Elections opportunity for Kurdish-Turkish de-escalation – US think tank


QAMISHLI, Syria (North Press) – The upcoming Turkish elections on May 14, especially if they yield an opposition victory, will be “a rare opportunity” for the US to broker a Turkish-Kurdish peace, argues a new report by the New Lines Institute, a Washington-based think tank.

Original article published on North Press by Sasha Hoffmann on May 8th, 2023.

According to the report’s authors, the US’ main policy failure in bringing about a lasting peace between the Turkish government and Kurdish groups in Syria and Turkey has been the separation of these issues into different arenas.

The report argues that the Turkish oppression of Kurds domestically and the 40-year insurgency waged by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) from Iraqi Kurdistan, as well as Turkish attacks against Kurdish-majority in north Syria and its autonomous administration (AANES) are related. If the US wishes to bring about a lasting peace, it will have to broker a comprehensive settlement that addresses all arenas.

Mazloum Abdi, Commander in Chief of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), and Ilham Ahmad, co-chair of the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC), have suggested that they have acted as intermediaries between Washington and the PKK. The link was crucial in convincing the PKK to declare a ceasefire after the deadly February 6 earthquake in Turkey and Syria until after the elections. It is a crucial step towards achieving a settlement.

However, the authors of the report say Washington has not done enough to push Turkey to the negotiating table. Ankara invaded and occupied Kurdish-held Syrian territory twice since 2018 and has mounted a drone strike campaign against targets in the region. According to the Rojava Information Center, Turkish drone strikes killed 87 people in 2022, at least 25 of whom were civilians. Turkey has conducted an additional 13 strikes so far in 2023. Turkey has also disturbed northeast Syria’s electricity provision and pushed the neighboring Kurdistan Region in Iraq to severely throttle imports.

Such attacks “serves Russian and Iranian interests in Syria by weakening the AANES and the SDF,” and, by extension, the anti-ISIS coalition, the report argues. Drone strikes, specifically, “have escalated in concert with Turkish-Russian-Iranian diplomatic activity, suggesting the possibility of coordination.”

In order to curb Russian and Iranian influence, ensure the success of the anti-ISIS campaign, and prepare a roadmap for an eventual US withdrawal that does not risk regional collapse, Washington needs to bring Turkey and Kurdish forces to the negotiating table, the authors say. “If the US fails to act, a third Turkish incursion into northeast Syria will remain an ever-present possibility. This would be an existential threat to the AANES and SDF, and by extension the US-led mission.”

A dissolution of the AANES would not only have a detrimental effect to regional democracy and the protection of women’s rights, but will also unleash thousands of imprisoned ISIS members back into Syria.

The report thus argues for a settlement to the ‘Kurdish question’ in Turkey is crucial to regional peace. To achieve it, Washington will have to nudge the new Turkish government to sit down with Kurdish groups, while maintaining the PKK’s ceasefire with the help of the SDF.

The authors furthermore argue that policymakers should “use the Women, Peace, and Security Strategy and National Strategy on Gender Equality and Equity to reassess policies that have contributed to conflict or may pose obstacles to diplomacy” in order to ensure the achievements in Syria’s northeast are not jeopardized.