"Status for Kurds in Syria is inevitable"

"Ankara’s strategic goal is to eliminate the political-societal status that emerged to the east of the Euphrates with Kurds at its center."

Writer Mustafa Peköz said Ankara’s operation threats against Northern and Eastern Syria have turned out empty and stressed that achieving a constitutional status in Syria is inevitable for Kurds.

The Middle East expert and writer said Ankara’s insistence on a “safe zone” and threats of an operation against Rojava aim to eliminate the gains Kurds achieved. Peköz said the threats have turned out empty in recent meetings with the US held in Ankara.

Peköz spoke to the ANF about developments in the Middle East.


Turkey has gone back to the “safe zone” issue that they had abandoned for a while. How should this insistence be understood?

Ankara’s “safe zone” proposal has two political background points. First, they want to limit the influence area for PYD-based Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and have an active say in the military safe zone to be established for that. They will thus aim to disband the de facto political and social organization model the SDF established in the region and its military hold. Second, they want to turn the matter into a solution for the “Syrians problem” that has turned into a serious issue in Turkey’s domestic politics and made the AKP lose votes. Syrians, who could create serious societal reaction in the near future, being settled in the SDF-controlled area is maybe the single most important policy by Ankara. This move aims to change the demographic makeup of the region against the interests of Kurds, and through that break the SDF’s political, economic and organizational hold. It could be said that Turkey, having been left out of the equation in Syria, wants to open up a new area through Syrian refugees they want to settle to the east of the Euphrates. Would this tendency affect Ankara’s Syrian policy? I don’t think that’s quite possible. Because I do not think the plan to settle Syrians in Rojava will come to fruition.


The “safe zone” discussions between Turkey and the US haven’t been settled. What could be the outcome? What stance could the SDF take?

Ankara insists on a 30 km deep safe zone corridor so they can implement this plan we talked about. If they can’t do that, they won’t be able to end the SDF’s political or military hold, neither can they send away the Syrians.

The SDF’s stance here is especially important. The SDF statement tells us that the military forces will withdraw 5 km into their border, and they put forth conditions to do that, like Turkey’s withdrawal from Afrin. They have announced that they will not accept the 30 km withdrawal Ankara demands under any circumstances, and they won’t accept any Turkish army forces in the military units to be settled in the safe zone.


So what does the US think for the safe zone?

First one must look at how the US views the PYD-based SDF. That is the heart of the issue. Despite all of Turkey’s insistence, the US Special Envoy James Jeffrey said, “Our meetings continue. We are trying to balance concerns. One side is an important local partner, and the other is a NATO ally,” which really shows that they consider Ankara and Qamishlo to be of similar significance in the diplomatic-political sense. US CENTCOM General Kenneth McKenzie meeting with SDF Commander General Mazlum Kobane as Jeffrey visited Ankara was a message for Ankara. The US considering SDF an important ally in the fight against ISIS is perhaps the weakest link in Ankara’s Syria policy. It wouldn’t be wrong to see it as a political defeat for Ankara either. The US is working to get a middle-ground proposal accepted by officials in Ankara for a 10 to 15 km safe zone corridor. Of course one of the important pieces in the puzzle is who will oversee the safe zone, which continues to be discussed. It is widely accepted that the military units in the safe zone should be an international force outside of the SDF or Turkish army. That is why Ankara’s proposal for US and Turkish army forces “defending” the area hasn’t caught on.

Washington’s safe zone plan where they try to strike a balance between Ankara and Qamishlo, whatever its extent, is in truth a process developing against Ankara. Whether it is 5 km or 20 km deep, a buffer zone without Turkish army forces, made up of international coalition units will be providing military security for SDF.


The Ministry of Defense announced that a Joint Operations Center will be established in Turkey after their meeting with the US officials in Ankara. What do you think?

Of course there is no information on the details of this meeting or what kind of a plan they agreed on. The short announcement shows that Turkey’s concerns and demands were discussed in the meeting, and a joint operations center was decided for. I think the US side is informing the SDF of these meetings regularly. The US won’t take any steps the SDF doesn’t approve. It wouldn’t be a surprise if the SDF joins this Joint Operations Center to be established in the future. Turkey could get a relief in sending the Syrians that are turning into an issue in domestic politics to certain regions. Other than that, I don’t think there will be a development that will change military-political positions in eastern Syria.

If Turkey and the US agree on establishing a safe zone, it will clearly include the border region from Jarablus, Al Bab; Afrin and Idlib to the Mediterranean. What issues such a corridor will bring about with Russia is another story. To be frank, there is no concrete decision other than to establish an operations center. In other words, Ankara’s threats to launch an operation against the east of the Euphrates is null and void.


The very day the safe zone discussions was to be discussed with the US delegation, President Erdogan threatened to attack Northern and Eastern Syria. How could that be understood?

It is yet to be seen how realistic Erdogan’s insistence on the east of the Euphrates would be, or whether it would be implemented in practice or not, but immediately after the US General’s meeting with the SDF commander, hundreds of vehicles worth of weapons were sent to the SDF and SDF-Coalition forces launched patrols in Serekaniye and border areas. This was not a coincidence, clearly. US Secretary of Defense Esper said in Japan that they will prevent one-sided interventions that would damage the US’s, Turkey’s and the SDF’s common interests, which has a political and military significance, as well as a message for Ankara. They basically said, “if you launch an operation, you will have to face us”. Even if the joint operations center discussed in the US-Turkey meeting didn’t come up, it was a weak possibility that Ankara would launch a unilateral operation.

The international coalition defends the eastern Euphrates airfield. Without direct approval from Moscow, Washington and Brussels, a ground operation by Ankara would involve much more serious risks than one would think. SDF has missiles with a range of 25 to 30 km, as well as other heavy weapons. It is said that they also have an air defense system. As such, Ankara wants these weapons taken from the SDF first. The US-led Coalition has concretely refused to take back the weapons.

In this sense, if the Erdogan-Bahceli alliance tries to embark on a Rojava adventure, it could lead to a serious letdown.


Is Turkey’s position in the Middle East overall and them targeting Rojava again an attempt to prevent the status Kurds could achieve there?

Ankara’s strategic goal is to eliminate the political-societal status that emerged to the east of the Euphrates with Kurds at its center. A possible autonomous zone to be established in the Syrian constitution will not only create a strategic change in Syria’s domestic political balance, it will also affect Turkey’s political status and regional strategy, inevitably. The Kurds having an official legal status in the international area in the form of a federation or autonomy in Syria like in Iraq will clearly shake up Ankara. So Ankara will clearly take any chance to prevent that. The priority there is to eliminate the PYD-based de facto established political and military institutional system under SDF’s control. Ankara’s goal for the operation they want to conduct is to create a military and chaos in the region that is currently stable, in a bid to eliminate the gains Kurds have achieved.

But the political reality in Syria shows many signs that the Kurds will get a permanent status in the autonomous zone. Kurds achieving constitutional status in Syria to be prepared in the country by the UN is an inevitable reality now. It doesn’t seem likely that Ankara will be able to stop this.


What will the other actors do if Kurds achieve a status in the Middle East?

The Kurds’ regional relationships are increasing at a much more intense pace than it appears. SDF’s autonomous zone they want to establish based on the territorial integrity of Syria clearly is/will be accepted by the US, UN, EU, Gulf countries and the Arab world, Israel and even Russia and Iran. As such, in the background of global and regional relationships there is serious support for Kurds. This reality also shows that an operation launched unilaterally by Ankara without regard for the regional balance will create serious issues. So, it becomes more important for the SDF to increase regional and global diplomatic efforts. Sometimes diplomacy can achieve more strategic results than guns.