MICHAEL GUNTER : American Professor – Syrian Kurds Need to Redefine their Ambitions

14/08/2012 RUDAW  –  By ROJ ELI ZALLA –  TENNESSEE, United States — In an interview with Rudaw, Michael Gunter, professor of political science at Tennessee Technological University and the author of six books and hundreds of scholarly articles on the Kurds, addressed recent developments in Syrian Kurdistan. Professor Gunter, who is also the secretary general of the EU Turkey Civic Commission, offered his opinion on the Turkish threats of invading Syrian Kurdistan, the possibility of a Kurdish state or autonomous region and EU/U.S. views on the area.

Turkey will not invade Syria

One of the consequences of the Syrian uprising has been the growing aspirations for an autonomous Syrian Kurdistan. These political aspirations have greatly worried Turkey, to the point that it has threatened to militarily intervene in Syrian Kurdistan.

But Gunter undermined the threats, saying, “I do not think Turkey would actually risk invading Syria.” “However,” he continued, “Turkey will certainly use diplomacy to further its interests. Given Turkey’s relative power, its diplomacy and soft power are forces to be reckoned with.” Explaining the possible outcomes of a Turkish invasion, Gunter told Rudaw, “If Turkey invaded and then as is likely ran into trouble, Turkey could not expect the U.S. and NATO to pull its chestnuts out of the fire. Any military action must be under the umbrella of NATO, as was done in Libya.”

Syrian Kurds have to redefine their ambitions

Regarding a possible Kurdish state or autonomy for Syrian Kurdistan, Gunter believes neither is possible. “Frankly I don’t think this will happen,” he said, explaining that the Kurds in Syria are divided and not numerous enough for this outcome.

Gunter believes that not only is a Kurdish state not on the horizon, but that “once the Sunni Arabs get things together in Syria, the Syrian Kurds will have to moderate their ambitions.”

In a Syria where President Bashar al-Assad’s regime is no longer in power, more Kurdish rights will be tolerated, but not to the extent of an autonomous region, Gunter believes. “Given the uprising in Syria, the Kurds in Syria will have to be given more rights than before in order to keep them satisfied,” he said.

The US and EU do not support the autonomy of Syrian Kurds

In a recent interview with Rudaw, Abdulhakim Bashar, the head of the Kurdish National Council (KNC), said some EU members support autonomy for the Kurds, and that the U.S. supports autonomy in the long run. But Gunter disagrees.

“The U.S. and EU want a stable, united post-Assad Syria. This means more rights for Syrian Kurds, but not to the extent of autonomy as this would weaken post-Assad Syrian unity,” he said. Gunter added, “However, in the end, all parties in Syria will have to make their own decisions without the approval or control of the U.S. and EU which are just part of those outside Syria with an interest in what is happening inside Syria. Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and, yes, Israel, among many others, are also key outside actors in this Syrian drama.”

“KRG is walking a fine line with Turkey”

Regarding the affiliation of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), and their relations with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), Gunter said, “The KRG and PKK/PYD are opposed to each other, even enemies.” He added, “If the PYD takes control of the Kurds in Syria, this will benefit the PKK … On the other hand, if the KRG can win influence over the Syrian Kurds, this would appear to be better for Turkey given its recent understandings with the KRG.”

However, Gunter warned the KRG of how delicately relations with Turkey had to be handled. “In the long run, KRG’s ambitions are hostile to Turkey, so this is a very fine line the KRG is walking with Turkey.”

“Don’t overreach” and stay united

Kurdish parties in Syria have different opinions on what shape the post-Assad Syria should take. Some support federalism for Damascus and autonomy at home, while some others say as long as Kurds are granted autonomy, what type of government Damascus has should not be a concern of the Kurds.

Gunter advises Kurds in Syria to calculate their steps cautiously and work for a democratic post-Assad Syria. “Syrian Kurds should not overreach and end up losing everything,” Gunter warns.

However, he added optimistically, “It has never looked so good for Kurds in Syria, courtesy of the Arab Spring having reached the country. So the Kurds should work towards a democratic post-Assad Syria that will not oppress them and give them their democratic rights.” Warning against disunity, Gunter suggested Syrian Kurds “intelligently take advantage of the golden opportunities afforded by what is happening in Syria.” “Kurdish unity will help the Kurds too, as historically their enemies have always used divisions between Kurds to defeat them. This will take astute diplomacy and sheer wisdom on the part of the Kurds,” he added.