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Rudaw

Analysis

Turkey’s aim with ‘safe zone’ in Syria is to keep Kurds divided

By Yerevan Saeed 7/8/2015
Turkey has agreed to allow US warplanes to use the Incirlik air base for attacks on ISIS in Syria. AP file photo.
Turkey has agreed to allow US warplanes to use the Incirlik air base for attacks on ISIS in Syria. AP file photo.

WASHINGTON DC – Last month, after two years of negotiations, Turkey and the United States reached a tentative agreement to deepen efforts and coordination in the fight against the Islamic State group (ISIS).

According to the deal, Ankara is allowing US warplanes to use its airspace and its military bases, including Incirlik. In return, Washington has subscribed to the long-awaited Turkish quest for a “safe zone” in northern Syria.

While the details of the proposed zone have not been sorted out between Washington and Ankara, some analysts believe that Turkey’s motive for wanting such an enclave is to ensure that the three Kurdish cantons declared by the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) remain territorially separated from one another.

The Turkish aim is to eventually abort the emergence of another autonomous Kurdish entity, similar to the autonomous Kurdistan Region of Iraq.

“I think the Turkish objective is to make sure there is a wedge so that the Kurds do not control the whole border,” David Pollock, the Kaufman fellow at The Washington Institute, told Rudaw. “I think the United States does not really care about that aspect of it, but it's willing to accept it as the price for more coordination from Turkey for Incirlik,” he added.

In 2013, the PYD declared the cantons of Afrin, Kobani and Cizire in Syria’s Kurdish areas, or Rojava.  The PYD’s armed wing, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), have been hailed by the United States as a reliable and effective force against ISIS.

The proposed “safe zone” reportedly covers Jarabulus in northern Syria, which is likely to prevent Kurds to connect the other two cantons to Afrin in the northwest. 

But despite the potential close coordination between Ankara and Washington, Pollock believes that Kurds in Rojava won't side with the Bashar Assad regime because they have received the most benefit from US airstrikes against ISIS, or Daesh as it is known in Arabic.

“The Kurds have achieved a lot even though this gets into their way. I think they cooperate closely with the US against Daesh. That’s more important right now. I actually think you could get an agreement,” he added.

Pollock ruled out that the deal with Washington will push Turkey to engage against ISIS militarily. He said that was because of the fear of a potential blowback by the Islamic group.

“It will be fine if they (Turks) start to control the border and that's what's expected from Turks to do,” Pollock said. “But if there will be more terrorism inside Turkey from ISIS that may change,” he added, explaining that could lead to an “angry and aggressive” response from Ankara. “If you start fighting ISIS they will fight back and it's better to contain it. It’s safer.”

Many observers see the agreement between Ankara and Washington as a betrayal of Kurds by the United States. That is because, since the deal, Ankara has been arresting members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) at home, and pounding their camps in the Kurdistan Region by air and artillery.

Turkey has also started an extensive aerial campaign against the PKK, the force behind the PYD in Rojava.

US President Barack Obama on Wednesday called on Turkey to remain focused on the threat from ISIS.

Kilic Bugra Kanat, research director at Washington’s SETA Foundation, also believes that the PYD has become a wedge in US-Turkey relations.

“Turkey’s red line here is very strict in the sense that (PYD) harms US-Turkish relations. Those red lines, especially with PYD, are very strict pre-conditions and will likely to continue,” Kanat told Rudaw.

Sabiha Senyucel, research director at Istanbul’s Center for Public Policy and Democracy Studies (PODEM) agreed that if Turkey succeeds in establishing a safe zone in Syria, it will separate the Kurds in Syria. But she wondered how long Turkey could maintain and protect such an enclave.

She said Turkey is currently opposed to the formation of a Kurdish entity in northern Syria due to the regional ambitions of the PYD and PKK. She said the Turkish position could change if the Kurdish parties leave their regional patrons and realign with Ankara.

“If PKK and PYD choose to align with Turkey instead of with other regional powers I think that will be a perfect scenario for Turkey,” Senyucel said.

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Shoresh | 7/8/2015
That is the whole point of the oppressive policy of the history of the state,their motto always has been divide and rule, and we the ordinary people regardless of our languages need to be united in order to defeat the aggressors.
firat | 7/8/2015
ha! Erdogan will see his evil plan will blow in his face, when the kurds unite and all mobilize he will lock himself inside his palace.
Bawan | 7/8/2015
No sh*t? and here we were thinking the Turks were interested in fighting ISIL. Here's a fun fact for you, the last border crossing Turkey has with ISIL (jarabulus) yes the very same "ISIL free zone" is still not closed, ISIL is getting everything they needs from Turkey. No matter what Obama does to get Erdogan and ISIL fighting it will fail, because asking Erdogan to fight ISIL is asking Erdogan to fight himself.
Sirnak | 7/8/2015
We know thats what turks are looking for. To divide Kurdistan. In 2007 they wanted to invade KRG and occupy kerkuk. Turkish mind is as ugly as nazism. Pkk must be clever than them. Pkk must coordinate with KRG and be united with kurds. Also ypg must be pragmatic by not showing too much connection with Pkk and play friendly with USA and Europe. To create a united Kurdish front you need to use your brain as well. We can fight but we want also be credible and rational. An APO picture at the hill of Kobani will not save you but an American flag and a Kurdish national flag will make you more friend. We don't want Apocistan but we want Freedom united Kurdistan!
Hans Guderian | 7/8/2015
Do you guys understand that the land between Afrin and Kobane was never a Kurdish land, nor has very little Kurdish population? What gives you the right to go ahead and claim those lands for Kurdish regions? You are essentially asking to invade those lands. Why?
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