Global Independent Analytics
Joshua Tartakovsky
Joshua Tartakovsky

Location: USA

Specialization: Israel and the Middle East, US politics

Kurdish Federal Autonomy in Northern Syria: A Triple Challenge

With Russia pulling out of Syria in Putin’s latest chess move, things are expected not to calm down but to intensify

By and large, the ceasefire has been a success. The government of Syria reaffirmed its sovereignty in various parts of the country. To bystanding residents it became clear which side seeks their favor as humanitarian aid was delivered by the government.  ISIS and al Nusra lost precious territory in Homs, Aleppo, Palmyra, Lattakia region and other areas. In at least one occasion residents themselves kicked out ISIS and put back the Syrian flag.

With Saudi Arabia and Turkey eager to pursue a Plan B in Syria which would entail conquering parts of the country and handing them over to ISIS or Nusra, Russia was smarter than falling into this trap. With the US eager to pursue a third world war against Russia and with NATO making preparations to attack via the Baltics, and to allow the Kiev junta to invade Donbass and possibly also Transdniestria, Russia thought ahead and closed down one potential flashpoint. Needless to say, a military confrontation between Russia and Turkey on Syrian land would result in Russia being presented as an aggressor by the western media and would legitimize a NATO war against Russia (The US plans to quadruple its military spending in Europe). Similarly, a direct confrontation between Turkish and Russian forces would present Russia as a crusader and would rally Sunni extremists to a jihad.

On March 13, at least 37 people were killed in a terror attack in Turkey’s capital, Ankara. Since the bloody attack, the Turkish police arrested over 320 PKK sympathizers, activists or suspected members throughout the country. The Kurdistan Freedom Hawks (TAK), a guerilla group with weak ties to the PKK claimed responsibility for the terrorist attack. The suicide bomber was Seher Çağla Demir, a 24-year-old Kurdish woman and a PKK member, who received training by YPG in Syria.

Meanwhile, on March 17, the PYD announced the creation of an autonomous federation zone in northern Syria, right below the Syrian border. The zone would include Al Jazeera, Kobani and Afrin.

The PYD declaration presents a clear and present challenge to three sides in its declaration. The United States, which traditionally supported dissecting and splitting Syria, suddenly declared that it is worried about Syrıa’s territorial integrity, and will not recognize the federal zone. Although PYD is carrying out a plan the US should have been in theory for, the US would prefer to have Syria dissected by jihadists and not by women Kurdish warriors who want to enact a federation within Syrıa and provide for grassroots democracy, not chaos.

The Syrian government, traditionally eager to exercise its power over Syrian Kurdistan is not very happy with this development. But Syria in any scenario cannot go back to pre-2011 period and ignore the new developments on the ground, the fact that YPG liberated various parts from ISIS, and that a federation would recognize the cultural and political rights of ethnic minorities in Syria. Like them or not, PYD is a serious force without whom victory against terrorism is not possible. Furthermore, people have a right to live within an autonomy, so long as they do not seek the overthrow of the central government.  Russia recognizes the sacrifices made by PYD and its necessity and, therefore, urged for the incorporatıon of the Kurds into the peace talks in Geneva. The Kurds also realize that the US is more on the side of Turkey than on their sıde and will draw the appropriate conclusions, probably by turning away from the US even more. But the Syrian government should recognize the new realities too.

Of course, Turkey is not too happy wıth this development. Judging by history and due to the trauma of the rip apart parts of Turkey in 1921, Turkey sees any autonomous zone held by the Kurds across its borders as an immedıate threat as it fears that they will be joıned by Kurds within Turkey. As if that were not a strong enough reason, the female terrorist responsible for the attack in Ankara was trained in northern Syria. A Turkish invasion of northern Syria is therefore a matter of tıme. At the very least, the military crackdown in southeastern Turkey which Turks consider their homeland but which the Kurds call their homeland, are likely to continue as President Erdogan promised. At some point, they will spill over across the border.

Russia’s exit does not mean things will quiet down. On the contrary. The PYD placed a triple challenge for the US, Syria and Turkey. 

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