Kurds must focus on Rojava, not Turkey

5/23/2017 1:54:00 PM
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Diliman Abdulkader
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Kurds look to Washington for military, economic and political support, rightly so and often without a choice. However, Kurds must also realize that Washington throughout history has assisted Kurds only incrementally. No US administration has helped the Kurdish nation wholly, which crosses four nations, one of which is a NATO ally, Turkey.

The political discourse in the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) is the making of Kurds themselves, not the lack of international support. Both US and Russian heads of states are watching the situation in the KRG closely to see if Kurds are capable of responsible governing. If the KRG fails to immediately resume parliament and hold transparent elections, it will surely force the US to ignore calls for independence. The current US administration under President Trump has its sights set on defeating ISIS, meaning closer ties being established with the Kurds in Syria. Kurds should not expect much to change between Washington and Turkey, a strategic NATO alliance, despite rumors of steering away from Incirlik military base.

In addition to repairing internal KRG rifts, all Kurdish political parties must set aside differences in order for Rojava to prosper long after the current conflict. This is in the interest of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) as well, led by Masoud Barzani. Rojava will provide economic routes not currently available to the KRG. The current oil pipeline from Kirkuk into Turkey is not a stable option, the economic crises in the KRG has proven this to be true. Turkey has also shown that it is willing to sever any preexisting ties with the KRG if it declares independence or even raises its national colors.

Therefore, Kurdish leaders must protect their national interest and not mislead the population in the name of “diplomacy.” The Kurdish diaspora must also work to further legitimize the work being done in Rojava. The situation in Turkey is not likely to change anytime soon, and the international community is not willing to take the first step to sacrifice its ties with Erdogan. In fact, world powers are patiently waiting for Erdogan to continue his path towards dictatorship, in return Kurdish support will inevitably surge.

An autonomous western Kurdistan that is recognized by the international community, similar to the KRG, must be a top priority. Rojava alliances regionally and abroad are not secure or guaranteed. The current US-Kurdish relationship in Rojava is only transactional, binded together by the common interest of defeating ISIS. The real hurdle Kurds will face is post ISIS and Syrian war. Will Kurds be left on the sidelines once again? To date there has been six rounds of Syria talks held in Geneva hoping to find a solution to the crisis, and none have included the Kurds. This proves that the Turkish voice is much stronger, keeping Kurds out of any future deal. If we look back in history, it was also the Turks led by Ataturk who prevented the establishment of a Kurdish state under the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923.

The work in Rojava is only beginning, the bravery of the YPG/YPJ under the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) has not gone unnoticed. President Trump has supplied the SDF with weapons not obtainable under Barack Obama. Aside from establishing a long term political relationship with the West and Russia, Kurds cannot lose the opportunity to link Rojava with the Mediterranean Sea. A future Kurdish state must have access to the sea, a landlocked state will mean heavy reliance on neighboring Turkey. Such ambitions must be agreed upon with Assad and any future Syrian leadership, as well as Russia and US support in the realms of military protection. This will pave the way towards economic independence even the KRG will see benefit from.

Rojava is key to greater rights in Turkey. If Kurds fail to establish long term ties with regional states and the West, then Kurds in Turkey will continue to suffer. Erdogan through his pivot towards dictatorship is exactly what the Kurds in Turkey need in order to catch the attention of the international community. Erdogan is caught in the crossfire of too many battles, more than he can handle; sooner or later the walls will crumble around him.


Diliman Abdulkader is an NRT English columnist and Masters student at the School of International Service, American University in Washington DC. He is studying Peace and Conflict Resolution, with a focus on Global Kurdish Studies. He is also a research associate at the Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET). Follow him on Twitter: @D_abdulkader