A Turkish bank in northern Syria

A Turkish bank in northern Syria

“The zeitgeist dictates to us the following: While respecting the existing borders, we need to create common economic, political and cultural zones that go beyond borders, and to make the people converge in this way.”

These words were uttered by Justice and Development Party (AKP) spokesperson Ömer Çelik during a press conference on Feb. 4. He also said, explicitly, that the Sykes-Picot order established 100 years ago in the Middle East was “artificial” and that the “primitive nation-state approach of the 19th century” needed to be revised.

This new approach is exactly what is needed to pass through the crisis Turkey is currently faced with, namely the northern Syria (Rojava) crisis.

The U.S.’ support of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) has become more and more overt. On the very same day the PYD was not allowed to attend the Syria talks in Geneva last week upon Turkey’s insistence, U.S. President Barack Obama’s envoy to the anti-Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) coalition, Brett McGurk, visited Rojava and tweeted pictures.

Russia has also seen no harm in overtly supporting the PYD since the eruption of the crisis with Turkey. Moreover, the PYD declared last week that it was just about to open a mission in Moscow representing all of the three cantons in Rojava.

It doesn’t look possible anymore to prevent the formation of a Kurdish entity in northern Syria. And the cherry on top is the international legitimacy and self-confidence the PYD has gained recently due to its role in the anti-ISIL fight.

On the other hand, Turkey’s problem with the PYD blocks its cooperation with the U.S. Whereas the Americans mostly rely on the PYD and its military wing, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), on the ground against ISIL, Ankara strictly objects to this, which in turn freezes all of their joint operational plans.

In short, Turkey’s PYD problem seriously limits its room to maneuver. 

Furthermore, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad seems to be planning to use the PYD as a card and Rojava as a buffer zone against Turkey, just like his father, Hafez al-Assad, used the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in the 1980’s and 1990’s by hosting its outlawed leader, Abdullah Öcalan, in Damascus for about 20 years.

The worst part of this problem is the repercussions in Turkey. By receiving strong support from the PYD and the YPG, the PKK has intensified its terrorist activities domestically.

Looking at this big picture, it becomes crystal clear that normalizing relations with the PYD would take the “Kurdish card” away from al-Assad and Russia, pave the way for cooperation with the U.S. and seriously cripple domestic terrorism.

Beyond this, the dissolution of Syria has given birth to problems which Turkey cannot deal with on its own. Yet a “friendly” Kurdish entity along its borders would create a strong buffer zone against these hassles.
Last but not least, it would be much more preferable for Ankara to have a harmonious entity along its borders rather than governance under the influence of a foreign power. 

Yet the only way to achieve this ideal solution goes through absorbing the new mentality explained by Çelik.

Tarık Çelenk, who is the leader of Ekopolitik, an independent think tank founded in 2007 to do research on the Kurdish question, has been working on this “model” for a long while. I spoke with Çelenk and he explained to me this “supra-national model,” which he thinks Turkey needs to adopt immediately.

Çelenk said Turkey should integrate Rojava economically, culturally, politically and security-wise, adding Ankara needed to develop trade cooperation with this region just like it did with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq and also support Rojava’s reconstruction militarily and logistically. 

“Turkish banks need to be set up there. The Turkish Armed Forces should train the YPG. There should be Turkish airbases in the region instead of American and Russian ones,” he said. “We should even pioneer the formation of their parliament; in other words, a democratic canton model,” he added. 

Yet as a precondition the PYD should let Turkmens and Arabs who have been exiled from the region turn back. In other words, “The PYD needs to learn to live in harmony with the other,” he said.

This all sounds groundbreaking, but how can a relationship with the PYD be developed when terrorism has peaked within Turkey?

Çelenk turned this equation backwards. He thinks that pulling the PYD and the YPG into the democratic and civil arena and forming an autonomous entity in northern Syria would tempt the PKK. This would allow the outlawed organization to taste an “indirect autonomous zone” and therefore prompt it to disarm. “In this way Ankara will also have shown the PKK a way out,” he added.

In short, Çelenk prescribed “disarmament via the PYD” and created a solution out of the Rojava crisis.

This “supra-national approach” looks to be the only exit for Turkey to get over the huge problems it faces with. Certainly it will be an everlasting and arduous process with multiple variables. Yet we need to get started immediately at some point.