No peace for Syria’s Kurds resettling in northern Iraq – Jerusalem Post

Syrian Kurds seeking refuge in the autonomous Kurdistan region in northern Iraq following the Turkish offensive in the region may still not be able to find peace, the Jerusalem Post wrote on Friday.

Some 15,000 Syrian Kurds have arrived in the Kurdistan region since the offensive began on Oct. 9, with a further 35,000 expected to relocate, JP said. 

Diverging from some 230,000 Syrian Kurds who have already in the region since 2013 in order to flee jihadist violence in Syria, the newcomers have left due to continued bombings and clashes following Turkey’s Operation Peace Spring targeting the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

Turkey’s operation had two main goals - to remove the SDF and its main fighting force, People’s Protection Units (YPG), from the immediate vicinity of Turkey’s border with Syria, and to fashion the evacuated area into a safe zone, where up to 2 million Syrian refugees currently hosted by the country could be resettled.

A majority of the Syrian refugees Turkey is looking to settle in the region are Arabs, which has led to discussions of demographic engineering and ethnic cleansing, as well as acceleration in the flight of Syrian Kurds.

Iraqi Kurds see Syrian Kurds as compatriots, which have allowed them to integrate into society, JP said. Parts of the historic Kurdistan region lie in modern-day Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria, having split during the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire after World War I.

Kurdistan’s government is shouldering a heavy burden already, with Iraqi Arabs fleeing Islamic State (ISIS)-occupied southern cities, the economy still recovering from the impact of the war against ISIS and fallout from the Iraq’s central government after the 2017 independence referendum held in the region, JP said.

Another hurdle newcomers will face is their possible affiliation with Syrian Kurdish organisations, including the Democratic Union Party (PYD), which has a tense relationship with Kurdistan’s governing Barzani family as well as Turkey. Ankara considers the PYD, YPG and SDF to be affiliated with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) that has fought on Turkish soil for over three decades. 

Despite historic disagreement with the Barzani family and their Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), the PKK receives support from the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), the second-largest party in the autonomous region, JP said.

Turkey’s increased air raids against PKK bases in Kurdistan have soured the relationship further, and Turkey actively tries to get the KDP to expel PKK from the region, JP added.

KDP enjoys political support from the Turkish government under President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP). Turkish companies have invested in the autonomous region, and trade relationships have grown. Turkey also signed off on billions of dollars’ worth of loans to stop the region going bankrupt in 2015, JP said.

Turkey has military bases in the autonomous region, and dozens of villages are under Turkish occupation in the area where the borders of Iraq, Turkey and Iran meet. The country has also carried out precision attacks on PKK officials in the regions that the PUK controls, JP said.

Iraq is incapable of protecting Syrian Kurds fleeing Turkish aggression, JP added, and Turkey may shift focus from Syria to Iraq in its fight against the YPG and PKK. Erdoğan can also reach far inside Kurdistan.

Western countries have played a major role in the autonomous Kurdistan region becoming a refuge for many, JP said. The region achieved full autonomy after the fall of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s regime.

The West will also have to find a way to prevent further aggression by Turkey leading to further loss of Kurdish lives and land, JP said.