The ‘Kurdish Shuffle’

As the Battle for Kobani (Ayn al-Arab in Arabic) stretches into yet another week, Turkey is now allowing Iraqi Kurds to traverse its territory en route to reinforcing the city against the Islamic State.

MOSCOW, October 23 (RIA Novosti) – As the Battle for Kobani (Ayn al-Arab in Arabic) stretches into yet another week, Turkey is now allowing Iraqi Kurds to traverse its territory en route to reinforcing the city against the Islamic State (IS). This is all the more unusual since Turkey had previously bombed Iraqi Kurdistan for supposedly housing PKK fighters.

In matters that can only be speculated upon, it looks like America finally succeeded in pressuring Turkey to acquiesce to the new military strategy in Syria, which sees powerful Kurdish proxies as a substitute for a conventional Turkish military invasion. The ‘Kurdish Shuffle’ between Iraq and Syria via Turkey could see the Iraqi and Syrian Kurds, both of whom the US is currently arming and supporting with airstrikes (as well as training, in the case of the former), emboldening their Turkish counterparts and contributing to even more destabilization. This highway of arms and fighters is part and parcel of the larger US plan of creating a transnational Kurdish entity, which in turn would indefinitely entrench American control in the heart of the Middle East and serve as a springboard for continued regional destabilization.

Turkey’s Conundrum

As was outlined last week by the author, Turkey is in a conundrum about how to approach the Kurdish Question. The country has nearly 20 million Kurds, mostly located in the southeastern portion of the country, who, for increased autonomy, have fought against the authorities in a bloody conflict since 1984. Although currently in peace talks with Turkey, their nationalism was incensed when Ankara refused to militarily intervene in Kobani, in a move they had interpreted as a betrayal of their people. Large-scale protests commenced, and a few dozen people were killed during these demonstrations. The Turkish authorities had also used tear gas and riot police to stop Turkish Kurds from storming over the Syrian border into Kobani. Although the Turkish government is diehard about its hate for the democratically elected government of Syria, it is reluctant to directly intervene and force regime change without outside assurances of support from its NATO and Gulf allies. Additionally, it fears that doing so could stretch its military thin and leave them vulnerable to Kurdish stay-behind attacks, especially if the peace talks suddenly collapse.

Kobani Calls

As the Syrian Kurds and IS faced off in Kobani, Kurds all across the region were eager to help defend the city. The problem, however, was that Turkey had prevented them from crossing the border, unlike the laissez-faire attitude previously bestowed upon all manner of Islamic anti-government fighters. The Kurds, differing from other militant non-state actors in Syria, do not want to promote regime change. Rather they wish to protect their people and home regions from terrorism; they never agitated for regime change or independence, stopping short at mild calls for autonomy within a united Syria.

Since Kobani has become a rallying cry for all kinds of Kurds, including violent (PKK) and pro-independence ones (Peshmerga), it is expected that their arrival to the battlefield, now that Turkey has afforded Iraqi Kurds transit rights, could possibly change the Syrian Kurds’ disposition. Moreover, a scenario could easily arise where the Syrian Kurds are outnumbered by an influx of Turkish and Iraqi Kurds, thereby drowning out their calls for peaceful unity within a democratic Syria, transforming them into pro-American separatist proxies.

Kurdish Consequences

The creation of an anti-government Kurdish vanguard in Syria would assist the US with promoting its policies there, but in relation to Turkey, it would only offer a false promise. Although Turkey wants to overthrow the Syrian government, if this process is spearheaded by militant and separatist-minded Kurds, then Ankara would inevitably be confronted with an independent and battle-hardened Kurdistan sooner than later, especially one that has already integrated the Iraqi, Turkish, and Syrian components into a semi-united military front against IS. Such a prospect poses an existential threat to Turkey, and its leadership wants to avoid it at all costs. However, with the US playing the card of Kurdish nationalism to pressure Turkey into a conventional invasion of Syria, Turkey has been pushed into a corner and all but forced to provide the Peshmerga access to Kobani, no matter how contrary to its larger national interests this may be. Also, it has no way of definitively verifying whether all the Kurds crossing into Kobani are really from Iraq. This means that Turkish-based PKK members can also infiltrate into Syria under the cover of being Peshmerga in order to gain valuable fighting experience for future use against Turkey.

Going back to the Iraqi Kurds, once in Syria, they are expected to present a formidable challenge to IS, especially since the Peshmerga’s fighting tactics have been advised by the American military, coordinated with American airpower and made possible by American arms. As regional US proxies, the Peshmerga most certainly will work towards fostering separatism among the Syrian Kurds by convincing them that this is a legitimate post-war ‘reward’ on behalf of the international (Western) community for beating back IS. Their end game envisions a pincer movement where Peshmerga forces simultaneously attack IS from both Kobani and the Syrian-Iraqi border, driving the terrorists (and US airstrikes) south towards the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) frontlines. This would likely lead to provocations that may result in the US officially expanding its bombing campaign to the SAA, opening up a no-fly zone, and/or ‘finishing the job’ in carrying out regime change. Nonetheless, in the meantime, the Peshmerga could exploit the situation by continuing their occupation of northeast Syria and incorporating it into a future ‘Kurdistan’, with the SAA being powerless to stop it.

Kurdistan versus Turkey

Whether de-jure or de-facto, the creation of a transnational Kurdistan, tempered through the trials of war, between the Iraqi and Syrian parts (including occupied territory that was not original Kurdish-populated to begin with) would inevitably lead to irredentism against the Turkish sector of Kurdistan, if the PKK hasn’t already resumed hostilities by then. This is even more so if Turkey agrees to grant the Kurds political autonomy (however unlikely), since that would then present a seemingly natural ‘gathering of lands’ scenario for Kurdistan. Either way, since the various Kurdish fighting forces would have already achieved relative integration by this time (including expanded contacts and training with the PKK), Kurdistan is expected to assist in an asymmetrical ‘national liberation’ war with its northern brethren against Turkey, and this could possibly be done with Washington’s blessing if it plans on chastising Ankara for any divergences from the Atlanticist geopolitical agenda. No matter which way one looks at it, and regardless if the US sanctions it or not, the Kurdish Question is now out of the bag and bound to become worse for Turkey by the day. 

Concluding Thoughts

Turkey caught the world by surprise in allowing the Iraqi Kurds to use its territory to access the Kobani battlefield. The resultant pipeline of weapons and fighters across all Kurdish regions (with the exception of Iran) reinforces their connection and could dangerously set the stage for a transnational Kurdish uprising either during or immediately after the Syrian War. This ‘Kurdish Shuffle’ rearranges Turkey’s political deck and turns the odds against its territorial integrity. Thus, it can be surmised that the US must have enacted some form of pressure against Turkey to get it to comply with this, seeing the Kurdish proxies as a tradeoff (and punishment) for Ankara’s reluctance to conventionally invade Syria. This creates more questions than answers about Turkey’s evolving (or devolving?) relationship with the US, but one thing is for sure, and it’s that America is guiding the Kurds in the rapid consolidation of their emergent transnational state.

The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not reflect the official position of Sputnik.

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