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July 24, 2012, Tuesday

Why all the panic over a ‘PKK state’?

As soon as the consequences of the dissolution of the Bashar al-Assad regime become clear, panic-mongering starts. It has been as expected in Israel, totally obsessed with security and security only, but also in Turkey, the new wave of anxiety about what Syria’s Kurds will do next.

It has been visible in recent days that many pundits -- traditionally sworn enemies of Kurdish human rights in general and of a pro-military solution -- have moved to the forefront to play with the fears of the public and exert pressure on Ankara “to do something before it is too late.”

How real, feasible and immediate are the prospects of a Kurdish statelet led by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in the northeastern part of Syria? When the facts on the ground are thoroughly checked, it appears clear that, while caution on upcoming chaos in those areas is called for, there is no reason for panic.

In recent days, Syria observers noticed that a decisive battle to further weaken the Baathists will continue to come from the north, with the fate of Aleppo as the decisive factor. But it also appears clear that, in an irreversible manner, the northeast-north border is now under Kurdish control, with the surrounding areas. It means, as mentioned in this column, that the Assad regime is probably on the verge of losing over 70 percent of the territory (if we also count on clashes in the south).

Who, then, controls the entire area between Qamishli in the east and Efrin in the west? Is it the PKK-affiliated Democratic Union Party (PYD) militants or armed militia of the Kurdish National Council (KNC), backed by at least 11 Syrian Kurdish parties?

It is a blend of both. But those groups, which stand as diametrically opposed to each other vis à vis Assad’s regime and foreign intervention, operate on very fragile ground, which will sooner or later will collapse under them. An additional and decisive element is the role of Massoud Barzani and the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) Peshmerga forces, who stand ready for support as the internal dynamics of Syria will demolish Baathists.

So, the fear and panic rising among Turkey’s Kemalist and elitist pundits are, at the moment, widely blown-up, regarding an emergence of a “PKK state.” Neither the KNC nor the Barzani administration would allow this to happen, and both Ankara and Washington know this (although, certainly, there are obvious risks that things may spin out of control).

The real fear should be the incursions into Turkey from the area, where around 4,000 PKK rebels moved in through Iraq’s al-Anbar province. But these are at the moment different issues.

There are, in conclusion, some points to be made, if one is to make lucid predictions on the Kurdish actors’ patterns: Assad’s nearing end means a divided Syria, whose fate will be decided through negotiations between many internal groups. Loss of territory means the Sunnis and the Kurds gaining positions of strength in future talks. In the case of Kurds, Iraqi brethren will have to be added in. Also, an obstinately pro-Assad PKK will in the end be defeated or forced into a regional fight: against Ankara, Barzani and the USA. With Assad gone, it will be an unwanted orphan.

What is blurred -- deliberately by some pundits on the left or right -- in Turkey is the objective fact that the Kurds of the region emerge gradually as the winners in the turmoil. If the Assads’ fall will be followed by a negotiation, it will inevitably lead to an autonomous “Syrian KRG.” Nothing less. Autonomy is the right of the Kurds, who suffered under Saddam and Assad; one cannot simply ignore this historic fact.

Is Ankara aware of that? So far, nothing indicates the opposite. In fact, the strategic synch created with the Iraqi Kurdish leadership shows that Ankara would be able to accept an autonomy as long as the PKK is seen as the common enemy by the Syrian opposition and the Kurds in general.

The PKK’s pro-Assad (and pro-Iran) stand per se is not enough for an orderly post-Assad architecture. What Ankara hopefully understands now is the necessity of domestic reform in Kurdish issues in Turkey in order to marginalize the PKK even further.

As pointed out by Dengir Mir Mehmet Fırat, a (Kurdish) former vice chairman of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), the Kurdish issue is different from the PKK problem. “Education in one’s native tongue, recognition of ethnic identity and devolution are imminent steps crucial within the Kurdish issue, but freedom to PKK leaders and leaving the Kurdish part of Turkey to the PKK are unacceptable responses to the PKK problem,” he said some days ago.

So, yes, it does not mean much if the PKK refuses to negotiate further with Ankara, because it will never be able to form a statelet in Syria in defiance of Iraqi Kurds and the KNC, but Turkey will not have much leverage on Syria if it refuses to act quickly to pass reforms for its own Kurds. It’s that simple.

Previous articles of the columnist