13 November 2013 /ZAMAN – SİNEM CENGİZ, ANKARA – The future of ties between Ankara and the Kurds living in Syria’s northern areas depends on the settlement process launched by the Turkish government to end the country’s decades-old conflict with the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), Syrian Kurds have said. – “We must be realistic. If the Turkish government goes on with the peaceful process with Kurds in Turkey, it will finally have good ties with Syrian Kurds as well,” Barzan Iso, a Syrian Kurdish journalist, told Today’s Zaman.
On the sidelines of a recent Kurdish conference held in Ankara, Syrian Kurds spoke to Today’s Zaman about their expectations for Turkey, their perception of Turkey’s role in the Syrian crisis and the situation in the war-torn country’s north.
Kurds have recently gained ground in Syria’s north as a result of fierce fighting with al-Qaeda-linked radical groups. Kurdish militants now control considerable swathes of territory in Syria’s north and northeast.
“Syrian Kurds are no different from the Kurds living in Turkey. Many Kurds are fleeing Syria to seek shelter in Turkey, which is providing humanitarian support to them. Politically, we may have problems, but we still want Turkey to help us,” said Redif Mustafa, a Syrian Kurdish activist.
In early August, Saleh Muslim, the leader of Syria’s Democratic Union Party (PYD), an offshoot of the PKK, affirmed that Turkey had agreed to provide humanitarian aid to ease suffering in predominantly Kurdish regions in northern Syria. Later, however, some claimed that Turkey was preventing aid from reaching those areas. When asked if those claims were true, Mustafa said there had been some problems in getting aid; however, he added, there were no problems now. “Getting aid from any country is a tough issue as there are clashes in the border cities,” Mustafa said. Fahima Ali, another Syrian Kurdish activist, said Kurds expected Turkey to open border crossings near Kurdish areas in Syria to facilitate humanitarian aid. “We have political and humanitarian expectations for Turkey. Kurds in Rojava [the Kurdish word for northern Syria] need help from both the Turkish government and the Turkish people,” Ali said. According to Iso, the Turkish government agreed to provide aid to the region because of pressure from Kurds in Turkey’s southeastern provinces.
Syrian Kurds divided on Turkey’s role in Syrian crisis
Syrian Kurds are divided over Turkey’s role in the Syrian crisis. Some believe that Turkey is supporting the radical groups fighting Syria’s Kurds, while others disagree.
“Turkey should make a choice between the PYD and al-Qaeda linked groups, which are extremely dangerous for the stability of Turkey. However, the PYD is open to having political relations with Turkey,” Iso said. Mustafa, however, does not believe that Turkey is supporting radical groups. He said that from the very beginning of the Syrian crisis, Turkey stood with the opposition groups fighting the regime, regardless of their ethnic, religious or political affiliation. Meanwhile, Muslim has said Turkey recently cut logistical support to al-Qaeda-affiliated groups in Syria, which he believes is a result of pressure from the international community. The PYD leader had previously accused Turkey of involvement in the atrocities committed by extremist groups. “After Turkey’s ties with Saudi Arabia deteriorated due to the opposing stance of the two countries toward the coup in Egypt, support to the radical groups in Syria decreased. Turkey was allowing Saudi Arabian arms to cross into Syria from Turkish border provinces. But this no longer happens,” Iso said.
‘Turkey uses Barzani to influence PYD’
The Turkish government and Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) have adopted a similar attitude on the situation in northern Syria: Both oppose the PYD’s creation of a politically autonomous entity in the region.
KRG leader Massoud Barzani is disturbed by the disputes among Kurds, particularly between the PYD and other Kurdish parties, over the areas in Syria’s north. The Turkish government and Barzani also backed the Syrian Kurdish National Council (KNC), a group that has agreed to join the main Syrian opposition body, the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces. “The KNC is close to Barzani. Barzani wanted to impose his policies in Rojava and Turkey wanted to use Barzani to establish an alternative group to the PYD, which was the KNC. They tried hard, but failed. The KNC is not stronger than the PYD,” Iso said.
‘Policies that ignore Kurds in Syria not realistic’
According to Syrian Kurds, Rojava has become the center of the bloody battles of the Middle East, and Kurds have an important role to play in the reshaping of the region. “A policy that ignores Kurds would not be a realistic policy,” Iso said. Turkey, a country greatly affected by incidents in neighboring Syria and decades of terrorism, is trying to work with Muslim in Syria and Barzani in Iraq despite the tension between the two Kurdish groups.