Who Gets To Allow A Kurdish State In Syria?


“I am saying this to the whole world: We will never allow the establishment of a state on our southern border in the north of Syria.”

Such were the words of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, president of Turkey, to guests during a dinner to break Friday’s Ramadan fasting. His warning came a day after the terrorist group Islamic State (IS) in the early hours of Thursday morning went on a killing spree in the Kurdish town of Kobane near the Turkish border where IS 6 months earlier had suffered huge losses. At least 146 people were killed in the unexpected attack but activists on the ground claim that the number of deaths is most likely more than 200. The massacre has been called one of the worst committed by IS.

One would assume Erdogan with his thundering remark was promising that Turkey with every means possible will prevent the establishment of an Islamic State on its southern border but he was not referring to the jihadists. To Erdogan and his supporters, Turkey has a bigger problem: the Kurds.

The reality is that a de facto autonomy in the Kurdish regions in northern Syria has existed for a while now. Rojava was the name used by Kurds for Syrian Kurdistan but has since January 2014 been the official designation for the three cantons that are gradually converging concurrently with the Kurdish forces’ expulsion of IS terrorists and becoming a contiguous self-ruling region. Rojava is no longer merely a name; it is a palpable force in Kurdistan.

How does Erdogan define a Kurdish state? Surely a ruling political party (the PYD), a military force (the YPG and YPJ) and a system being built on direct democracy and gender equality qualify Rojava as a state not in the usual sense but in practice. And is that not all that matters? If it benefits the people and they are actively participating in its growth, the foundation for future development of and within Rojava has been set. As the situation is now, Rojava will not be easy to dissolve in case that becomes the objective of one or more regional powers or authorities. It means that Kurds crossed Erdogan’s red line for action a long time ago.

In efforts to back up his usual propaganda against the Kurdish people, Erdogan and loyalists have in unison with the Syrian National Coalition accused the Kurdish forces in Rojava of “changing the demographic structures” of areas bordering Turkey, claiming it is part of an ethnic cleansing with the aim of creating a Kurdish state in northern Syria. After his remarks at the aforementioned Iftar dinner, newspapers in Turkey speculated that the government was pushing for a military intervention in Syria to create a buffer zone; naturally to protect Turkey from Kurds, not the Islamic State.

Once heralded as a modern Muslim leader, greeted like a rock star in Egypt and viewed as a mediator between the West and the Middle East, Erdogan’s image has been falling apart in the face of accusations that foreign fighters are joining IS through Turkey, sifting through the border to Syria with an ease that has prompted even Turkey’s allies to comment on the issue. Several reports by former IS members and comments by current IS members on social media underpin Turkey’s passive attitude to the movement by its borders and the openly roaming of IS members and supporters in Turkish cities like Sanliurfa; a claim made by Syrian refugees that recently provoked a local governor in Sanliurfa to order the arrest of three journalists when they confronted him with the accusations.

The rhetoric against Kurds consist of warnings of a prospect of chaos and dissolution of a region as we know it. As Kurds expand their fight against IS and gain control of more territory in Syria, the accusations become shriller, an example being the allegations of Kurds committing ethnic cleansing against Arabs and Turkmens. But the Kurdish struggle and the establishment of Rojava are not a threat to life and freedom. They are a threat to regional powers that with combined forces have kept the Kurds oppressed for decades and in a state of always being at someone else’s mercy. A minor player is becoming a major player and that is a nuisance.

Erdogan and his supporters fear that Rojava will inspire a similar wish for autonomy in southeastern Turkey/northern Kurdistan. While neither the leaders of Kurds in Rojava nor northern Kurdistan are planning to separate territory from Turkey or a future post-war Syria, the kindling of opposition among the Kurds stems more from Turkey’s continuing degrading treatment of the Kurds and the Syrian opposition’s persistent verbal attacks on the Kurds.

Kurdistan is a reality. It transcends the borders of Turkey, Syria, Iran and Iraq and grows stronger with every word uttered against the Kurdish people’s fight for freedom.

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