Can Turkey prevent a divided Syria? by Aydoğan Vatandaş*
Demonstrators hold Kurdish and opposition flags during a protest against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Qamishli on May 4. Recent discussions about a possible Kurdish state in a post-Assad Syria have occupied Turkey’s agenda. (PHOTO REUTERS)
Philip Gordon, assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, has clarified the US position on the possibility of an independent Kurdish state in northern Syria. Gordon said on Monday that Syria should remain united.
“We don’t see for the future of Syria an autonomous Kurdish area or territory. We want to see a Syria that remains united,” he said, speaking in İstanbul.
But although the US doesn’t support Kurdish autonomy in Syria, some believe that the US and Israel may have a hidden agenda -- which Professor Michel Chossudovsky of the Global Research Centre of Canada describes as to “break Syria into pieces.”
“The ‘Balkanization of the Syrian Arab Republic’ is to be carried out by fostering sectarian divisions, which will eventually lead to a ‘civil war’ modeled on the former Yugoslavia. Last month, Syrian ‘opposition militants’ were dispatched to Kosovo to organize training sessions using the ‘terrorist expertise’ of the US-sponsored Kosovo Liberation Army [KLA] in fighting the Yugoslav armed forces,” says Chossudovsky.
But Gordon disputes the argument fiercely: “We’ve been clear both with the Kurds of Syria and our counterparts in Turkey that we don’t support any movement towards autonomy or separatism, which we think would be a slippery slope. We are very clear about that.”
However, Sherkoh Abbas, president of the US-based Kurdistan National Assembly of Syria (KNA), was interviewed by Israel’s Jerusalem Post on May 16. The article, which ran under the headline “Veteran Kurdish politician calls on Israel to support the break-up of Syria,” read that the KNA has “called on Israel to support the break-up of Syria into a series of federal structures based on the country’s various ethnicities.”
Breaking Syria into pieces
Abbas argued that a divided Syria, which constitutes a secular multi-ethnic society, would be the formation of separate and “independent” Sunni, Alawite-Shiite, Kurdish and Druze states, serving as a natural “buffer” for Israel against both Sunni and Shiite Islamist forces. “We need to break Syria into pieces,” he said.
Yet we have no clue whether the US or Israel support these arguments.
Professor Chossudovsky points out the map that was prepared by Lt. Col. Ralph Peters and published in the Armed Forces Journal in June 2006, redrawing the borders of the Middle East. He claims that the creation of a “Greater Kurdistan” has been envisaged for several years by the Pentagon as part of a broader “plan to redraw the Middle East.” According to Emre Uslu, a Today’s Zaman columnist and political analyst, what is emerging in Syria today is actually a Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) state. Uslu says the Turkish government has failed to foresee this possibility, stating, “The PKK has been working toward this end for a year.”
Uslu also believes that Iran will be the first country to recognize a PKK state in Syria: “By recognizing the PKK-controlled territory in Syria, Iran will have an opportunity to limit the influence of Massoud Barzani, president of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), over Syrian Kurds. Given the nature of Barzani’s engagement with US policies in the region, Iran would find a PKK-controlled Syrian region would be an alternative to American policies in the region.”
This new picture in Syria would definitely go against Turkey’s interests. Turkey would absolutely want to prevent this unexpected development. But how? Can Turkey launch a military strike in northern Syria to eliminate the PKK entity in that region?
Last week, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that Turkey was determined to counter any PKK gains in Syria. Erdogan did not rule out military intervention, stating, “We will not fall for the game of provocation, but if a step needs to be taken against the terrorist organization, we will absolutely take this step.”
Can Turkey do that?
Many believe that this is not even an option while Russia and Iran have their own interests in Syria and would refuse to back such an intervention. But it is quite sure that after the Bashar al-Assad regime falls, Turkey will have an influence on the new Syrian regime, and Turkey and the new Syrian government may be able to cooperate with each other, to mutual benefit.
But again, can Turkey or the US prevent a divided or a pluralistic Syria, considering the current fragmented structure of the country?
*Aydoğan Vatandaş is an investigative journalist based in New York.