Turkey must talk to the Syrian Kurds

Turkey must talk to the Syrian Kurds

It is not easy to understand the contention in the pro-government media – meaning that portion of the media which acts as a mouthpiece for President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the Justice and Development Party (AKP) – that the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) in Syria, and its military wing, the Peoples Defense Unit (YPG), are more dangerous than the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levent (ISIL). 

The “pen-slingers” in this part of the media also refuse to see that if Turkey is facing a chaotic situation on its border with Syria today, a significant portion of the blame rests with the serious mistakes and miscalculations of the AKP government, concerning developments in the region. It is more than apparent today that developments in Syria will not unfold according to the AKP’s ideologically oriented desires. 

It is also apparent that the situation as it has unfolded in Iraq and Syria has forced Washington and other Western countries to favor any group that is opposed to ISIL. The PYD has provided the U.S. with effective allies on the ground fighting ISIL and it is highly unlikely that Washington will change tack on this to please Ankara, especially when Turkey is being accused, rightly or wrongly, of assisting radical Islamic groups fighting the Assad regime.

Erdoğan and the AKP have a dangerous inability to read the situation on the ground in order to formulate the best policies that serve Turkey’s interests in any given situation. Their obsession with the need to promote the Muslim Brotherhood line following the Arab Spring blinded them and prevented them from realistic appraisals in this regard.

Despite warnings from Ankara, the Syrian Kurds have managed the situation to their advantage, having also gained the sympathy of the West for resisting ISIL. Having proved their mettle to the West, they are unlikely to bow to pressures from Ankara, including military threats. 

There is also another side to the coin. The Turkish military may not have much sympathy for Syrian Kurds, but its top brass is aware of the troubles Turkey will bring upon itself with an impulsive intervention in Syria before the legal, political and diplomatic consequences have been thought through. 

There have been enough leaks to the media indicating that the upper echelons of the Turkish armed forces are deeply worried about the prospect of being forced into the venture by the government. There are also those who believe that the current mandate by parliament authorizing the Turkish armed forces to respond to any military threat from Syria does not cover what would ultimately amount to invading Syria. 

In other words, new authorization from parliament would be needed for such an operation to be legitimate for Turks who are not blinded by support for Erdoğan and the AKP. This, however, is unlikely to happen in a hung parliament, especially when polls show that the public is opposed to any engagement in Syria.

There were hotheads in the military and civilian wings who said after the first Gulf War in 1990-91, Turkey would do all in its power to prevent an independent Kurdish entity from emerging in Northern Iraq. Years later, Turkey and the Kurdish Regional Government in Northern Iraq became allies, once more proving the adage “Never say never,” if you are not sure of yourself.

One can’t help wondering if, in light of this, it would not be easier and more fruitful for Ankara to open up channels of dialogue with the Syrian Kurds as soon as possible, while working with its Western allies against ISIL, in order to turn the situation to its advantage in a realistic way.

It will most likely have to do this in the end, but it clearly would look better if Turkey came to this point on its own, rather than being pushed there reluctantly by developments, which will also prove that Erdoğan’s threats against the Syrian Kurds were hollow as usual.