Ankara’s long-awaited involvement in northern Syria changed the political calculus and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s administration’s worries with regards to DAESH and the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party’s (PYD) threat. The easy part of the Jarablus operation was the Free Syrian Army’s, backed by a formidable Turkish military, seizure of the last DAESH pocket along the Turkish-Syria border. While Turkey is still negotiating for a coordinated solution for the Syrian crisis, there is an important strategic opening for Ankara to destroy a PKK state project in the country once and for all.
Many observers tend to believe that Ankara has created a “Turkish corridor,” rather than a Kurdish one and has already prevented the unification of the PYD and Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF)-held “cantons.” The Pentagon this week gave the go ahead to Turkey’s future operations in al-Bab, but the SDF-held Manbij’s status remains an area of confrontation that might provoke the Turkish military’s involvement. Turkish officials continued to reiterate that the PKK’s Syrian arm, the PYD, hasn’t left the city as agreed months ago. American officials are still not backtracking on their claims that the PYD has already left.
Hassan Hassan, a resident fellow at the Washington-based Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy, believes Turkey’s kill switch for the PYD would only work if Turkey also engages in state building in Arab-dominated areas. Recent reports from SDF-held territories suggest Arab tribes, although reluctantly, have begun to cooperate with the PYD because it provides basic services and security. Apart from the daily functions, thanks to newly captured oil wells, the PYD is able to pay salaries to Arab tribes. It makes sense for Arab tribes to endorse a PYD-run administration since they didn’t have a choice other than DAESH. The same is true for PYD-aligned Arab forces. They were hungry for military aid and support to fight DAESH, and the PYD, through U.S.-backing and encouragement, could satisfy them.
Hassan, one of the most respected analysts on Syria in Washington, says that in light of this, Turkey should establish councils, provide basic services and increase humanitarian aid for the territories the Free Syrian Army (FSA) seized. Turkey’s creation of a nominal state concept based on basic principles of rights and services could indeed become a game changer. Arabs working with the PYD may see that there is indeed an alternative Syrian experience that genuinely includes them. That might prove fruitful for Ankara’s efforts to transfer Arab elements from SDF regiments to a newly established FSA alliance.
The government announced on Thursday that it would build up power lines and water pipes from Turkey to Jarablus to meet local demand. The Turkish Red Crescent is already funneling large amounts of humanitarian aid, including daily hot meals. Turkish officials are also encouraging the FSA to establish local councils in towns and villages to orderly and democratically administer the areas that have been captured.
What is more interesting is that Turkey’s new diplomatic rapprochement with Russia and Iran stirred up PYD-regime ties and proved to the PKK that it has no genuine friends. The U.S. has considered the PYD as a sub-state actor that has substantial extremist ties with a designated terror group and declared from the beginning that the partnership was a tactical one. Russia has wanted to use the PYD to hurt Turkey following the shooting down of the Russian plane and Assad has utilized them to fracture the Syrian opposition. Let’s face it: No one wants to see a PKK state in the region. It is not in the interest of the Syrian opposition, nor Iran and Russia.Without a doubt, whoever comes out victorious in the Syrian civil war would wage battle against a PKK state and would try to kick PKK elements out of the country. But Turkey can act even before that.
Turkish officials are eyeing al-Bab and then planning to contribute significantly to the Raqqa operation. These crucial cities, along with the above mentioned steps, can bury the idea of a PKK state for good.