“I don’t understand why Kobane is so strategic for the US, there are no civilians left there”, bemoanedthe disillusionedTurkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, after the US conducted multiple aidrops of military and medical supplies to the Syrian Kurdish YPG forces.
Whilst Turkey has downplayed the significance of the small town, Kobane has become a symbol of the international fight against the Islamic State (IS), placing the credibility of the coalition on the line.
At the same time the fight for Kobane is not just contained to a local struggle against IS militants but the battle reverberates politically and strategically across the region.
Kobane has already had a profound effect on the regional dynamic. Turkey has resisted international pressure to intervene in Kobane or allow Kurdish volunteers from Turkey to enter, labelling the Democratic Union Party (PYD) as a “terrorist organisation” that it sees as no different to the PKK or indeed the IS.
Turkey has repeated this rhetoric whilst conversely US military assistance and communication channels to the Syrian Kurds have rapidly increased.
US measures have contradictedthe Turkish line, with the US clearly seeing the Syrian Kurds as key allies in the battle against IS and hardly as a terrorist force.
At the same time, Turkey has tried to strike agreement with the Kurds to allow Free Syrian Army (FSA) to enter Kobane, even as it opposed the hundreds of Kurdish volunteers from joining the fight. Aligning the FSA in a more official capacity in Kobane, would dilute the sense of Kurdish nationalist struggle for Kobane and Rojava and also soften the rising stock of the PKK.
Turkey has worked hard to pressure the PYD to join the FSA to turn the battle as a Syrian national struggle with the wider goal of ousting Bashar al-Assad. Ironically, a Kurdish dominated win in Kobane, will only strengthen Kurdish nationalism, the standing of the PKK and Kurdish autonomy, not to mention the pivotal role of the Syrian Kurds in the battle against IS across Syria. This is the same fate that Ankara has tried to avoid.
As the US has grown closer to the Syrian Kurds, Ankara, in danger of been isolated underintense international spotlight, allowed Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga forces a passage through Turkey to support Kobane.
This week the Kurdistanregional parliament approved the deployment of up to 200 fighters. These fighters will provide key support to strained YPG forces but is also a symbolic move by the Kurdistan leadership to bolster cross-border Kurdish unity. For Turkey, having FSA and Peshmerga forces on the ground, alleviates it from an embarrassing situation of providing de-facto assistance to the Syrian Kurdish forces, even as they are labelled as a terrorist organisation and ultimately as anenemy.
A key move on the back of the decision to deploy Peshmergafighters this week was the unity agreement negotiated in days of talks in Dohuk between the PYD and rival Syrian Kurdish factions. The split between pro-PKK and pro-KRG Kurdish parties in Syria had severely handicapped the Kurdish struggle and their newfound autonomy.
Kurdistan president Massoud Barzani hailed the agreement, “This agreement brings us together and itself is a significant answer to enemies who did not intend the Kurds to be united.” While PYD leader, Salih Muslim, stated that “All Kurdish people are under attack, so they should be united.”
Previous unity agreements have quickly broken down and if it sticks this time around, it will serve as a major boost for the Syrian Kurdish cantons and perhaps in the way Ankara approaches the region.
Such is the intense international focus on Kobane and the symbol of the fight against IS that even the Syrian government has been quick to stake their part in the struggle, alleging military and logistical support to Kurds in Kobane.
Whoever thought that a small dusty town, unknown to much of the wider world, would bring together the Syrian Kurds, Iraqi Kurds, Turkey, IS, FSA, Assad, the US, Saudi Arabia and numerous other international and regional players?
First Published On: Kurdish Globe
Other Publication Sources: OpenDemoracy, eKurd.net