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The West and the Kurds urge Turkey to review its attitude towards Syria: situational analysis

Peshmerga, Kurdish self-defense forces

Over one week has passed since the triumphant reports by a number of Kurdish sources that Kurdish self-defenders in Syria – on their own or jointly with the Free Syrian Army – had taken back from the ISIL the town of Tal Abyad and the village of Ain Issa in the northern Syrian province of Raqqa. Before that the Kurds carried out a number of successful operations in the province of Hasakah. That success was so impressive that Syrian President Bashar al Assad ruled to provide $7mn for the recovery of the province and for the needs of the local self-defenders. But on June 15 the selfsame Kurds attacked the Syrian army near Al-Qamishli (a town shared by Kurdish and Armenian communities). As a result, the positions of the Syrian army were blocked.

We hope that it was some misunderstanding and that the situation will be settled. The Kurds’ campaigns in Al-Qamishli and Tal Abyad may be parts of some plan the leaders of the Syrian Kurds may be keeping in mind. The plan is to free Syria’s northern provinces from the ISIL and “undesirable” ethnic groups. According to some western, Turkish and Arab sources, Kurds are already deporting Turks and Arabs from Tal Abyad - though Kurdish leaders say this is not true.

Obviously, there is no smoke without fire. At first, some sources reported that lots of civilians had fled to Turkey as a result of the operation in Tal Abyad. Then, some other sources said that some of the Islamists had also fled to Turkey, while the others had retreated to Aleppo and Raqqa. In the end, it turned out that some Islamists had fled to Turkey mixed with civilians. In any case, the fact is that the population of Tal Abyad is fleeing from the liberators instead of welcoming them. What was the logic of the Kurds when they first helped Syrian troops to liberate Tal Abyad and then forced them out of Al-Qamishli? We believe that their purpose is to gain control over the whole Turkish-Syrian border. Time will show whether the Syrian Kurds are planning to create autonomy or they have just shown their distrust in the Syrian authorities

In any case, their actions have drawn the attention of the Syrians and the Shi’a of Iran and Iraq even though the former have not made any comment on the incident in Al-Qamishli. Unlike them, the Syrian Sunni opposition, the Syrian Islamic Council, has appeared with a fatwa prohibiting people from joining the PKK or the PYD for “Kurdish sectarian struggle.” According to Syria Mirror, the Council has accused the PKK of “sectarian cleansing” in Tal Abyad and has made the Syrian Kurds equal to the ISIL terrorists: “Just like we have forbidden people to join the ISIL we have prohibited them to join those two bands in their unfair sectarian struggle.”

The Sunni opposition leaders have charged the Syrian Kurds with ethnic cleansing all over the province of Raqqa, in the province of Hasakah and in Aleppo. Iran has also reacted. On June 15, while Kurds were fighting in Al-Qamishli and Tal Abyad, the Iranians executed the activist of the anti-governmental Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan Mansour Arvand. It was a message to the Kurds of the region. Arvand was imprisoned in 2010 for anti-governmental propaganda and war against God. In the Muslim world the latter crime implies death penalty. On June 18 Shi’ah self-defenders of Iraq attacked civilians in Khurmatu (Iraqi Kurdistan). This has set the self-defenders and the Kurdish peshmerga at daggers drawn. Though not Iranian, it was a clear warning to the Iraqi Kurds.

After the events in Tal Abyad and Al-Qamishli the leader of the Syrian Kurds Salih Muslim rushed to Baghdad. According to BasNews, he met with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi in order to discuss the PYD’s cooperation with the Iraqi Government and support for the Syrian regime. Al-Abadi asked Muslim to help the Syrian regime near the Iraqi-Syrian border: “If the PYD and the Si’ahj fighters move closer to the border, the PYD must let the Iraqis to cross their territory and to get to the territory controlled by the Syrian regime. In its turn, the Iraqi Government will support the PYD in many aspects.” According to BasNews, Muslim and Al-Abadi have also agreed to increase their pressure on Iraqi Kurdistan so as to soften its position on the Iraqi Federal Government.

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All this is the result of Iran’s indirect pressure on the Kurds. But the Turkish aspect of this situation is much more interesting. The point is that different sources are giving quite different pictures of what actually happened in Tal Abyad. Recently the ISIL has suffered a whole series of failures: a defeat in Western Qalamoun on the Lebanese-Syrian border, a rout in the province of Homs, a knockout from the Iraqis in Tel al-Zaatar. The only factor that is keeping the Syrian army from storming Tadmor is the threat to blow up Palmira. In the meantime, the Zaidi Shi’ah have blown up one of the key sponsors of the ISIL, Saudi Arabia, in the province on Najran.

But certain nuances suggest looking deeper into the Turkish aspect. Why didn’t the Kurds chase the ISIL fighters to Raqqa but followed those who fled to Turkey. Tal Abyad was an important town for the ISIL – a kind of a check point for oil and arms smuggling to and from Turkey. This activity would hardly be possible without Turkey’s support as would be the escape of the ISIL fighters to that country. On June 16 Chezch Arabist Hynek Kmonicek said that the ISIL would stop existing if it received no more air from Turkey. He also accused Turkey of conniving the smuggling of stolen artifacts from Iraq and Syria. According to Kmonicek, today Europe really needs Turkey to review its erroneous attitude towards the ISIL. “The new Turkish Government will face a choice: either to build a new Ottoman Empire or a Turkish Republic,” the Czech expert said.

This is quite an interesting message, especially now that the Syrian Kurds fully control the Syrian-Turkish border. When on June 17 Libyan Colonel Hamed Bilkhair accused Turkey (and also Qatar) of supporting bands committing crimes against civilians and sending foreign hirelings to Libya, it became clear that the Czechs’ charges were not just their point of view but part of a general attack on Turkey. The reports that Turkish prosecutor Ozcan Sisman (arrested for complicity in the supply of arms to terrorists in Syria) has confirmed that the terrorist explosions in Reihanly and at the Cilvegozu check point and the attacks on security forces in Ulukisla were organized by Erdogan’s intelligence give us ground to think that they in Europe actually want Turkey to review its policy on Syria and are not unanimous on Ankara’s role in the Syrian crisis.

But the knock-out for the Erdogan regime may come from the Turkish Kurds. On June 21 Turkish MP from pro-Kurdish HDP Dengir Mir Mehmet Fırat warned that if the ruling AKP continued supporting bands in Syria, its country will face problems. Firat said that ISIL fighters have no problems with crossing the check point in Tal Abyad as the Turkish leaders regard them as their friends. Erdogan’s Government has turned Turkey into a training ground for fighters before their dispatch to Turkey.

So, exactly after the liberation of Tal Abyad, the West and the Kurds have urged Turkey to review its policy on Syria and the ISIL. It is not a fact that the fighters who fled to Turkey from Tal Abyad were only Turks or foreign hirelings. Keeping in mind the “Kurdish roots” of the ISIL, many of them might be Kurds. Speaking in football terms, Europe, its protégés in Libya and Kurds have shown Turkey a “yellow card.” But will there be a red card if the Erdogan regime ignores these warning? The answer to this question may become the pivot for future developments in Syria and Turkey.

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