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February 01, 2013, Friday

Assad’s Kurdish policy

If we take a brief look at the history of Kurdish movements in Syria, Iraq, Iran and Turkey, we see that different processes have been at work in each case. In addition to these differences are similarities among the movements. And it can be noted that the interactions among these movements are increasing.

The political tension between the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq and the Nouri al-Maliki-led central government is ongoing. It is said that oil behemoth Exxon Mobil will revise its relations with Iraq and present a new decision in a week. This decision has the potential to usher in a new era in Kurdish-Arab relations.

The KRG has left Syrian Kurds, who are in its backyard, to their own fate amid the current chaos. The Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) is far from being an organization trusted by Kurds in Syria. Syrian Kurds felt closer to legendary Kurdish leader Mustafa Barzani and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) than Abdullah Öcalan and his PKK. The PKK never provided support to Syrian Kurds in their fight against Hafez al-Assad, the father of Bashar al-Assad. At that time, the future of the Syrian Kurds was seen as reliant on the success of the armed struggle against Turkey being waged by the PKK from the Beqaa Valley in Lebanon.

When the current rebellion broke out in Syria, the PKK was trying to broker an alliance between the Kurds and Shiites. The PKK believed that if Bashar al-Assad could survive the rebellion, this alliance would boost the power and influence of the PKK as well as its Syrian branch, the Democratic Union Party (PYD).

Both Assad and the PKK, which increased its collaboration with Assad and Iran, opted to play a risky political game, while the PKK's Iranian offshoot, the Party for a Free Life in Kurdistan (PJAK), stopped its struggle against the Iranian state and waged a war against Turkey -- an act that was necessitated by the cooperation between the PKK and Iran.

Assad's new Kurdish policy, i.e., opening Syria's borders to armed PKK forces, increased the reliance of Syrian Kurds on the PYD. Thus, instead of joining the ranks of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), Syrian Kurds joined PYD forces and started to fight the FSA.

The PYD and Assad's army act in complete accord. In settlements controlled by the PYD, Assad's troops live side by side with PYD forces and there are no clashes between them.

The FSA is fighting two major forces, one of which is currently weak and the other of which is strong.

During the occupation of Iraq in 2003, the PKK tried to secure a political position within Iraq but failed. Apparently, it has now achieved this goal in Syria. Obviously, the PYD will be one of the main actors in the system that will be established in Syria following the end of the current chaos. In addition to the political aspect of the matter, the PYD's armed presence in Syria will continue to be a problem for both Syria and the national and international players that will re-establish Syria.

Of course, there is always the possibility of Syria's disintegration. Turkey's recently launched İmralı process -- which involves brokering peace via negotiations with PKK leader Öcalan, who is currently serving a life sentence on İmralı island off the coast İstanbul -- will continue to be affected by the developments in Syria.

The most important step in furthering the settlement of the PKK issue in Turkey will be for PKK militants to withdraw from Turkey. It is rumored that Öcalan will call on PKK militants to leave Turkey in the spring. If everything goes well and the PKK's armed forces leave Turkey, this will practically mean the end of the war against Turkey.

After this, the disarmament of the PKK will basically be a problem for the political actors who will establish the new Syria to deal with because the İmralı process will result in the export of the PKK's armed forces to another country -- Syria, most certainly.

PKK leaders frequently announce that they have no intention of laying down their arms. Clearly, disarmament is not their intention. The PKK and Öcalan are considering stopping the war against Turkey, but, in my opinion, they are not planning to disarm the PKK.

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