terror,” but then turning and calling the equally oppressed Kurds who are making political headway now in the confusion that reigns in Syria “terrorists” is hypocritical.

Developments in Syria, with Kurds controlling parts of Northern Syria along the border with Turkey, have reanimated the Kurdish phobia of nationalist Turks, who are now seething with anger over the prospect of “another northern Iraq” emerging on Turkey’s southern border.

Prime Minister Erdoğan, who for all his “Kurdish opening,” which was supposedly aimed at alleviating Turkey’s Kurdish problem, has been relying more and more on nationalist quarters over these past few years. This is why with the news coming from northern Syria he wasted no time in playing to the nationalist gallery.

With Syria’s “Kurdish reality” suddenly dawning on Turks, Erdoğan clearly feels he has to do this, even if his remarks are aggravating as far as Turkey’s own Kurdish problem is concerned, and also risk spoiling Ankara’s developing ties with the Kurds of northern Iraq.

“It is our most natural right to intervene [in northern Syria], since those terrorist formations would disturb our national peace,” Erdoğan said last week during a television interview. Turks consider the armed Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), which is only one of the Kurdish groups active in Syria, in the same light as the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

PYD leader Salih Muslim, a Turkish-educated urbane Kurd, admits sympathy for the PKK but insists that the PYD is a different group, with its own agenda that has nothing to do with Turkey. Given that it has ties with the PKK, despite Muslim’s remarks, the PYD nevertheless provides political ammunition for the Turkish government, enabling it to raise the specter of “Kurdish terrorism.”

Ankara’s phobia, however, is not just towards the PYD alone, but to the resurgence of any Kurdish entity in northern Syria. The idea that the Syrian Kurds, with support from the northern Iraqi Kurdish Regional Government (KRG), may establish their own autonomous or even independent region along the border with Turkey is simply too much for nationalist Turks who fear Kurdish separatism.

There is a sort of déjà vu situation here: Ankara for years used a similar approach, employing the same hostile jargon, against Iraqi Kurds, but could do nothing to prevent the emergence of an all-but-independent Kurdish entity in northern Iraq in the end. Not only did it fail to prevent the formation of such an entity, it actually went ahead and developed good ties with it, as Turkey’s relations with the Shiite-led central government in Baghdad deteriorated.

Now we see the same thing in northern Syria, with similar threats from Ankara fed by the very same Kurdish phobia. Given the way things ultimately developed for northern Iraqi Kurds, one has to ask just how wise this course is for Erdoğan and his government.

The much more sensible course would be to cultivate ties with Syrian Kurds, which would also help isolate PKK elements in that country, in a way that is beneficial to both sides. Syrian Kurds are also aware, after all, like their northern Iraqi brethren, that good ties with Turkey are better in the long run, especially given the turmoil that is bound to continue one way or another in Syria.

Alienating the Syrian Kurds, and risking the developing ties with northern Iraq’s Kurds, simply because Turkey has not been able to overcome its Kurdish phobia and resolve its own Kurdish problem, is clearly the worst course Turkey could follow.

What makes it even worse is that Turkey will most likely be unable to do anything to prevent the emergence of an autonomous or independent Kurdish region in Syria, if developments in that country provide the Kurds with another historic opportunity, to complement the one they gained in Iraq.