WASHINGTON, DC – Syria’s Kurds might actually have better relations with Turkey if they no longer have the might of the United States emboldening them, argued an analyst.
If Turkey were to follow through on its threats of a military offensive against Kurds in northern Syria, “It won’t be Afrin. This would be an existential war,” said Bilal Wahab, Wagner Fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, speaking on The Washington Perspective on Friday.
Neither side wants that war, he argued. The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Front (SDF) knows they would be outgunned in a battle they would likely ultimately lose. And Turkey can’t afford a costly all-out war against a seasoned army fighting for their lives.
US President Donald Trump was compelled to walk back his determination to pull out of Syria after his political and military advisors warned a withdrawal would lead their Kurdish allies exposed to a Turkish attack.
But that US support is part of what created the problem, according to Wahab.
Turkey, familiar with the Kurdistan Region model in Iraq, is fine with having Kurdish neighbours as long as they are in some way dependent on Turkey as Erbil is economically. Members of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), which Turkey now calls a terror organization, used to frequent Ankara and Istanbul.
The animosity today between the PYD and Ankara began to deepen when Washington started supporting the Kurds.
“A PYD that is around with their Kalashnikovs is not much of an existential threat to Turkey,” explained Wahab. But throw in American weapons and training, “that is going to scare Turkey.”
Without the US support, Turkey may be open to renewing relations, or at least pulling back its guns.
Ankara believes that the PYD, SDF, and the armed Kurdish YPG are branches of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). They fear that weapons given to the Kurds in Syria will be pointed at Turkey – either by the Syrian Kurds or in the hands of the PKK. Turkey has justified its military offensives across the border by claiming they are in fact defensive, responding to provocations by the YPG or SDF. There is no evidence to back up the claim, however.
But Turkey’s fears could be assuaged if the US pulls out its military power and the PYD forges closer ties to Damascus than Qandil, the PKK headquarters.
The Kurds in Syria don’t want a war with Turkey, said Wahab. Their goal is greater rights and a level of self-governance in Syria. A US withdrawal could push them to talk with the Syrian regime, which could create a situation much more palatable to all interested parties.