Enough is Enough in Eastern Syria

The U.S., sooner or later, has to find a way to do business in Eastern Syria without the PKK. This is hard given that the PYD/PKK left no other actor in the region to work with. But there is no alternative as Turkey will not watch the PKK build up its army in Syria only to hit Turkey harder.

Enough is Enough in Eastern Syria
: 'Syria Task Force' linked to Turkish Directorate General of Security Special Operation Department are seen at their military quarters in Syria's Afrin after the town is cleared from YPG/PKK terror groups, in Aleppo, Syria on November 15, 2018. Anadolu Agency

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced on Wednesday (December 12) that Turkey will carry out a military operation in the east of the Euphrates River in Syria in a few days. The operation will target the PYD - the PKK’s offshoot in Syria. There have been some news from the ground signaling that there is ongoing mobilization in Turkey right across the Syrian border. This is a sign showing that the operation can start anytime. Yet, some doubt about the likelihood of its occurrence given the possible American reactions.

The president’s announcement came shortly after the U.S. announced building observation posts near the Turkish border. This was felt like a slap on the face by some Turks. Yet for many, this is just a follow up to a consistent set of American policies that aim to strengthen the PYD, not only against Deash but with a broader agenda for a longer term.

The PYD under the American security umbrella has gained territory, American weaponry, American military training, and quasi-recognition by the West. In other words, the U.S. is building a state for its proxy force on the ground. The problem is, this proxy force is Turkey’s number one security threat. This is the organization that trains its armed personnel under the posters of PKK leader Ocalan. This is the organization that teaches school kids Ocalan’s ideas, which are merely about carving out territory from Turkey by the use of terror tactics.

All this time, American officials told Turkey that their support for the PYD is tactical and temporary while carving out a quasi-statehood for the PYD right across the Turkish border. This is not acceptable. No country will allow a terror organization to gain such capabilities and recognition.

The U.S. is building a state for its proxy force on the ground. The problem is, this proxy force is Turkey’s number one security threat.

American officials are still trying to convince Turkey that the PYD and the PKK are not the same, as Turkey is consistently fighting with PYD militias within its own borders, yes in Turkey. This is not just about the PYD authorities cheering up when the PKK carries out suicide attacks in Turkey. This is not just about the PYD teaching school kids the glory of killing Turks. This is literally about the PYD fighting Turkey. The PYD’s marketing face Zozan Cudi is one of many examples who were marketed to the Western media as pretty PYD girls fighting against Deash, but who happened to be killed within Turkish borders fighting against the Turkish army.

The U.S., sooner or later, has to find a way to do business in Eastern Syria without the PKK. This is hard given that the PYD/PKK left no other actor in the region to work with. But there is no alternative as Turkey will not watch the PKK build up its army in Syria only to hit Turkey harder.

After all, Turkey has no more patience as the PYD’s armed militias receive weapons and training from the U.S. and then infiltrate into Turkey to utilize such assets. There is no doubt that the American officials know what the PYD is, what it was formed for back in 2003 by the PKK, and what its priority is. Turkey will not allow a terror organization to get rooted right across its borders, even under U.S. protection.

What is next then? What is going to happen when Turkey carries out a well-deserved operation to its principal enemy? It seems like the American scenario is built on the impossibility of this option. Yet this can happen and will happen sooner or later. And when it happens, will U.S. forces fight against Turkey to back Turkey’s number one enemy? I doubt.

Right now, the best case scenario is the occurrence of Turkey’s military operation in a narrow circle such as Tel Abyad. After such a limited operation, Turkey can take a pause for the U.S. to finally see that a military conflict between the PYD and Turkey in Eastern Syria is not only possible, but also inevitable. As Turkey keeps its initial operation limited in scope, the U.S. can shift its policy to one that will not pose an existential threat to Turkey. The U.S., sooner or later, has to find a way to do business in Eastern Syria without the PKK. This is hard given that the PYD/PKK left no other actor in the region to work with. But there is no alternative as Turkey will not watch the PKK build up its army in Syria only to hit Turkey harder.

Hüseyin Alptekin
Hüseyin Alptekin is Assistant Professor at Istanbul Şehir University and researcher at SETA. He received his PhD degree from the University of Texas at Austin in 2014. Among his academic interests are comparative political institutions, ethnic politics, nationalism, politics of Turkey, and the Middle East. His research has been published, among others, in Ethnic and Racial Studies, Mediterranean Politics, Nationalism and Ethnic Politics, Afro Eurasian Studies, Insight Turkey, and Wiley-Blackwell Encyclopedia of Political Thought.