Will Turkey Prevent Kurdish Autonomy?
- Turkey has no qualms about equating the Turkish, Syrian or Iraqi Kurdish fighters with ISIS
- The Kurdish minority in Turkey is posing a more serious threat to the stability and unity of the Turkish state than ISIS
- More than a few countries want to see the disintegration of Turkey, Iraq, and Syria and the establishment of a Kurdish state
Since the capture of Kobani by Syrian Kurdish fighters in January, US President Obama, political and military officials, and presidential candidates have justifiably praised the determination and grit of the well-disciplined 50,000-strong Kurdish militia troops in Syria. The 2.2 million Kurds, mainly concentrated in the Rojava (Kurdish name) region in northern Syria, are considered a potent ally in the international military campaign against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL. Actually, they are deemed the most reliable troops in frustrating the expansionist designs of ISIS and recapturing territory controlled by the radical group. So far, the Iraqi army and the so-called moderate Syrian opposition groups have been a gargantuan disappointment and a monumental embarrassment to the US-led coalition.
Kurds number between 30 and 35 million people worldwide. They make up 10 percent of Syria’s population and 20 percent of Turkey’s where a Kurdish insurgency, which started in 1984, claimed the lives of more than 30,000 people. The PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) led the guerrilla warfare against the Turkish state and the ethnic Kurdish organization’s stated objectives are autonomy and the establishment of Kurdish rights, both political and cultural. Although for the last couple of years the armed Kurdish insurgency in eastern Turkey has eased due to the start of a tentative peace process, the armed struggle has resumed in July after Turkey launched air strikes against Iraqi Kurdish forces battling IS fighters.
The Syrian Kurdish leadership in Rojava, which is believed to have one of Syria’s most fertile lands, purports to build a fundamentally egalitarian society in which gender equality and the equitable distribution of wealth and property are put into effect. The Democratic Union Party (PYD), which is ideologically aligned with the PKK, essentially governs Rojava which is composed of three noncontiguous cantons. Other than a powerful bulwark against the Islamic State, the Syrian Kurds are also putting forward the notion of an embryonic neo-anarchist society. They seem adamant about fulfilling those egalitarian principles.
Turkey, a NATO member, the US, and the European Union still consider the PKK as a terrorist organization. However, Turkey does not distinguish between Syrian and Turkish Kurds. Ankara has no qualms about equating the Turkish, Syrian or Iraqi Kurdish fighters with ISIS. For the Turkish President Erdogan, they are all terrorists and deserve to be clobbered, perhaps Kurds more than the Islamic State. Clearly, the Kurdish minority in Turkey is posing a more serious threat to the stability and unity of the Turkish state than ISIS.
HOW WOULD THE WEST REACT TO TURKISH OBSTRUCTIONISM?
So far, thousands of Kurdish fighters have been killed or injured battling the Islamic State. Syrian Kurds are deeply respected in the West because of their military successes and organizational skills. Turkey’s role in degrading and ultimately defeating the Islamic State is called into question, especially during the Kobane’s siege. Despite the fact that the Turkish military was extremely close to the scene of the fighting, Ankara refused to help the Kurds. This caused profound consternation in Western capitals. More recently, the timing of the downing of a Russian military aircraft by the Turkish air force on the Syrian-Turkish border on November 24 raises deep suspicions regarding Turkey’s true intentions in the US-led coalition to fight ISIS. The French President Hollande was due to visit Moscow to convince Russian President Putin to join the was against the Islamist radicals, especially after the November 13 terrorist acts in Paris and the bombing of a Russian passenger plane over Egypt that killed 224 people on October 31. Turkey is fiercely opposed to Russian participation in the US-led coalition because Moscow supports Syrian President Assad and is trying to severely debilitate the anti-Assad opposition forces, particularly the Turkmen who are extensively backed by Ankara.
Furthermore, Russia might provide military assistance to the Kurds in their drive to win autonomy and even independence from Turkey and where Kurds make up a sizable minority. This act would also be considered as Moscow’s much-anticipated retaliation to Turkey’s downing of the Russian military aircraft. Since 15 million Kurds live in Turkey, Middle Eastern scholars and experts have expressed their apprehension regarding the emergence of a possible Kurdish homeland, originating in northern Syria, and potentially encompassing southeastern Turkey and northern Iraq. More than a few countries want to see the disintegration of Turkey, Iraq, and Syria and the establishment of a Kurdish state.
There is probably an implicit consensus among Western powers that the Kurds’ deep commitment and military prowess would not go unnoticed and that some kind of a substantial reward, be it territorial or otherwise, has been undoubtedly promised to this long-oppressed and disenfranchised minority. There is a paradox in this Middle Eastern conundrum. Turkey would like to see its neighboring countries disintegrate and divide into smaller and enfeebled statelets. However, one of those statelets would inevitably be Kurdish and it would inexorably present an existential threat to Turkey itself with its restless Kurdish minority.
However, the more crucial question is: If and when Turkey decides to forcefully disrupt the Kurdish drive for independence, will the West resolutely act to protect Kurdish interests and rights and stand up to Ankara’s efforts to upset this long-awaited Kurdish emancipation. By caving in to Turkish pressures, another Middle Eastern minority will swallow the bitter pill of duplicity and abandonment and possibly create millions of alienated, betrayed, and rancorous people ready to harm the American and European traitors and backstabbers.