Ankara sees US-French move as legitimization of YPG

Ankara sees US-French move as legitimization of YPG

As a result of months of efforts by American and French officials, the People’s Protection Units (YPG) and the Syrian Kurdish National Council (SKNC) have reportedly agreed on talks to achieve political unity with the objective of shaping Syria’s future.

The YPG is the Kurdistan Workers’ Party’s (PKK) offshoot in Syria and considered a terrorist organization by Turkey. The SKNC is an affiliate of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) led by the Barzani family in northern Iraq.

As a result of intense political and military support by the United States since 2015 in the context of the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), the YPG has now turned out to be a strong, armed group that controls around a third of Syrian territory in eastern Syria.

It has long exerted pressure on other Kurdish groups and Arab communities in the regions under its control, changing the demography and benefiting from oil revenues. It was the YPG that forced SKNC leaders and forces to go to northern Iraq after the Syrian regime handed over many regions along the Turkish border to the YPG in the early years of the civil war.

Given that, the question stands: Why is the YPG now agreeing to talk to other Kurds? One of the most important drivers for the YPG could be its affiliation to the PKK – a fact that is perfectly known by all Western powers. The connection will always deprive it of legitimacy, but the SKNC could play cover-up for the YPG’s future ambitions.

Second, the YPG has seen that Turkey will never permit the creation of a sort of autonomous region in Syria led by the YPG. Turkey’s Operation Peace Spring in October 2019 and previous operations in Afrin and al-Bab regions have proven Ankara’s determination to this end.

The YPG has seen that it will be very difficult for the group to maintain control of the piece of land it now controls in eastern Syria, requiring it to pursue a new strategic startup. The Russian priority is to help Damascus gain control of all Syrian soil, while the American priority will never be the status of the YPG, as seen in its attitude during the Turkish operation in October 2019.

Instead of trying to navigate between differing Russian and American interests, the YPG could find a way to legitimize its presence and use it as a bargaining chip over its status in the new Syria when that day comes.

All this is being carefully followed by Ankara, for sure. In an interview in mid-May, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu reiterated that Ankara’s stance concerning the YPG has not changed.

“Amid efforts to create a statelet here [in eastern Syria], now works to integrate [the YPG] into the political systems are being carried out by the U.S. Especially, they are trying to integrate the YPG with the SKNC,” he told.

The Syrian Kurds will have no terrorists as representatives, Çavuşoğlu claimed. “Our position is very clear. We won’t allow the creation of a terror corridor, and we will not allow the legitimization of terrorists there.”

Given the influence of Turkey on the Syrian oppositional groups and the – now suspended – political process for a new Syrian constitution, it will be difficult for Western powers to transform the YPG into a legitimate group. The YPG, accordingly, will continue to be a bone of contention between Ankara and its Western allies.