Kurdish peace process at breaking point

Kurdish peace process at breaking point

The attack of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) on Kobani, a border town between Turkey and Syria, has brought Turkey to a critical breaking point with the Kurds, although it did open its border to Syrian Kurds last weekend. What is breaking down and what are the implications?

Turkey couldn’t remain indifferent to the upcoming massacre of the Syrian Kurds, having recently witnessed the massacre of the Yazidis in northern Iraq. So, due to humanitarian reasons and also to the mounting international pressure, Ankara decided to open its borders. However the main reason was the ongoing peace process. Both the Peoples’ Democratic’ Party (HDP) and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) accuse Turkey of not having aided the Syrian Kurds in Kobani. They even interpret Ankara’s silence as amounting to support for the ISIL attack. Their recent statements reveal that the peace process is on the brink of a critical breaking point.

Turkey’s demand to form a buffer zone along the border in Syria further boosted Kurdish reactions. This week Murat Karayılan, a PKK leader, said that such a zone would mean “the invasion of Kurdistan,” also adding that the peace process has ended. Kurds believe that by forming a buffer zone Turkey aims to destroy the semi-autonomous Kurdish entity in northern Syria (Rojava).

This concern is not unfounded. Ankara has always been distant from the PYD, which is the dominant PKK-affiliated group in Rojava. The main reasons why Turkey is pushing for buffer zone are the provision of humanitarian aid, the accommodation of Syrian refugees and the training of moderate Syrian rebels. But there is one more reason that is as influential as the others: To control Rojava.

However, it is no longer possible for Turkey to pursue this policy. First of all, today the only fighting power on the ground is the Kurdish peshmerga, along with the PKK and the PYD, the Iraqi army and the Shiite militia. Moreover, Kurds are giving the strongest resistance on the ground. So excluding the PKK and the PYD from this front would seriously weaken the fighting power. The PYD has also stated on a number of occasions that it wants to coordinate its forces with the coalition.

Moreover, the Kurds’ success against ISIL has provided them with a major strategic gain in the eyes of the West. Some have even started to consider the PKK a constructive actor, thus also the PYD. It is reported that U.S. officials are regularly visiting Rojava these days. However, Turkey’s attitude toward Rojava also restricts the U.S. This is said to be the main reason why the coalition has not extended its air operation to Kobani.

Most importantly, isolating Rojava puts the peace process at existential risk. The leaders of the BDP and the PYD, Selahattin Demirtaş and Salih Muslim, both recently made this warning. In addition, the PKK may soon raise its demands, as it knows that its perception has changed in a positive way and that the international coalition desperately needs it. Therefore it is crucial to accelerate the peace process before it turns against Ankara and the situation becomes graver.

Besides, Turkey is now Kobani’s only gate to the outside world as the ISIL is besieging it from the west, east and south. This is why all Kurds look to Ankara for help. Therefore, in the event that Kobani falls, Kurds’ rage toward ISIL might be directed towards Turkey.

The northern Iraqi administration has already stated that it is “disappointed” that Ankara didn’t help them in their fight. Relations between Turkey and Arbil would become even more sour if Ankara turns its back on Kobani. This would also take away Turkey’s chance of bringing the Kurds in the region together and into its sphere of influence.

Beyond all of this, the borders between Arbil, Turkey and Rojava, have become totally irrelevant. In the last two days Arbil has been delivering its humanitarian aid to Kobani via Turkey. Moreover, when the forces of ISIL, the U.S. and the coalition are soon gone from this region, Turkey will be left alone with the Syrian Kurds along its borders.

What more can I say?