The gains by the People’s Protection Units (YPG) in recent weeks against the Islamic State (IS) including the capture of the strategically important border town of Tel Abyad was hailed by the US-led coalition but was viewed with alarm and suspicion in Ankara.
In fact such gains have led to persistent rumors of imminent Turkish invasion to create a buffer zone in northern Syria.
The YPG have proved one of the US-led coalitions most effective partners against IS and the seemingly growing US-YPG cooperation has only worsened the blow for a Turkey that has repeatedly stated that it doesn’t differentiate between the IS and PKK-linked Syrian Kurdish forces.
Turkey has responded to the increasing Syrian Kurdish autonomy with a series of red lines. However, in spite of such repeated warnings, the Syrian Kurds have pressed ahead relatively unhindered. They announced autonomous administration in three cantons in 2013 and this autonomy has been expanding in recent months with a series of key gains by the YPG.
Jarablus, a key IS controlled town, which lies just west of Kurdish controlled Kobane and the Euphrates River that divides Kurdish\IS zones, has quickly emerged as another red line for Turkey. The fear is that with any success against the remaining IS foothold on the Turkish border, the Kurds could then bridge the Kobane and Afrin cantons forming a contiguous Kurdish zone across most of Northern Syria.
Clearly for Turkey, IS is second priority to YPG but Turkish anxiety over any notion of Kurdish nationalism is not new. The unraveling of the Middle East has added new sociopolitical and strategic dimensions and the legacy view of the Turkey regarding the Kurds is only a recipe for more instability and confrontation.
The Kurds have viewed with suspicion that Turkey finally moves to control a volatile and instable border just when Kurds assume control of the border zones.
Any prospective invasion will not serve Turkey’s goals, the peace process with its own Kurdish population or the overall situation in Syria.
In many ways the fate of Syrian and Turkish Kurds are intertwined. Strong sentiment of Kurds in Turkey towards Rojava was clear to see with mass protests over Turkish refusal to intervene in Koban under a IS siege.
A Turkish invasion on the door-steps of YPG will add a new unwanted angle to the already complicated Syrian war and will almost certainly kill the already fragile peace process in Turkey. Furthermore, any Turkish attack on IS may sow the seeds for retaliations across Turkey.
In the end, Turkey is unlikely to invade let alone agree a political consensus with no government formed and the strong rhetoric from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is mere saber-rattling and a pressure card against the US. Ankara-Washington relations have been on a downward spiral with US refusal to focus on the removal of Bashar al-Assad and their growing cooperation with the YPG and US belief that Ankara has not done enough to shore up its border.
The Middle East is often a game of red lines but such lines can quickly change. Turkey is seemingly open to somewhat of a rapprochement with the Democratic Union Party (PYD) who dominates power, if they denounce their autonomy and take down Kurdish flags.
Often one’s red line is met with that of another. The Syrian Kurds, after decades of been in the shadows of Arab rule and mass repression, will never abandon their gains or their quest for autonomy rule, especially after their costly sacrifices in such gains.
It is easy to forget that Turkey had set many a red line over the Kurdistan Region and was threatening to invade in the same way as Rojava. Many of these red lines passed with Kurds not only experiencing unprecedented economic ties with Turkey and control of Kirkuk but even outright independence is been discussed with little push back from Turkey.
Autonomous rule is one red line that the Syrian Kurds will not negotiate. Turkey is in a unique position in that it can positively influence Rojava and balance the political landscape. It is true that the PYD is the dominant party, but there are dozens of other parties not affiliated to the PKK or with strong ties to the Kurdistan Region.
Too often in the past, the terrorist card has resulted in narrow nationalist viewpoint and as a result a whole population has suffered. The Kurds have a right to self-defense under IS massacres and a right to decide how they will govern their own affairs.
First Published: Kurdish Globe
Other Publication Sources: Various Misc