Syrian Kurds should be embraced, not confronted

Syrian Kurds should be embraced, not confronted

The public is on the brink of madness. In its latest stage the confusion about Syria has caused “Kurdish phobia” to irresponsibly surface in our media.

Imagine a country which has a Kurdish population a few times larger than that in Iran, Iraq and Syria, but which is more afraid of Kurds than any of those countries. Moreover, this phobia, even though it is coming up in a Syrian context, deeply hurts and excludes our millions of Kurdish citizens whenever it is mentioned.

I love those stories that are published with titles like “Look, the PKK [Kurdistan Workers’ Party] is at our borders,” without any research done as to how many Kurds there are in Syria, which areas they control and which other Kurdish parties exist, other than the Democratic Union Party (PYD). The hidden subtext in many of these stories is: “Don’t open Pandora’s box; let Bashar al-Assad rule Syria with the iron fist of the Baath Party.” Oh, how nice it is, a pure, secular, unified state.

I don’t think there is a risk of segmentation in Syria as there is in Iraq. There is no homogenous Kurdish zone and anyway, the Syrian opposition and the FSA, which is dominant in the region, do not support the Kurdish groups’ demand for autonomy.

However, decisions concerning the future of Syria should belong to Syrian people, not us, right? Don’t you think it is weird that politicians, journalists and commentators from a country that is unable to maintain its domestic peace are trying to regulate another country?

The discourse adopted by both the government and the media in Turkey toward the Syrian Kurds is neither reasonable nor sustainable. It also shadows Turkey’s Syrian policy. I believe it needs to be altered and softened.

Ankara should not repeat the mistake it made 10 years ago in Iraq now in Syria. It was one of Turkey’s biggest strategic mistakes to persistently deny the reality in northern Iraq after the Iraq war, and treat Masoud Barzani and Jalal Talabani as “clan leaders.” What needed to be done then was to take Barzani by the arm and create a joint Turkish-Kurdish vision to build the new Iraq. In the end Turkey came to its senses and embraced Barzani; however, this was after five years later and after losing a significant strategic superiority.

Now, there’s no need to make the same mistake in Syria. Ankara should not take a stand against the Syrian Kurds: It should take them by its side and walk together with them. Turkey should establish a dialogue with the Syrian Kurds as soon as possible.

This includes the PYD: Even though our media defines the PYD as the “PKK’s Syrian branch,” the PYD is not the only Kurdish party in Syria. There are 11 other Kurdish parties in Syria, including more liberal and Islamist ones.

PYD leader Salih Muslim attended school in Turkey; he speaks Turkish. In his interviews with the Turkish press, he reiterates that his group “does not have organic ties with the PKK.”

Ankara, which has made the toppling of al-Assad and the formation of a new Syria its strategic target, should take all of Syrian Kurdish parties to its side. This is a rational and long-term strategy suitable for a big state.

Aslı Aydıntaşbaş is a columnist for daily Milliyet, in which the unabridged version of this article was published July 30. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.