Now that ISIS has been, or is just about to be (depending on who you ask) defeated in Syria, the Kurdish problem for the Turks has suddenly become more complex as they must now confront two ‘allies’ in the US and Russia who both continue to support the Kurds in Syria even as ISIS has been all-but destroyed.
Turkey says the YPG is a terrorist group linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which both Ankara and Washington have down as a terrorist organization. Although the U.S. refuses to sever its ties with the YPG, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said recently that President Donald Trump promised him Washington would stop arming this group in due course.
Meanwhile, senior U.S. military officials continue to say that while their cooperation with the YPG will continue, the weapons they gave to this group will be reclaimed once ISIL is defeated.
Turkey has no confidence in any of these promises. It is understandably concerned that the arms supplied to the YPG will end up in PKK hands and be used against Turkish security forces. Ankara says it has evidence to show that this has already happened.
Ankara also remains unhappy about Washington’s ties with the Democratic Union Party (PYD), the umbrella organization that the YPG operates under. While the concern regarding U.S. arms to the YPG will remain, the real problem for Ankara – as the endgame in Syria in terms of defeating ISIL approaches – will be the political support the PYD gets from Washington.
The PYD holds a large swathe of territory in northern Syria, where the YPG defeated ISIL with U.S. support. It has already been setting up local governments there. Any indication that the Syrian Kurds – whether they operate under the PYD banner or some other name – will gain some degree of self-rule, even if this is within a unified Syria, remains unacceptable to Ankara.
The problem for Ankara is even more complicated given the fact that the PYD and the YPG also have the support of Moscow, not just Washington. What’s more, Russia has made it clear that the Kurds, which in this case means the PYD, should have a voice in efforts to establish the post-war Syria.
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