Global Migration & Politics
Analysis and commentary on the politics of the Middle East, of the power games that defines the region, and the economic, religious and ethnic problems the region is often facing.

The crucial role of the Kurds in the power struggle in Syria

Recently, US President Donald Trump decided to supply arms to the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) Kurdish People’s Protection Units in the fight against Islamic State in Syria. It is a decision that can have far-reaching consequences far beyond the Syrian borders. Let’s look at an analysis of the evolution of the complex and interchangeable situation around Syria, where NATO allies can risk standing on either side in a lightly flammable conflict.

It is a declared goal for President Trump to put an end to IS and the organization’s self-proclaimed caliph with a stronghold in Raqqa in Syria. When Trump, in a break with its predecessor Barack Obama’s policy, decided this week to deliver arms to the Kurdish group YPG, it is because the strong militias managed to position themselves as the most stable allies in the area .

So far, the United States has maintained that it was alone for the training and training of the group in the use of weapons. The decision on the delivery of weapons marked a drastic change in the so-called dance-easy-to-toe-around-the-hot-porridge position, the US has taken in front of Turkey around YPG. Just because the relationship between Turkey and the United States vis-a-vis YPG is a very hot potato. Turkey maintains that the group is a terrorist movement, while the United States conversely regards the group as a rebel group against Bashar Assad’s regime in Damascus.

For Turkey, there is more than enough one Kurdish autonomy region in Nordirak. It is therefore crucial for the country that there is no further Kurdish autonomy in Syria.

Obviously, it is somewhat problematic that two NATO allies in a joint battle against IS have such a divergent view of an actor like YPG in the region. The Obama administration tried in this difficult balance to maintain that the United States was alone in training and training the armaments group while calling on the group to refrain from checking areas close to the Turkish border. Thus, it was believed to have benefited Turkish interests in the region. It’s probably as elegant as the famous elephant in a glass store. But the fact is that Turkey has quite special interests in Syria. A very clearly defined goal for Turkey is to ensure that Kurdish interests are not fully respected at all. For Turkey, there is more than enough one Kurdish autonomy in Nordirak. It is therefore crucial for the country that there is not yet a Kurdish self-government area in Syria.

Creation of safe zones in Syria

The so-called Astana- negotiations in Kazakhstan between Russia, Iran and Turkey about a possible ceasefire in Syria went into its fourth round last week. The negotiations resulted in a memorandum, where the parties recommended the creation of more secure no-fly zones, where refugees, among other things, could safely stay without risk of, for example, aircraft bombings.

Following the official announcement of the release, both Syrian rebel groups and the United States expressed reservations about the content of the memorandum. The Syrian rebel groups justified their reservations that the play would relate to territorial integrity in Syria. For The United States applied, it was the actual no-fly constraints in the game that constituted a problem. It will in any case be a topic that will be discussed in depth at the forthcoming summit of Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and US President Donald Trump on May 16 in Washington.

What can be expected at the upcoming Washington Summit between Erdogan and Trump?

Despite President Trump being the only leader from the Western world, recently, Erdogan congratulated the outcome of the recent poll that really undermines the democratic base in Turkey, one should not expect the major concessions from the United States.

Even the most optimistic political analysts expect the meeting to be a somewhat illicit affair. First of all, because Erdogan comes to the meeting with some rather stubborn demands that are not to be negotiated. It is rarely the best starting point for summits of vain presidents who can not resist losing face on the international scene.

Erdogan will continue to require Fetullah Gülen delivered from the United States. Turkey has persistently maintained that Gülen was behind the failed military coup in Turkey in June 2016. The United States has similarly and persistently expressed doubts about the evidence of Gülen’s role in the failed coup.

Next, Turkey has a very clear demand for the US to stop supplying weapons to YPG. This point has already been sentenced to being a death sailor beforehand. The USA sees in YPG a very strong alliance in the area, currently considered the only way to fight IS in Raqqa. Trump has expressed a declared interest in destroying IS and the group’s presence in Raqqa.

If, in fact, the group succeeds in dropping IS at the port of Raqqa, one might expect a loyal reward from the US side, for example, recognition of the group as a real political actor or official recognition of a Kurdish Autonomy. </blockquote > And YPG must be used. This strategy is extremely problematic for Turkey; First of all, since the Turkish side does not want Kurdish groups to consolidate themselves as real actors in the region for fear of a spill-over effect on Kurdish groups in Turkey. When the United States policy goes from acting alone to the group in arms use to decide to become a proactive weapon supplier to the same group, it means a status change for YPG.

And if, in fact, the group succeeds in dropping IS at the port of Raqqa, one might expect a loyal reward from the American side, such as recognition of the group as a real political actor or official recognition of a Kurdish autonomy. This is a scare scenario for Turkey. How to reach a solution to this somewhat precarious situation surrounding YPG, where neither the United States nor Turkey is losing a face is unknown.

With Russia in the Cabinet

An additional player in this scenario is Russia, and not least the relationship between Russia and the United States. Closer cooperation between these two countries will only complicate matters for Turkey further. If the establishment of the so-called safe zones in Syria is being implemented and eventually proves to be a viable solution, Turkey fears that both Russia and the United States will officially recognize the zones, which will be perceived as a further consolidation of the Kurdish component’s presence in the power game about Syria. It is precisely this one component, the Kurds, which Turkey sees as the greatest threat to national security. For the same reason, it is vital for Turkey to make the United States refrain from further cooperation with YPG.

However, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has been visiting his American colleague Rex Tillerson this week. So one week before Erdogan himself will meet with Trump. The purpose of the meeting was, among other things, to discuss precisely the formation of these zones in Syria. Obviously, it is a somewhat unfortunate timing for Erdogan, who wants to set the agenda independently of the outcome of the US-Russian summit.

If the United States agrees to establish the safe zones, this will mean that Turkey will be excluded from conducting air attacks against YPG-controlled areas.

Turkish attack on Sinjar

When Turkey recently implemented such an attack against YPG in Sinjar, it caused prompt reactions from all involved actors in the region. The government of the Kurdish autonomous community, who lost more soldiers in this regard, condemned the attack. The government in Baghdad also condemned the attack, saying that Turkey had committed an assault on Iraqi sovereignty. Russia stated that there was a breach of international standards and the United States accused Turkey of compromising the ongoing action against IS in Syria and that US soldiers in Sinjar were at risk during the attack. Shortly after the Turkish attack, American troops were on a joint patrol with Kurdish troops along the Turkish/Syrian border to prevent further clashes.

In other words, it was a Turkish action, which, in the least, did not fall into good soil somewhere. The example demonstrates once more that Erdogan stands alone with his perception of the role of Turkey and must have in a future peace plan for Syria.

If Turkey were to reconsider such an attack – and there is realistically a very high probability – it will worsen relations with both the United States and Russia.

In view of Erdogan’s self-perception, and especially his perception of Turkey’s role in Syria, it can certainly not be excluded that Erdogan may be tempted to exceed such a ban. Turkey maintains that it has extensive evidence that YPG is a terrorist organization that has a spill-over – effect on Turkey’s own domestic Kurdish PKK movement.

If Turkey were to reconsider such an attack again – and there is realistically a very high probability – it will worsen relations with both the United States and Russia.

YPG has become a key focal point in the war

Notwithstanding the many different actions and military steps from both the United States, Turkey, Russia and Iran in Syria, none of these actors have yet presented a sustainable action plan / roadmap to a definitive peaceful solution in the country.

It says something about how hopeless the situation in the country is when, in the fourth round of negotiations in Astana, only one has been able to present a proposal for the creation of safe zones. In other words, there is not yet a real initiative for a permanent and peaceful solution to the Syrian tragedy.

The question is whether the meetings of the United States this week between Russia and the US Foreign Ministers and next week’s Erdogan and Trump meeting will bring some clarification between the parties.

But, as you know, IS is not in itself the root of all Syria’s problems. Islamic State is a symptom of the state of chaos and lack of democratic experience the country is. And if no actors have a real follow-up plan on what’s going to happen when both IS and the country’s President Bashar Assad are once gone, just once again, a political vacuum is created. Out of which a new IS hell may occur. It is the problem of political vacuum in general. It is both Iraq, Syria and Libya’s tragic examples. As is the case now, it does not matter with the removal of IS from Raqqa if no one knows what will happen afterwards.

The question is whether the meetings of the United States this week between Russia and US Foreign Ministers and next week’s Erdogan and Trump meeting will bring some clarification between the parties.

As the issues are now, YPG has become the central focal point for a possible solution for Syria. If all parties maintain their respective views on the group – as a terrorist group or a partner and crucial allies – the tensions between Turkey on the one hand and Russia/USA, on the other hand, will only be intensified. Indeed, it is actually a step up of a crisis between NATO Allies, which stands on its own. And in that light it does not matter if IS and Raqqa are destroyed. That is the least of all.

Image Source: Commons Wikimedia: By Kurdishstruggle: https://www.flickr.com/photos/kurdishstruggle/15762953196, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=46000887

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