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October 09, 2011, Sunday

PKK-Syria axis?

An argument that has recently been circulating is that the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) is fighting Turkey on behalf of the Syrian regime. The fact that the PKK has at least 2,000 militants from Syria and that supreme commanders Nurettin Sofi and Bahoz Erdal are from Syria and are believed to have links to the Syrian intelligence agency are the main reasons for such speculations.

Another reason there is such a belief is the PKK’s relationship with Syria. This organization’s leaders and main camps were in Syria for at least 20 years, during which it is unthinkable to expect that the Syrian regime did not establish relations with the PKK. Moreover, despite the fact that Syrian Kurds are the Kurds who enjoy the fewest democratic rights -- they do not even have identification cards because the Syrian regime does not recognize Kurds as citizens of Syria and Kurds in Syria have no passports to travel -- the PKK, which claims to fight for Kurdish rights, has not fired a single bullet against the Syrian regime to demand more rights for the Kurds in Syria. Such an unexplainable policy position of the PKK has led people to believe that the PKK does not fight the Syrian regime because the regime has been supporting the PKK against Turkey.

In the last 10 years, however, with the Adana accord between Syria and Turkey in 1998, Turkey found a compromise with Syria so that it would at least not actively support the PKK. Since then, Syria was forced to remove the PKK’s leader and shut down the PKK camps inside Syria. In the last few years, in return for good relations with Turkey, the Syrian regime has gone even further and handed some PKK militants over to Turkey to please the Recep Tayyip Erdoğan government.

Yet, as Turkish-Syrian relations have soured in the past few months, we have seen some evidence that Syria-PKK relations are normalizing and the parties are getting closer. The Syrian regime has begun threatening Turkey and suggesting that it stay away from Syrian domestic politics, otherwise, the Syrian leadership implies that they will use the Kurdish card to destabilize Turkey as well. Just this week, Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad mentioned that Turkey would face a trend similar to what Syria has been facing for the past five months.

Well, the only tool that Syria can use to destabilize Turkey is the PKK. Some liberal observers in Turkey do not think that the PKK would support the Syrian regime because the PKK is smart enough to not put its bid on a regime that will eventually collapse. Such an argument seems logical, however, there are certain facts that tell us not to be so sure that the PKK will refrain from supporting the Syrian regime.

First, just like the Syrian regime, the PKK thinks that there is an international conspiracy against the PKK. They think that the US is supporting Turkey in order to eliminate the PKK and therefore that the force behind the Arab Spring, at least in Syria, is the US and the US is not on the PKK’s side. Thus, the PKK even offers Iran a new strategic alliance against the recent developments in the region, as I mentioned earlier in this column.

Second, the PKK even extended its strategic alliance to Syria this week. The PKK’s number two, Cemil Bayık, in his interview openly and boldly stated that if Turkey intervenes in Syria militarily, the PKK would fight against Turkey on Syria’s side. In his analysis on Syria, Bayık has minor criticism against the Syrian regime, as if it were not killing innocent civilians, but pours criticism on the opposition groups in Syria, noting that they are power seekers and not democratic forces.

Bayık further goes to say: “Turkey does not want Kurds in Syria to gains democratic rights there. With its intervention in Syria, Turkey is trying to stop Kurdish gains and limit the influence of the PKK. Against this policy, the PKK is ready to fight Turkey if Turkey intervenes in Syria. We and the Kurds in Syria are prepared to fight Turkey.”

Reading Syrian leaders threatening statements and Bayık’s statement together with the PKK’s media official Yusuf Zaid’s offer to build an alliance between Iran, Syria and the PKK indicates that the PKK is seriously considering a possible pact with the Iran-Syria axis. While some liberals in Turkey still insist that the PKK would not do this, I see no reason why the PKK wouldn’t.

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