Turkey and the PKK: How to deal with Syria’s Kurds

The Economist: Turkey is deeply unnerved by the emergence of yet another Kurdish entity on its frontier. Making matters worse is that, unlike Iraqi Kurdistan, which is now Turkey’s biggest regional ally and trading partner, the Syrian Kurdish region, known as Rojava in Kurdish, is dominated by Turkey’s biggest foe, the PKK [the Kurdistan Workers’ Party].

This unforeseen twist shoved Turkey’s long-festering Kurdish problem beyond its borders, propelling a panic-stricken AK to resume peace talks with [PKK leader Abdullah] Ocalan. “Rojava’s fate and the peace process in Turkey are inseparable,” argues Arzu Yilmaz, an academic. Turkey’s plan, she adds, is to keep the ceasefire running until next summer’s parliamentary elections by throwing titbits at the Kurds.

These were supposed to include the introduction of optional Kurdish-language lessons in state run schools. But the scheme has not taken off. “For the past three years my children have been trying to sign up for Kurdish classes but they either tell us that there are no teachers or not enough demand,” complains Altan Tan, an MP for the pro-Kurdish People’s Democracy Party. The Kurds have attempted to set up informal Kurdish-language schools of their own, but these were promptly shut by the police last month. A group calling itself the PKK’s youth wing responded by torching more than 30 government schools in the Kurdish region, provoking a barrage of outrage among ordinary citizens, Kurds included.

Yet even though the PKK moans about the lack of progress in Turkey, much of their horse-trading with the AK currently revolves around Syria’s Kurds. Turkey is pressing the PYD to end its undeclared non-aggression pact with Mr Assad and to join the rebels seeking to overthrow him. At the same time they are being told to share power with rival Syrian Kurdish groups. More implausibly still, Turkey also wants the PYD to sever ties with the PKK and perhaps even to cede control over Kobane, which would become part of a planned “safe pocket” to park refugees and to train and equip the rebels. [Continue reading…]

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