A year after Syrian Kurds took historic control of their territory, proposed plans for an autonomous Syrian Kurdistan region sent fresh shivers down Ankara.
Any anxiety towards the establishment of de facto autonomy for Kurds is amplified all the more by the PKK connections with the dominant Democratic Union Party (PYD) that exercises the greatest political and military influence in the region.
Turkey has fought a bitter 3 decade war with the PKK and to see PYD flags proudly hosted atop buildings clearly visible from Turkish soil was difficult to stomach. Turkey rushed to kick-start the peace process with the PKK and Ocalan in the full knowledge that they could soon be swamped with PKK forces enjoying not just mountain passes but theoretically an autonomous area.
However, a dose of reality is greatly needed if Turkey is to achieve its strategic and political goals, away from out-dated ethos or phobias. In the same manner that red-lines, ubiquitous threats and harsh rhetoric towards Iraqi Kurds was in the end replaced with a revised policy and ultimately a strong and flourishing political and economic relations with Kurdistan.
Last year, Ankara refused to even engage or acknowledge the PYD. The historic visit to Turkey by Saleh Muslim, leader of the PYD, in this regard, was certainly a step in the right direction, but Turkey must start to warm to the Kurds and the new political order rather than antagonise them or even choose sides, as many have claimed of their indirect support of Islamists against the Kurds.
The People’s Defense Units (YPG), widely acknowledged as the armed-wing of the PYD, has been pitched in fierce battles with Jabat al-Nusra and other al-Qaeda affiliated groups for months. However, fierce battles in recent weeks saw the Kurds gain control of the strategic border town of Ras al-Ayn amongst others.
Muslim was warned in Ankara against taking “wrong and dangerous” by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and intelligence chiefs. Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu also warned the Kurds against any “fait accompli” declarations that would further destabilise and complicate Syria until an elected Parliament is formed in Syria
Ironically, in the same week Ahmet Davutoğlu denounced radical groups, some whom Turkey has supported, for “betraying” the principles of the Syrian revolution.
In spite of the relative positivity in the aftermath of Muslim’s visit, Turkey should have done much more to reach out and entice the Kurds from the outset and worked to include them as vital components of the Syrian opposition and the drive to oust Assad, rather than the frosty treatment and Syrian opposition’s failure to provide firm guarantees to Kurds in the post Assad era.
Stuck between Arabs they didn’t trust, Islamists intent on setting up a base in Syrian Kurdistan with its vital borders crossings and oil resources and a Turkish government ever-wary of more Kurdish leverage and power on their border, Kurds largely leant towards the devil they knew – Assad.
The reality is that Syrian Kurds, with renewed vigour and standing, are not about to go away, with or without Assad. The resurgence of the Syrian Kurds and potential autonomy should if anything be just the tonic to kick-start the peace process in Turkey.
If Turkey fails to implement the peace process in Turkey, then the PKK leverage would always have been a greater hand in Syrian Kurdistan or even a derailing of Ankara goals in the Syrian revolution.
For the Kurds, it is natural to try and preserve their region from violence and destruction and certainly the population has needs and warrant a system of governance. Any attempts at autonomy, temporary or not, is a logical move, however, the region must be for all Kurdish groups and not specially the PYD.
All Kurdish groups must be represented and the people must ultimately decide on their governance. Any unilateral drive by the PYD to assert control or use force for it its aims will severely diminish the legitimacy of the new Kurdistan Region of Syria.