Why Isn’t Washington Talking Directly With Syrian Kurds?

By Armando Cordoba – RUDAW – 12.11.2013 – ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – The United States claims it is actively “in touch” with Syrian Kurdish political parties, yet it passed up an unprecedented opportunity for direct talks with Salih Muslim, the leader of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) in Syria.  “My friend and colleague of many years Ambassador Robert Ford (U.S. Ambassador to Syria), other colleagues who work from here in Turkey in particular, and also around the world, are in touch with a wide variety of Syrian oppositionists including many Kurds,” US Ambassador to Turkey, Francis Ricciardone, told a press briefing in Ankara recently. He also added that Turkey has had a dialogue with many Kurds in Syria “quite openly,” and subsequently the US government is “in touch with some of the factions from there.”

However, in late October Muslim was denied a visa by the United States to attend a conference in Washington DC organized by Turkey’s pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP).

Selahattin Demirtas, co-chair of the BDP, in an interview with Rudaw said the conference was the first of its kind in America. “We have told them (US officials) it’s wrong not to grant Mr Muslim a visa so that he could visit the US,” Demirtas said. Why did the United States pass up an unprecedented opportunity to get first-hand knowledge of the Syrian Kurdish plight? And why does the United States continue to marginalize the group in political talks with the Free Syrian Army and the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad?

One explanation for this, according to Muslim, is Washington’s deep alliance with Turkey and efforts to appease the Ankara government, which fears the PYD’s growth could embolden its own Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK). The PYD is affiliated with the PKK, which is currently in a slow-moving peace process to end its three decade conflict with Turkey. “We and Turkey consult totally intimately regarding what we together or separately are hearing from various Syrian opposition elements including the various Kurdish elements, tribal people, others,” Ricciardone said.

Muslim’s explanation may hold some validity with regards to the United States’ icy approach to Syrian Kurds, and Ricciardone’s statement shows there is a level of cooperation between Turkey and America on the matter.

Syrian Kurds have been continuously consolidating power in northern Syrian towns, which are populated predominantly by ethnic Kurds and had been taken over by al-Qaeda affiliates mixed up in Syria’s civil war. Syrian Kurds have also taken control of important oil-producing areas, and have continually been making advances at crucial border crossing points with Turkey and Iraq. An estimated 2,000 PKK fighters have also helped with pushing out jihadist fighters in the Kurdish territory in Syria, according to first-hand reports and accounts on the ground. This could explain Turkey’s fear over the influence of the PYD’s increasing power in Syria, and why the United States has been treading so lightly with the Syrian Kurds, in an effort to avoid any political differences with Ankara.

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