by Ghassan Kadi
No one can claim to understand what goes on within the Kurdish mind except the Kurds themselves, perhaps not all the Kurds do either.
It is rather amazing that non-Kurds expect Kurds to have one voice, one aspiration, one political orientation, and as if all other nations are united in a manner that is manifested in a single voice. How interesting! Is there a single nation on earth that fits such bill?
Kurds are then often begrudgingly and unfairly referred to as a group of people who are not united. Didn’t George W. Bush win his first presidential election by a margin of a few hundred votes nationwide? Why is it then that the world expects unanimous Kurdish decision-making when the rules of democracy stipulate that 50.01% represents a democratic majority?
The world should leave Kurds alone and respect that they are entitled to have differences, and at the same time appreciate the fact that they have been struggling for statehood and self-determination for a long time.
What we ought to remember is that Kurds have been around for thousands of years, and long before the Levant adopted the Arabic language as its formal language and thus became a part of the Arab World.
All ancient indigenous Levantine cultures must have felt alienated when pan-Arabism was at its peak during the Nasser/Baath era and thereabout. After all, Assyrians, Aramaics, Chaldeans …. and Kurds are not Arabs. However, nationality and ethnicity are two different things, and the afore-mentioned ethnicities, as well as others from the region, are all Syrians.
What is exacerbating the Kurdish “problem” in particular is the huge number of Kurds if compared to other ethnicities, their presence in a few states (Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran), the lack of ideologies that embrace them and provide them with security, and last but not least, discrimination and persecution. It is little wonder therefore to find them seeking statehood and security.
Any recognition of Kurds is what Turkey fears, and as a result, instead of regarding the Kurds of Turkey as equal citizens to other ethnicities, Turkey regards them as Trojan horses. The way towards nationhood has to be inclusive, but Turkey’s way has historically been discriminatory, divisive and based on maintaining the status quo of Turkman superiority. On the other hand, the Syrian way has matured and ripened during the war, and it is a way that has been baptized by sacrificial blood, sweat and tears, and the Kurds have earned their place with the highest of distinction. The question as to whether the Kurds have realized which of the two nations will embrace them, Syria or Turkey, remains to be answered. All indications however are that they are going back to their Syrian roots.
We have to be honest and fair and say that Kurds have been marginalized, even in Syria. As a matter of fact, some Syrian Kurds do not even have identity cards. There are many stories about how this happened, but the most plausible one is that apparently some Kurds did not register themselves during the 1932 census. They were fearing that the census had a hidden agenda and that they will get targeted. As a result, they missed out on becoming Syrian citizens, and their children and their children suffered the consequences.
The Syrian government will have to find a way to fix this grave anomaly and give Kurds the due respect they deserve.
Erdogan wanted to displace Syrian Kurds and have them replaced by Syrian Sunnis loyal to him. His whole objective of creating the safety zone within the 80 km northern strip of Syria was about this. That safety zone would have also separated Syrian Kurds from Turkish Kurds and bolstered his dominance over his Kurdish compatriots. But this was not happen.
In a twist of fate, what Erdogan seems to be receiving at the end of this is quite the opposite.
There has been a lot of talk and innuendo about federation and the newly-announced Kurdish autonomy within Syria. Under normal conditions, autonomy within a state and federation spell danger. They are not at all far away from partition. In this instance however, there could be more than meets the eye at the first glance.
We must pause here for a minute and remember that Putin is intent on stamping out Islamist fundamentalism where it grows and festers. The downing of the Su-24 at the hands of Turkey added more to Putin’s resolve, and now he is more determined to put an end to the Erdogan dream; which is in reality nothing more than Jihadism with the obsession of revamping the old Ottoman Sultanate.
There are more ways than one in which Kurds can play a huge role in all of this, and if the cards are played correctly and intelligently, a Kurdish autonomous zone in Syria can herald the beginning of a whole new era and an end to the infamous Sykes-Picot accord on a frontier that was last on the agenda.
All territory south of the Taurus Mountains is in reality Syrian. The mountain chain is the geographical barrier that separated the two nations for centuries, and it wasn’t till after the fall of the Ottoman Empire that some regions south of the mountain were considered as part of Turkey. Turkey therefore did not only get away with snatching Cilicia and Iskenderun from Syria, but also the entire region south of the Taurus Mountains.
A couple of years ago or so, President Assad declared that the truce in the Golan has expired and that the door for resistance is now open. He added that at a time of her own choosing, Syria is going to launch the battle of liberation of occupied territories. Did he also include an intention to liberate Cilicia, Iskenderun and Northern Syria (ie south of the Taurus Mountains)? He possibly did.
A conventional war will be very hard to plan for and execute for Syria to reclaim its territory lost to Turkey. However, a Kurdish autonomous zone can, and hopefully with much less bloodshed and human suffering. But how?
Kurds are now on the rise, and the euphoria of winning their fight against Daesh has been echoed by the global accolade they are receiving from an array of parties; including the traditional rivals USA and Russia.
In his blatant anti-Kurdish demeanor, Erdogan is pouring oil on the fire, but only to his detriment.
When Kurds living in Turkey suffer more brutality and genocidal attacks perpetrated on them by the Turkish military eventually look over the fence and see their brothers and sisters in Syria living in peace, prosperity and dignity, they will want to seek similar privileges. The harsher Erdogan deals with them, the more they will want to break away from Turkey.
The southern part of Turkey, mainly south of the Taurus Mountains is home to an estimated 30 million Kurds and Alawites (including Alawi Kurds) and Syrian Arabs. Their prospects in that region look very grim indeed. If Erdogan wises up and genuinely returns to his “Zero Problems” policies, he may be able to resolve the problem peacefully. Sadly, this does not seem to be his intention. He is digging his heels in and bracing for more conflict.
Erdogan is paving the way towards a civil war in Turkey. As a result, Erdogan may lose his popularity and Turkey may end up with a moderate government and return to its rather passive post-Ottoman stance. However, given the global sympathy Kurds have, Turkey, with or without Erdogan, will find it very hard to take full advantage of its military superiority over the Kurds.
So whether a huge or limited civil war erupts in Turkey, or none whatsoever, if the Kurds see in the Syrian Kurdish autonomy experiment a model for them to follow or join, eventually, no one can stop them; not even Turkey.
There are many “ifs” and “buts” here, many “knowns” and more “unknowns”. We can only speculate. Having said that, if we put a certain series of” ifs” together, we may be able to see the proposed federation/autonomy from a very positive perspective.
If the proposed Kurdish Syrian area of autonomy is going to remain under the roof of Damascus, and if the trilateral cooperation on the battlefield between Russia, the Syrian Army and the Kurds has now evolved into a trilateral political and strategic alliance; one that has a long-term vision and understanding, and if the parties have employed their combined knowledge of the region, its people and governments in order to work out a master plan, we could then well and truly be looking at a scenario that is going to herald the start of a chain reaction that will slowly but surely eat away at Turkey’s regional hegemony on occupied land and suppression of its own citizens.
Not only Kurds are underprivileged in Turkey, as so are the Alawites (as mentioned above) and other minority groups. Syrians in the Adana region (which is geographically and historically part of Syria) are derogatively referred to by Turks as “Fallahin” (ie peasants). Such is the state of the Ottoman Empire that Erdogan wants to rebuild, more so ironically, one that many Arab Sunnis (who are not necessarily Jihadis) are praying for it to happen. The people of southern today’s Turkey therefore will feel easily inclined to rise against the rule of Ankara. After all, they have been under Turkish rule since 1516.
If indeed there is a trilateral Russian/Syrian/Kurdish plan to this effect, and I find it to be highly likely, then the coalition would have successfully managed to turn the table around Erdogan in a manner that gives him a taste of his own medicine, and in the most powerful and effective manner possible. After all, Erdogan’s plan to partition Syria and impose his own sphere of influence on it relied on foreign funds, foreign fighters and the risk of having them turn against him. It further relied on NATO support (which it never got), and last but least, it relied on Erdogan’s popularity. With his dwindling popularity and terror blasts hitting at the heart of Ankara, all that Erdogan has ever relied on has slipped through his fingers.
On the other hand, the force that the trilateral Russian/Syrian/Kurdish coalition is banking on is local, determined, highly trained and knows the territory like no other. It does not need to be lubricated by cash or mobilized with captagon. It does not require much logistic back up. Its soldiers can bunker up and live on water and stale bread; and there are millions of them already on the ground.
When we take into account all of the possibilities, we cannot turn a blind eye to the pro-Israeli Kurds (such as the Barazanis of Iraq). Israel has always supported those Kurds, but for different reasons of course. Israel’s interest in these Kurds has always been aimed at weakening Iraq and seeking Kurdish oil.
It will be very difficult to predict how the Syrian Kurdish entity will deal with the Barazani Kurds. If the former eventually proves to be successful and manages to regain Kurdish/Syrian regions presently held by Turkey, will it then be able to marginalize the pro-Israeli Iraqi Kurdish enclave of Barazani? No one knows. We will have to wait to see.
Hopefully, Turkey will not descend into a civil war. All wars are awful, and civil wars are the worst. It is hoped that Erdogan will either see the light or that Turkish people will wake up and vote him out. Either way, the Syrian Kurdish autonomy is going to create new dynamics and generate changes. But those changes do not at all necessarily have to be negative as many fear. The odds suggest otherwise, and no one in his/her right mind can expect any member of the trilateral Russian/Syrian/Kurdish coalition to dump the others at the eve of victory, at the time when they should be celebrating their combined victory. After all, what do the Kurds expect to gain if they go against the grain of the coalition and make their declaration of statehood before the Geneva talks? Such move, if in fact is an act of mutiny as some observers are reading, would be tantamount to nothing short of political suicide.
My reading does not see this. My reading see a potential for a huge Russian-sponsored deal that will bring dignity to the Kurds, resolve their problem, and restore Syrian sovereignty. I cannot be certain that is this the plan, but indications show it is highly likely.