Turkey’s Best Kurdish Option
By Idrees Mohammed —
August 11, 2012
Idrees Mohammed, is an observer of Turkey’s foreign
policy; primarily towards Iraqi Kurdistan. •
Read more by the Author
with the Kurds is a sensitive and major longstanding
political issue. Paradoxically, Ankara is aware that
it needs to better address Turkish-Kurdish ties and
implement reforms, yet its inability to achieve
genuine progress is a liability for Turkey’s
national interests and foreign relations. This is
exemplified by Turkey’s precarious relationship with
The Syrian civil war has created two primary
concerns for Turkey. If Syrian Kurds inspired by the
Iraqi Kurdistan model create an autonomous region in
Syria, this will threaten Turkish sovereignty.
Turkish Kurds could become emboldened to demand
greater rights including their own autonomy, a
policy Ankara resolutely rejects.
However, even if the Syrian Kurds achieve autonomy,
it is unlikely they will seek full independence or
unite with Iraqi Kurds. Nonetheless, Kurdish
autonomy in Syria would influence Iranian Kurds to
also seek limited rule, which could ultimately
result in three separate Kurdish regions divided
between Iraq, Iran and Syria. Turkey will strive to
prevent this scenario from occurring inside its
territory, but if successful, Ankara will have to
struggle to prevent the Kurdish grand dream of a
There are also fears Assad will exploit the Syrian
conflict by unleashing the Kurdistan Workers Party,
better known as the PKK — designated a terrorist
organization by Turkey, the European Union and the
United States — in retaliation for Ankara’s alleged
military support to the Syrian opposition. This
scenario is perhaps as dangerous as the possibility
of Kurdish autonomy, although the security threat
exists on a short-term scale.
However, a leading Kurdish opinion repudiates
Turkish claims of reviving the Syria-PKK alliance.
Nevertheless, the political consolidation of the
Democratic Union Party (PYD), with close ties to the
PKK, and its domination of Kurdish politics in Syria
may well end in a situation which ultimately would
not simply strengthen the Kurdish movement in Turkey
but also further complicate the Kurdish issue, and
facilitate the emergence of a legitimate PKK
influenced region in Syria.
There are limited effective instruments at Turkey’s
disposal to deal with these scenarios. Turkey views
Iran as an unreliable partner to deal with the
Kurdish issue in Syria. Although Iran is also not
immune to Kurdish aspirations of greater
independence, it may turn a blind eye to a limited
Kurdish ascendancy in Syria.
Turkey acknowledges that Iraqi Kurdistan carries
much influence regarding the Kurdish issue and has
enlisted the region’s cooperation in Syria. This
cooperation may be shortsighted. In the final
analysis, Syria’s crisis has critical implications
for Kurds in Iraq and the Turkish strategy could
In spite of these obstacles and paradoxes, Turkey
continues to play a significant role in Syria.
Though Erdogan failed to persuade Assad to reform,
he may find limited success with the Syrian National
Council. But that would not provide him with too
much political flexibility.
After the Kurds in Syria declared some regions
liberated, Turkey threatened that it has a “natural
right” to intervene in Syria. That Turkish option,
however, is not strategic given domestic, regional
and international implications. A Turkish assault
against Syrian Kurds could incite Turkish Kurds to
rebel and perhaps undermine Ankara’s relations with
Iraqi Kurdistan. Furthermore, it would receive a
harsh regional and international response,www.ekurd.net
especially from Russia and Iran. The United States
has already expressed concerns regarding Turkish
mobilization along the Syrian border.
Considering these constraints, Turkey’s best
available option may be to engage with the Syrian
Kurds. Turkey’s refusal to hold dialogue with the
PYD is a main obstacle because ignoring their
influence means ignoring a significant component of
Kurdish society. Turkey justifies this decision
based on its ties with the PKK, thereby viewing it
as an extension of terrorism.
This is not an appealing strategy for Ankara but
perhaps the only way to overcome the many internal
and external challenges it faces.
Appeared at “Levantine Routes”
Idrees Mohammed holds an MA in International
Relations from Warsaw University. His thesis was on
Turkey’s policy towards Iraqi Kurdistan. He now
largely monitors and writes on Turkish foreign
policy and Kurdish issues. He is based in Iraqi
Kurdistan. He tweets @IdreesMohammed. Idrees Mohammed, a regular contributing
writer and columnist for Ekurd.net.
© 2012 Ekurd.net. All rights reserved.
expressed in this commentary are solely those of the