Turkey should respect YPG-U.S alliance

The United States’ announcement of a reward for anyone who aids in the capture of three leaders of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK); Murat Karayılan, Cemil Bayık, and Duran Kalkan is an important development. The Turkish government issued a statement mentioning their positive view of this development, but acknowledged that it was too little too late and hinted that it may be some sort of tactic. While this interpretation is correct, Turkey should focus on how it can benefit most from the steps taken by the United States. 

In the past, the US took a number of measures against the PKK after declaring them a terrorist group, however they continued their relationship with the group when it suited their interests in some way. The decision to place a reward on the capture of the PKK’s leaders has potentials of causing important consequences. It was a considerable and difficult step for US authorities since there are members of the administration who have ongoing contact with the PKK. Finally, however, the leaders have taken this step and its importance should not be overlooked. 

Everyone knows that the Kurdish Democratic Union Party in Syria is merely an extension of the PKK. This connection is even reflected in the official archives through an intelligence report submitted to the United States’ Congress. 

In an update to the CIA’s official website in January of 2018, the PYD/PKK is mentioned in a list of foreign-based terror organisations operating in Syria and Salih Muslim, the co-chair of the YPG (the People’s Protection Units, the armed wing of the PYD), is mentioned as the former leader of the PKK in Syria.  

At academic conferences in the United States the same language is used, implying the existence of a strong connection between the PKK and the PYG. 

While this connection between the two organisations is clearly mentioned on the one hand, on the other hand the US authorities continue to view the YPG as a dependable partner while declaring the PKK a terror organisation. This paradox is caused by the close alliance between the US and YPG in Syria, or the PKK’s relative importance may have diminished as a result of close cooperation that Washington maintains with the YPG. Thus, last February during the NATO summit in Brussels, US Secretary of Defense James Mattis met with Turkish Minister of Defense Nurettin Canikli and recommended driving a wedge between the PYD and PKK, forcing them to fight one another. It was reported that Canikli didn’t find this “rational, logical, nor applicable.” 

Now, in light of the reward offered to aid in the capture of the PKK’s leaders, it appears that the United States is willing to sell them out. This position is in line with the position that Mattis suggested to Canikli. Thus, Turkey rightly hesitates about the genuineness of this initiative of the US.

However, rather than accusing the US of being disingenuous, Turkey would be wise to take advantage of this opportunity and offer to partner with the US in capturing the leaders of the PKK as this would be in service of Turkey’s goals. 

The US alliance with the YPG developed during their fight against ISIS and the YPG won the US’s trust. There is no sense in questioning why this country trusted such an organisation. The United States sees the Kurdish presence in North-Eastern Syria as being to its national advantage. The area represents roughly one third of Syria’s territory and contains a large portion of its oil and water resources. The United States surmises that it will have an upper hand in the democratisation process if it succeeds in creating in this area a strong Kurdish presence that it can  manipulate. 

Another important part of this project is Israel’s security. The establishment of a Kurdish entity in Northern Syria is to the advantage of Israel and, beyond them, the neo-cons in the US administration. 

Ankara is rightly uncomfortable with the fact that the United States favours a non-state actor like the YPG over a NATO ally like Turkey. However, the task of determining where do the national interests of a country lie has to be left to the authorities of that country. Turkey seems to expect the United States to put aside its own evaluation of the situation and accept Ankara’s. Such an expectation is not likely to materialise. If the US authorities see the YPG as a trustworthy ally, then Turkey must accept this as a fact and develop its policy accordingly. 

It was the United States who helped capture Abdullah Öcalan, the founder of the PKK, after he escaped to Kenya. Then, the Turkish Intelligence and security authorities, by paying visits to Ocalan in the prison cell in the Imrali island, elevated him to the position of a person who formulated solutions to the Kurdish problem together with the Turkish government. Could the United States contemplate capturing Karayılan, Bayık, and Alkan? in order to make them a part of the negotiations for a solution to the Kurdish issue?

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.