The action of the Turkish government in seeking to establish a ‘safe-zone’ in northern Syria has led to an outcry from most European and American leaders.
Turkey insists that it is to allow the beginning of repatriation of its 3.5 million Syrian refugees and is adamant that it is not attacking the Kurdish people but the YPG/PKK.
The Arab League Secretary General attacked the operation and called on the UN Security Council to take action. [12 October Reuters]
Algeria, Lebanon and Iraq have demanded that Syria should now be re-admitted to the Arab League.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also denounced Turkey’s action and said Israel was prepared to offer humanitarian aid to the Kurds in Syria “facing an onslaught from Ankara.” [10 October 2019 Times of Israel]
Qatar and Pakistan supported Turkey and Russia did not oppose it but Putin emphasised the Astana process in a phone call with President Erdogan.
In what would appear to be a major diplomatic blunder, President Trump sent a letter on 9 October to President Erdogan.
While threatening the Turkish economy, he passed on the offer of negotiations with General Mazloum of the YPG or SDF as it is now calling itself.
This was like offering George Bush the possibility of opening negotiations with Osama Bin Laden.
In 1984, the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, initiated a campaign of separatist violence in Turkey that lasted fifteen years; more than thirty thousand people, most of them Kurds, were killed. [20 June 2004 New Yorker]
In May 2004, the PKK announced that it was ending its ceasefire.
Mazloum Kobani first served with the PKK within Syria and joined the PKK in Turkey, conducting militant activities in Hakkaria Province in 1996.
Turkey has since called upon the USA to hand over Kobani.
Israel and Kurdish separatists
Netanyahu’s concern for the Kurdish organisations in Syria marks a long standing Israeli policy.
Seymour Hersh in 2004 explained the growing involvement of Israel with the Kurdish separatists as a response to the dismal failure of America to create a stable Iraq, a possible bulwark against Iran.
His article “Plan B: As June 30th approaches, Israel looks to the Kurds,” is an excellent introduction to the present landscape. [20 June 2004 New Yorker]
“Israeli intelligence and military operatives are now quietly at work in Kurdistan, providing training for Kurdish commando units and, most important in Israel’s view, running covert operations inside Kurdish areas of Iran and Syria.” [20 June 2004 New Yorker]
This created suspicions in Turkey and brought the prospect of “a new alliance among Iran, Syria, and Turkey, all of which have significant Kurdish minorities.”
The Iranian fear that an independent Kurdish state in northern Iraq would be “an Israeli land-based aircraft carrier”—that is, a military stronghold—“on its border” might be generalised to the Turkish position today.
Turkey is well aware of the focus of the YPG.
Kyle W Orton noted two years ago “The YPG has struggled to secure its legitimacy because it refuses to include other Kurdish voices and remains fundamentally focused on Turkey….” [6 June 2017 The error of arming the Kurds NYT]
An emerging solution
The retreat of the Americans and the emergence of Russia as a power broker on the regional scene are major recent developments.
Middle East analyst Vyacheslav Matusov told DW that it was the US promises of Kurdish autonomy that had previously been in the way of bringing the Kurds back into the fold.” [14 October 2019 DW]
Russia, Turkey and Iran agreed on the Astana process on 16 September, determining the details of a constitutional committee in Syria.
This led to the establishment of a UN-backed Syrian constitutional committee to write a new constitution for Syria and prepare for elections.
Composed of 150 members, the committee is split evenly between Assad’s government, the opposition and Syrian civil society. [10 October 2019 Guardian]
It held its first session at the UN headquarters in Geneva on Wednesday 30 October.
Emerging bipartisan support for imperialism?
There seem to be some second thoughts from the Americans regarding troop withdrawal.
Pentagon officials have indicated that there will be only a partial withdrawal, leaving troops, “ …where lucrative oil fields are under the control of a mostly Kurdish force involved in the US-led fight against the Islamic State militant group (ISIS).” [25 October 2019 Common Dreams]
Juan Cole, a professor of Middle Eastern and South Asian history at the University of Michigan, condemned this intention to occupy the Deir al-Zor oilfield as illegal under international law.
Human rights activist Ajamu Baraka twittered “Democrats have criticised Trump’s growing imperial presidency for three years but I am finding it hard to find voices of opposition to his illegal desire to keep US troops in Syria to steal Syrian oil and gas. Is this silence another example of bipartisan support for imperialism?”
The situation is still uncertain and subject to rapid change.
While some commentators are warning of the danger of another war for oil, there is the hope of settlement.