Thursday, March 17, 2016
Send Those Kurds Away?
The autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq has been operating relatively successfully for quite a while now, ignoring the Sunni/Shiite battles in the rest of the country. They never fit in with their neighbors to the south, simply finding themselves on the wrong side of World War I powers drawing lines on a map to establish colonial imperatives. They maintained strong relations with regional Kurds, in Turkey, Iran and Syria… and there has always been a looming possibility that someday, regional Kurds would realign into their own nation. Both Syria and Turkey have cast wary eyes at that possibility.
Turkey has been in on-again, off-again shooting wars with their regional Kurdish minorities, clearly labeling the Kurdish PKK party (Kurdistan Workers’ Party, a Marxist group that fought a bloody war with Turkey for more autonomy in the Kurdish south-east from 1984) a terrorist group, one worthy of bombing and attacking as a priority even over ISIS… even as these Kurdish groups have been one of the few ground forces with clear success against ISIS. The notion of a separate Kurdish state is one of Turkey’s worst nightmares. As you can see from the above map, showing in pink the disbursement of Kurds in the region, they represent a rather large segment of Turkey.
The Assad regime in Syria has long since lost control of about half of its territory. ISIS holds most of those lost holdings. But there’s new kid on the block, sort of, suggesting that we might just see a new country, or at least a new autonomous “federal district” within Syria, forming of the three regional Kurdish regions in northern Syria. “Kurdish-controlled areas of northern Syria are expected to declare a federal system imminently [they voted to do precisely that on March 17th]… taking matters into their own hands after being excluded from talks in Geneva to resolve Syria's civil war.
“The step aims to combine three Kurdish-led autonomous areas of northern Syrian into a federal arrangement and will be sure to alarm neighboring Turkey, which fears a growing Kurdish sway in Syria is fueling separatism among its own minority Kurds… A conference in the Kurdish-controlled town of Rmeilan on [March 15th] was discussing a ‘Democratic Federal System for Rojava - Northern Syria.’ Rojava is the Kurdish name for northern Syria…
“Conference participants also forecast a failure of U.N.-led talks which began in Geneva this week, in the absence of the Syrian Kurdish PYD party.” Reuters, March 16th. Turkey saw no place for such Kurds at the Geneva bargaining table. Here’s who they are: “PYD/YPG: the Democratic Union Party and its armed wing, the People’s Protection Units, have used the Syrian civil war to carve out a mini-state in three parts of northern Syria… It is regarded as so close to the PKK as to be almost a subordinate entity.” Telegraph.co.uk.
The last thing that Turkey wants to see on or near its border is an independent, autonomous Kurdish state, a federal district of Syria or a totally independent state, and we can expect Ankara to use military force to attempt to crush that nascent effort. Turkey would justifiably believe that this Syrian incarnation of Kurdish peoples would simply be the first step to consolidate all adjacent and proximate Kurds lands – including the potential of the northern Iraqi region as well as Kurdish-dominated territories within Turkey.
There is also a substantial Kurdish presence in Iran as well. Assad’s regime in Damascus has also made it clear that a Kurdish carve out of their lands would not be acceptable as well: “On [March 12th] Syria's government in Damascus ruled out the idea of a federal system for the country, just days after a Russian official said that could be a possible model.
“Syrian Kurdish groups and their allies have already carved out three autonomous zones, or cantons, known as Jazeera, Kobani and Afrin. Their capture of the town of Tel Abyad from Islamic State last year created territorial contiguity between the Jazeera and Kobani areas.” Reuters. So if things are unstable enough in that volatile region, they seem to be getting worse, even as Russian forces and air cover are scaling back.
“Syrian Kurds effectively control an uninterrupted stretch of 400 km (250 miles) along the Syrian-Turkish border from the Euphrates River to the frontier with Iraq, where Iraqi Kurds have enjoyed autonomy since the early 1990s. They also hold a separate section of the northwestern border in the Afrin area…
“Turkey, whose conflict with the Kurdish PKK has escalated in recent months, said such moves were not acceptable. ‘Syria's national unity and territorial integrity is fundamental for us. Outside of this, unilateral decisions cannot have validity,’ a Turkish Foreign Ministry official told Reuters.” Reuters.
For American policy-makers, the availability of strong local Kurds willing to battle ISIS is a big plus, but the destabilizing impact on Turkey and the distraction from the fight against ISIS are strong negatives. What’s more, can you even picture American troops embroiled in this muck where our “allies” fight against themselves as ISIS hovers menacingly above? We need ground forces… but exactly how do they deploy together when they hate each other?
I’m Peter Dekom, and having the US getting directly involved in a battlefield with so many moving parts does not smack of a path that will result in a wild regional success story for us.