This has always been the core of the AKP (Justice and Development Party) government’s Syria impasse and is one of the most telling clues of why Turkey’s foreign policy has been mired in the Syria crisis: thwarting Kurdish aspirations for autonomy that could also set a precedent for the Kurds of Turkey.
There have been alarm bells in the media of the Kurdish political movement about the threat Kobani was facing. Kobani (Ain al-Arab in Arabic) is directly opposite the Turkish town of Suruc. Kobani is the one of the three cantons established in the Rojava region with the initiative of the Democratic Union Party (PYD). It is also the birthplace of PYD Co-chairman Salih Muslim. Rojava is politically more distinct than other Kurdish cantons. Before he was arrested and imprisoned in Turkey, PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan had labeled the developments in Rojava as a revolution; this revolution was declared in Kobani in July 2012.
Kobani is now the prime target of the Islamic State (IS) offensive. IS forces moved westward to capture Kobani; 35 kilometers (22 miles) of the 70 kilometers separating Kobani and Tel Abyad and 21 Kurdish villages along the way are now in IS hands. Kobani is facing a total IS siege.
If Kobani falls, the stronghold of the Rojava revolution will have fallen. It would also put the Turkey-Syria border from Tel Abyad to Karkamis under IS control.
It will then be easier for IS to capture the westernmost Kurdish canton of Afrin and IS will be able to ramp up its pressure on Aleppo. In the Sept. 5 issue of Istanbul’s Armenian weekly Agos, Vahakn Kesisyan, who hails from Aleppo, wrote that IS was nearing the center of Aleppo and was actually on the fringes of the Armenian district.
People tend to focus on Mosul and Erbil with regard to IS intentions, but the attack against Kobani has significant political and even more crucial military implications. That is why the Kurdish movement has been pleading for international help.
This is why the statement of the a key Kurdish politician, Selahattin Demirtas, to the DHA news agency yesterday recalled the words of Ahmet Davutoglu, then the foreign minister, “We won’t allow a fait accompli” while the PYD is preparing for the autonomy of Rojava. Demirtas’ remarks were accurate: “The prime minister at that time had said they would not allow a fait accompli and would do whatever is needed to foil it. We are now expecting the same stand from the prime minister and the president. Will they be able to say, ‘We will not allow an IS fait accompli … when they are declaring a caliphate there?’ We are really curious if they will actually be as uneasy with IS as they are with the Kurds.”
It is obvious that Ankara is not at all eager for a PYD-dominated autonomy experiment in Rojava. The green light Ankara flashed to various Islamist-Salafist groups was not only because of Ankara’s hope of their clashing with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Those groups were also fighting the Kurds dominated by the PYD on Turkey’s border.
Ankara turned a blind eye to Jabhat al-Nusra, Ahrar al-Sham and many other Islamist-Salafist groups you wouldn’t even know the names of with the hope they would foil Rojava autonomy. Of course, these groups included IS.
This is how Demirtas continued with his statement to the DHA news agency:
“It is a reality that Turkey refrains from tough language against IS. They are reluctant even to criticize IS. To attribute this only to the hostages case is a massive smoke and mirrors. Everybody is now wondering if Turkey intentionally delivered those hostages to IS. Did Turkey provide IS with an ace so that Ankara won't have to participate in an operation against IS? There are serious allegations, debates about this. Turkey’s staying out of the anti-IS coalition, its lack of support to the Kurds fighting IS have provoked serious questions. The government may deny all charges of supporting IS but even that attitude means providing IS with indirect support. Never mind the dispatch of weapons with trucks and trains, Turkey is providing support by keeping silent.”
Also what Demirtas said on Sterk TV yesterday [Sept. 21] was important. Demirtas said Turkey had provided extraordinary facilities to IS for logistics, weapons and personnel support on its border. “IS has been trying to capture Kobani with heavy weapons for a long time,” he said.
Prime Minister Ahmet Davutolgu yesterday opened Turkey's border to Kurdish refugees escaping from IS attacks at Kobani. He did well. He is fully justified. Even the main opposition CHP supported this decision. But somehow that decision did not prevent the Kurdish political movement from a totally divergent assessment. This is how Demirtas saw it:
“To say, ‘We are getting ready to receive people who are fleeing’ only means, ‘Let IS hit them and then they can migrate to our side.’ This statement by Prime Minister Davutoglu won’t scare off IS, but will only encourage it. To declare, ‘We told our governors to receive the people coming to the border’ means conceding IS superiority in advance and agreeing with its massacre policy. To tell our civilians, ‘Run, run away, we opened the border for you,' means abandon your land to IS.”
Whether Davutoglu’s remarks should be understood in this context is something else. But that there is a critically serious schism between the Kurdish political movement and the government has been confirmed by Demirtas' words.
PKK military chief Murat Karayilan has called Ankara’s proposal to set up a buffer zone in Syria as an indication of Turkey’s intention to “occupy Rojava and terminate the Kurdish administration of Rojava.” Karayilan warned that such a move would mean the end of the Kurdish solution process.
The AKP government appears headed toward bottlenecks with the Kurds in addition to facing tough tests with IS, the West and Turkish public opinion.
Continue reading this article by registering at no cost and get unlimited access to:
- The award-winning Middle East Lobbying - The Influence Game
- Archived articles
- Exclusive events
- The Week in Review
- Lobbying newsletter delivered weekly