The recent Turkish air strikes on Kurdish positions in north-eastern Syria killed at least 28 YPG fighters (People Protection Units) armed wing of Kurdish Democratic Union Party or popularly known as PYD and wounded 18 others. Since then clashes broke out and continued between the YPG and Turkish military forces in several areas in northern Syria. Even these attacks were not coordinated with the US-led coalition, which the Turkish military gave only 52 minutes notice to get its forces out of harm’s way. This unilateral move of Turkey provoked deep anger among pentagon officials and prompted the US military to increase its deployment in an unprecedented show of solidarity with YPG. In addition to this US also has deployed its special forces along the Turkey-Syrian border in a bid to deter Turkey from carrying out further attacks against their Syrian Kurdish ally. Turkey is even putting its ties with United States in risk for targeting Syrian YPG which it considers as a terrorist organization over its close links with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is waging a bloody insurgency inside Turkey since mid-1980’s. But Turkish authorities have to give it a serious thought that weather YPG is a real threat to the country or it just an illusion of ultraconservative nationalist Turks.
PYD/YPG alleged closeness to PKK is not the only reason which prompts Turkey for attacking them inside Syrian territory. Having shadowy relations with the Syrian regime, Russia and also the United States, PYD is perceived as a “pawn” by Turkish state and it is also seen as a tool that is used for totally curbing out Syrian opposition which Turkey sponsor from the regions it holds. But Turkey is ignoring an important fact that the YPG intensive and effective fight with Islamic State has brought it international sympathy and an important relationship with the United States. This, in turn, will make Turkey’s any strategy to weaken YPG costlier to achieve its goals and may impede its actions, unless the U.S. administration decides to change its approach towards the YPG/PYD. Turks has to understand that the United States has relied on the Kurdish YPG to fight against ISIS in Syria. This wasn’t America’s first choice. The first preferred partner was the Free Syrian Army, a coalition of Arab forces that Turkey also supported. However, the Free Syrian Army was ineffective, riven by infighting, and at times elements within it allied with extremists. Turkey, meanwhile, was reluctant to deploy ground forces. Then at last United States turned to the Kurds only when it had no other options.
Ilham Ahmed co-president of the PYD in her op-ed for Washington Post states that “Turkey claims that the YPG is the same as the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which is currently fighting the government inside Turkey. This claim is based on the fact that we share a founder and many intellectual values with the PKK but this is equally true of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), a legal political party in Turkey with 58 members in the Turkish parliament. They are no more PKK than we are, and any attempt to equate us with the PKK is disingenuous”. YPG was formed by PYD and not PKK. PYD have ex-PKK members, but so does Peshmerga and others. In Rojava there are individual PKK fighters who come to fight ISIS, just like there are foreign fighters from elsewhere. Unlike foreign fighters who join YPG, these PKK fighters often stay separated from YPG. It should also be noted PKK fighters can’t do whatever they want in Rojava though. It is true that YPG and PKK are separate. Ideologically PKK & PYD/YPG is not the same, but it is similar. Moreover the recent rise in violence inside Turkey because of Kurdish insurgency is a direct result of Turkey-PKK failed peace process which started in 2013 and broke down during the summer of 2015 for a variety of reasons like PKK stupidity, and Turkish politics.
Turkey has to go to grass root of Kurdish problem to find out a long term solution for the Kurdish insurgency. That is engaging PKK through peace talks and not by attacking Syrian Kurdish militias which is not a direct threat to it. Ankara’s only long-term solution to this conundrum is peace with the Kurds. They aren’t going anywhere. The good news for Turkey if the Turks ever wise up enough to figure this out is that the Kurds are the easiest people in the entire Middle East to make friends with. Americans have managed to do so almost effortlessly. So have the Israelis. The PKK may be intransigent, but if reasonable Kurdish grievances were addressed including Turkey’s hostility toward besieged Kurds in Syria then support for the PKK in Turkey would likely evaporate.