Looking at Rojava from Turkey

Ceylan Ozbudak
Ceylan Ozbudak
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A stereotype is a device utilized by those unwilling to learn and in Turkey we say that “every brave man has a distinct way of eating.”

Turkey’s Zero Problems Policy is frequently evaluated as neo-Ottomanism. Take a breath and relax because the Turkish people have no intention of going back in time to the Ottoman Empire.

The Ottoman Empire was one of the most successful empires in the history of the world, but as with all great things, it had to end.

Now, it’s time to look forward.

In a recent statement, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmed Davutoğlu said: “Just like the EU is not an example of neo-Romanism, asking for a Middle Eastern Union is not neo-Ottomanism.”

We need to get out of the habit of stereotyping every movement, action or thought. Time is a river, which doesn’t flow backwards. Turkey and its people are not interested in going back in time and creating a new “Ottomania” in the Middle East.

You might ask, “Why are we talking about neo-Ottomanism?” To that I shall answer: because of criticism concerning Turkey’s position about the Rojava revolution in northern Syria. Suddenly all eyes are on Turkey, waiting to see what the Turkish people will say about a new Kurdish region under Democratic Union Party (PYD) rule.

Surely, the most reasonable and desirable course for Syrian Kurds is to break away from the Assad Baathist regime. The Turkish people have an undeniable right to decide who they will elect to rule or what flag shall fly over their land.

The Kurdish population was severely oppressed by Shah Reza Pahlawi in Iran, by Saddam in Iraq, by Assad’s Baathist regime in Syria and by the alleged Ergenekon Terror Organization in Turkey. They have endured a lot, and therefore the emergence of a Kurdish nationalist movement is understandable.

So, what is the “red line” that Turkey has been talking about lately?

The red line will be crossed if the PYD attempts to claim even an inch of our lands and urges the resident People’s Defence Force (PKK) actors to attack.

In the last decade, Turkey has made it clear that they will not be intimidated into stopping a clear step towards the division of the country.

Remembering the campaign for Abdullah Öcalan in 2009; Turkey was ready to enter northern Syria to take Öcalan. What’s more, I also want to remind you of the many operations in Iraq and Syria in moves to prevent action by the PKK.
Looking at recent history and the current situation: how can the PYD take root in northern Syria?

Firstly, the PYD has to find a way to reach an agreement with Turkey.

If the group creates a PKK ruled state, there is a high chance that they will be the natural targets of the Turkish army in the near future.

Therefore, the PYD should be careful of forming a Kurdish region that could appear as a PKK mini-state. This would be a critical error.

The only reasonable and rational decision is for Turkey to keep a close eye on the movements of the PYD in Syria and to expect developments.

Looking at a map of the “Kurdish world”, a relationship with Turkey always meant more than just another alliance for the Iraqi Kurds led by Barzani. This is especially important to highlight considering the arbitrary and despotic policies of al-Maliqi.

Turkey offers not only economic, cultural and political alliance for the Northern Iraq Kurds, but also an important security network. This is in the face of Turkey’s negative stance on one-race nation states.

In recent weeks, Prime Minister Erdoğan has signaled that if the Iraqi army launches an invasion into Northern Iraq, Turkey will step in to protect the Iraqi Kurds.

Ironically, this has brought the PKK and Turkish army together.

Arabs who cannot stomach delivering Tel Abiad to the Kurds are supporting al-Nusra.

Ceylan Ozbudak

At the moment, the Iraqi police and the Kurds support the negotiation process in Turkey. However, as the days go by it becomes clearer that Turkey’s negotiations and work towards solving the Kurdish problem will only increase the credibility of Barzani with his own people.

However, there is another very important factor pushing Ankara towards an alliance with the de facto Kurdish region in Syria.

Despite what was predicted two years ago, Assad has resisted and even begun to retrieve land occupied by Syrian opposition forces.

It’s no secret that as long Assad remains in power, relations with Damascus are impossible and a Kurdish alliance inconceivable.

Since the beginning of the Syrian uprising, Syrian Kurds have had a somewhat careful approach to the process.

Protests in Kamish in 2004 saw the Kurdish population facing the iron fist of the Assad regime alone. This time, they have adopted a “wait and see” approach.

In October 2011, fifteen Kurdish parties came together under Barzani and built the Kurdish National Council. The council included Kurdish elements in opposition to the regime.

However, at the same time the PYD, which had ideological and organic ties to PKK, were teaming up with the regime. In 2011, the Syrian regime released six hundred PYD prisoners. The PKK was living the heydays of its “market value” and “negotiation powers.” They were over-confident, but by 2012, the picture had changed.

The Kurdish National Council had to make amends with the PYD. In return, the PYD needed the diplomatic and economic umbrella that Erbil could provide.

With Barzani’s involvement, the two movements in Erbil decided to cooperate. They agreed on three main points.

The first of these points was the formation of a Kurdish High Council and ceasefire for all Kurdish groups.

Secondly, the PYD must stop helping the PKK beyond Turkish borders.

Lastly, Syrian Kurds must build a de factor administration and not rely on the remnants of the Baath regime.

Consequently, the Kurds built a fragile alliance, but failed to engage with the opposition groups in Syria.

The Kurdish National Council was in contact with the opposition, but the PYD chose to stay out of this process.

The PYD accused the Syrian opposition of being under Turkish control and the Syrian opposition accused the PYD of being the regime’s contractor.

To their credit, both sides could cite proof to back their claims. The recent clashes between the FSA and PYD in Rasulayn by the Turkish border, hint at an ever deepening rift between opposition groups and PYD. This issue would be further highlighted if Assad was to be removed from power. Unlike northern Iraqi Kurds, the Syrian Kurds were never backed by Turkey.

We know precisely zilch about Syria.

Recently, Resulain was claimed by the Kurds from al-Nusra. However they encountered unexpected resistance in Tel Abiad village, which lies across from Urfa-Akçale/Turkey.

This area has an Arab majority with the Arab band stretching to Raqqa. The strength of this band prevents the possibility of sovereignty projects for the Kurds in northern Syria.

Arabs who cannot stomach delivering Tel Abiad to the Kurds are supporting al-Nusra.

Therefore, a Kurdish hold on the area seems unlikely. This is especially true if military aid is coming to al-Nusra supporters through Akçakale.

In conclusion, a plan which looks perfect on paper faces many issues. In addition to my previous statements, Kurdish relationships with the PYD are neither steady nor reliable.

The PYD can exist in northern Syria if they do not claim a communist Kurdistan ideal in Rojava. Moreover, they must not act like an off-shoot of the PKK. Furthermore, good relations with Iraqi Kurds are paramount.

If not, Turkey may have to take some security measures to protect the people of northern Syria and pockets close the border towns. Turkey’s concerns about the Rojava revolution are not about neo-Ottomanism, they are about securing its borders, maintaining its territorial integrity and looking out for many who are parts of Turkish families in northern Syria.


Ceylan Ozbudak is a Turkish political analyst, television presenter, and executive director of Building Bridges, an Istanbul-based NGO. She can be followed on Twitter via @ceylanozbudak

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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