06 January 2013

Syria, Turkey and the Kurds

If you are familiar with this humble soap box, you probably know that the resident contrarian holds the belief that the Syrian knot will not be undone without dealing with the Kurds of the region. Trying to exclude them will simply make matters worse.

The PKK controls a large segment of Syrian Kurds through PYD and without them playing ball, the Syrian war of attrition will be, well, just that. The way it works, for a few weeks the rebels will take over some localities and then within a few weeks government forces will take some of these places back. Both parties have their international patrons who are making sure that their side does not lose out of exhaustion or lack of supplies.

Like Iraq, with its northern Kurdish territory, its southern Shi'a region and the desolate Sunni heartland in the middle, Syria is rapidly moving towards some kind of partitioning. As I have been saying for some time, whether Kurds join the fight for their independent/autonomous region will be hugely important for the final outcome.

In recent months, despite this reality on the ground, the Turkish Prime Minister seemed determined to ignore the Kurds because he did not want to deal with the PKK.  This is no longer true, it seems.

First, Erdogan decided to address the large Syrian refugee colony in Turkey just before the New Year to tell them that the end is near and Assad is on his way out.

That's him on the right, wearing a scarf with Syrian rebel colors (green, white and black). He called it a "sacred birth," whatever that may mean. His wife Emine is next to him, with what appears to be a non-denominational scarf of her own.

Then, the first day of the New Year, the government announced that it has started talking to Ocalan, the incarcerated leader of the PKK. A couple of days later, they leaked it that the talks were going well.

Despite years of incarceration, Ocalan remains the undisputed leader of the PKK. When he ordered (through his brother) that the large scale prison hunger strike be stopped, he was obeyed immediately. Not everyone is convinced that he can deliver, but clearly the Turkish government believes that he can.

Erdogan's "sacred birth" and timeline would make sense if Ocalan could convince the PKK to negotiate with the Turkish government towards a larger settlement and cessation of hostilities. Because that would mean the PYD would no longer maintain its ambivalent attitude towards the Assad regime and join the Kurdish National Council.

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