By Verda Özer
It has been a schizophrenic week for Syrian Kurds. The very day after they declared autonomy in Rojava, the Kurdish area in northern Syria, they were excluded from the discussions on Syria’s future at the Geneva conference.
The Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), which is the most powerful Kurdish group in northern Syria, had already declared autonomy last November. Last week, it declared “democratic autonomy,” announcing Qamishli as the capital and Kurdish, Syriac and Arabic as the official languages.
On the other side of the coin, however, Syrian Kurds were prohibited from having an independent Kurdish delegation in Geneva. The West had been pressuring them to participate at the conference in a unified fashion and as part of the Syrian National Council (SNC). However, PYD leader Saleh Muslim refused to unite with its main rival in northern Syria, the Kurdish National Council (KNC), which is under northern Iraqi leader Masoud Barzani’s control. Furthermore, the PYD did not want to be subordinated to the SNC, which had earlier rejected its declaration of autonomy. That the United States and Russia warned Muslim not to raise the Kurdish issue in Geneva is another reason for their non-attendance. Hence the PYD refused to join the Geneva conference, whereas the KNC participated under the SNC.
Muslim was denied a visa not only for Geneva, but also for Washington, as he was expected to accompany Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) co-leader Selahattin Demirtaş on a U.S. trip in October 2013 but was not granted a U.S. visa. This is due to the fact that the West is keeping its distance from Syrian Kurds. It’s the same with Turkey. We already know that Ankara is content with the Kurds’ absence at the Geneva conference and had also rejected the PYD’s previous declaration of autonomy.
Yet it is not hard to imagine that Kurds will extend their autonomy in Syria. All actors, including Turkey, need to reposition themselves according to this new fact on the ground. First of all, it would be Turkey’s loss if the PYD becomes more aggressive toward Turkey, especially while Turkey is trying to proceed with its peace process.
Moreover, just as old rivals Barzani and Iraqi President Jalal Talabani had managed to put aside their differences and become pragmatic allies, Syrian Kurdish groups will probably do the same and unite around their common goal: Self-determination.
This weekend, Barzani delivered a message to jailed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Öcalan via a prominent Kurdish politician, Leyla Zana. In his message, he put forth his intention to unify the Syrian Kurds and asked Öcalan to cooperate toward this end. This development in itself indicates the likelihood of such a negotiation in the near future.
This picture demands and allows Turkey to play a vital role in the Kurdish equation in the region.
Considering Turkey’s problems with Baghdad, Damascus, Cairo and also al-Qaeda, Kurds are tailor-made allies for Ankara. The government needs to see this fact and start bringing Iraqi and Syrian Kurds together under its sphere of influence. Turkey could also play a mediating role between these Kurdish groups and lay the basis for developing economic, social and cultural integration among Kurds in the region. For everyone, it is no longer rational to count on conflicts among the Kurds.