November 3, 2019 / 09:08 AM
Turkey pursues Kurds across the region: expert

Turkey President Recep Tayyip Erdogan ordered a military operation into northwest Syria in 2018 and at the same time Ankara increased military operation against the PKK both inside Turkey and in Iraq so that Turkey forces have set up bases inside the Kurdistan Region.


Turkey considers Syrian Kurdish forces as affiliated with the PKK and are terrorists for Ankara which started its Peace Spring Operation into northern Syria last month and US pullout from the region paved the way for Turkey to control Seri Kani and Gri Spi.
The US withdrawal made the Kurds, who lost 11000 fighters in the US-led war against the IS, to seek support from Russia and  Damascus. The tensions have been decreased after the Kurds pulled 30 kilometers out of the Kurdish region in northern Syria but it seems that the Kurds are the main loosers in the quick developments in northern Syria in the last month.

Kurdpress spoke extensively with Erwin van Veen, a senior research fellow at the Netherlands Clingendael Institute, about the recent Turkish incursion ‘Peace Spring’ into Syria and about Turkish policies towards the Kurds throughout the region. What follows are his full answers to Kurdpress questions:
Recently, we saw quick developmentS in northern Syrian in which Turkey attacked and Kurds and U.S forces went out. who should be blamed for this mess? Kurds, Turkey or Trump?
Inter arma, silent leges. Or, in times of war, laws are silent. It’s not very useful to discuss the issue of ‘blame’ for this reason, in my opinion. But what should have been clear is that the situation was a long time in the coming. President Trump had long announced his intention to withdraw US forces from Syria and in fact already tried to extricate them in December 2018. In similar vein, Turkey has not only kept up a clear discourse in which the YPG has consistently been labelled a terrorist threat that Turkey would seek to deal with at one point or another, but it also conducted several military operations against both Syrian and Iraqi/Turkish Kurds over the past years. Finally, the Syrian Kurds seem to have been blindsided somewhat by the US retreat despite prior warning, which seems surprising. On the other hand, they had little choice – as long as the US stayed, they were covered, but they couldn’t very well replace the US with another ‘protector’ on similar terms. However, they did maintain good working relations with the Assad regime from the start of the civil war and these relations were quickly leveraged to ensure a return of Syrian regime and Russian forces as protective umbrella against further Turkish offensive. The downside of PYD ties with the Syrian regime is that it antagonized Syrian Arabs and Turkmens who did revolt against Assad. Cutting a long story short, the real tragedy of this otherwise predictable development is its abruptness, which created a new wave of human misery and refugees/IDPs.
For now, Russia and Syria government can control Kurdish once ruled area with no much difficulty and Kurdish forces should migrate to an Arab land, how do you see these changes?
If President Erdogan follows through on his stated ambition of resettling 2 million Syrian in the buffer zone that was created by operation Peace Spring (between Tel Abyad and Ras al-Ain - a mixed Arab-Kurdish-Assyrian area), it is likely that major upheaval and long-term instability would ensue. First of all, the area cannot support so many people in terms of livelihood opportunities, which means that an informal (partially illicit) cross-border trade would blossom with destabilizing consequences (crime, trafficking etc.). Second, it would cause displacement of Kurdish and other population groups that currently live there, creating even more IDPs and long-term human misery. Third, it would likely not happen voluntarily. Why would Syrian refugees currently in Turkey want to move to the periphery of Syria where they do not come from and where safety will prove to be elusive? Consider for example the risk of forced conscription for both the youth of the local population and of any resettled refugees. Long-term instability along the Turkish border is likely to ensue, even if Turkey intends to use the Syrian National Army to police it.
Is there any hope to reverse these quick changes and make it possible for Kurds to have their autonomous area?
The Syrian Kurds, or rather the PYD/YPG, are now much more dependent on Damascus for protection against Turkish forces, with Damascus being the lesser of two evils. The YPG are light infantry forces that cannot prevail against the Turkish army and the Kurdish-populated part of Syria is not suitable to effective guerrilla warfare. In short, the future autonomy of the Syrian Kurds is likely what Assad et al. wish to give them, taking into account that PYD-run governance structures, and YPG-run security structures have been developed since the start of the civil war. While the regime may allow limited cultural or even local governance authority, it is bound to reclaim all border security, control over revenue generating assets and have the final say in governance issues beyond strictly local affairs. It will leverage the fact that quite some Syrian Kurds do not in fact view the PYD/YPG that positively. 
Trump wants to use Kurdish forces to protect oil fields in Eastern Syria, do you think that this new duty can help Syrian Kurds?
This seems a fairly ludicrous scheme to me as it is hard to see how US forces will maintain themselves in the long-run in the hostile environment that north-east Syria will become for them. The US can of course put a deterrent aerial umbrella in place and the SDF (the core of which is the YPG) may even work with it (Iraq’s Kurds also worked with the US in 2003 despite unfulfilled US promises after Gulf War I, for example), but the SDF would treat this relation more transactional and seek to leverage it in its negotiations with the Syrian regime. That doesn’t make for a sustainable long-term relationship. Mutual US-SDF suspicion under growing pressure from regime or Iran-linked forces on the remaining US military presence makes for an explosive mix.
And, some analysts say that Turkey has a project by which Erdogan wants to control all Kurdish areas in its southern borders. may be the next target is the Kurdistan Region Of Iraq. Do you think that such a plan exists?
It is clear that Turkey has been on the offensive for quite some time now in both Syria and Iraq. In Syria, it has carved out a limited buffer zone. In Iraq, it has sought to shrink the PKK’s staging and recuperation areas, as well as to constrain its ease of movement towards Turkey and eastern Syria. Operationally, Turkey’s recent operation in north eastern Iraq aimed to cut the lines of communications between the PKK in Iraq and YPG in Syria. It will probably continue to operate military operations to create a PKK-‘free zone’ and a hard border between Turkey and Syria as well as between Turkey and Iraq (the Qandil mountains especially). The aim being to enable the Turkish government to gradually impose its authority more firmly over its Kurdish population and to assimilate it over time, in line with Turkey’s assertive nationalism. In Syria and Iraq, Turkey also seeks to punish those Kurds that are affiliated with the PYD and PKK and to assimilate Kurds affiliated with the KDP/KNC. Invasion of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq is not required for these purposes, especially not in view of the support of the KDP that Turkey has been getting to date. Yet, we should not forget that the KDP (and KRG more broadly) have the means to push back against Turkey, should they want to, namely by re-engaging with the Iraqi government, finding ways to manage oil resources and by improving security coordination – all as insurance policy against further Turkish incursions.
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