Since the beginning of the Syrian civil war, Turkey's Western counterparts have refused to understand and respect Turkey's legitimate security concerns about ongoing instability in the region. Turkey has a long border with Syria, and what is happening south of Turkey's border has a direct impact on Turkey's national security, economic and political stability. Both the PKK and its Syrian affiliate, the People's Protection Units (YPG), and Daesh were similar security threats to Turkey, but no international actor paid sincere attention to Turkey's concerns related to the PKK-affiliated Democratic Union Party (PYD).
Turkey has been fighting against the PKK for the last 40 years, and Turkish people have paid a very high economic and political price, and the country has lost thousands of its citizens, mostly civilians, in this fight. Another immediate result of the instability in Syria is the more than 3.5 million Syrians escaping the brutal civil war that found refuge in Turkey. Turkey has neither the capacity nor the resources to continue hosting more Syrians within its borders. It is also impossible for Turkey to host and sponsor the Syrian refugees indefinitely.
Turkey decided to initiate Operation Peace Spring because there was no option left for Turkey other than securing its borders and long-term interests in the region with a unilateral military initiative. Despite Turkey's efforts to coordinate its national security concerns with the U.S., Washington preferred to stall the situation and continue to invest in the PYD for its long-term strategic goals. Operation Peace Spring is a direct consequence of Washington's wrong choice about the YPG.
When Turkey initiated Operation Euphrates Shield against Daesh in August 2016, that operation was also resisted by some of Turkey's NATO allies. Western powers considered YPG-administered northeastern Syria a stronger ally against Daesh than the second-strongest army in NATO.
This does not represent the reality on the ground, knowing the vulnerabilities and the concerns of the West, the PKK instrumentalized Daesh to legitimize their effort to establish a quasi-state in northeastern Syria. Rather than developing an inclusive framework of governance, they formed the YPG-run entity called the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
The SDF never tried to build an inclusive decision-making body that would transform local actors and the non-Kurdish majority into a governing structure for eastern Syria. The PKK's Stalinist logic advised them first to monopolize power with the help of the Pentagon; then they subdued some of the local Arab and Kurdish populations and forcefully exiled the ones that resisted them. This process was run with the knowledge and the sponsorship of the Pentagon.
The human rights violations committed by the PYD have been documented in reports by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and others. The local populations that escaped from the region due to the PYD oppression took refuge in Turkey. Nobody heard their voices because they have been distorted by narratives that glorified the PYD.
The PYD was portrayed as peaceful, secular, democratic pro-Western forces. They are an extreme Stalinist organization with zero tolerance for any alternative voices. Nobody in the U.S. and Europe wanted to see this face of the PYD because the organization was instrumental in reshaping the entire region for the interests of outside powers.
Both the U.S. and European powers were aware of the desires and the ethno-nationalist dreams of the PKK/PYD, and they wanted to benefit from these sentiments for their own objectives. The U.S. and European powers instrumentalized the nationalist passions and desires of the Kurds, and PKK/PYD instrumentalized the fears of Western actors against Daesh and the other radical religious terror networks that were sponsored by some countries in the Gulf.
International actors thus sponsored the demographic engineering project of the YPG. These symbiotic instrumental relations have limited the potential to satisfy the expectations of both sides. The interesting thing is those same Gulf countries sponsored and financed both radical religious terror groups and the PYD/PKK. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) funded thousands of trucks full of weapons that were delivered to the PYD by the Pentagon. This probably is probably the bribe that they pay to the U.S. and European powers to clear themselves of damage caused by sponsoring religious extremism in the region.
Turkey will never accept a terror state or a PKK/YPG led political entity near its borders. There is a national consensus among Turks and Kurds to deter such an entity no matter the cost. There are sympathizers of the PKK and its political wings that may be friendlier to this idea, but as the power configuration in the field changes they will gradually change their minds.
Any realistic solution offered by Europe and the U.S. should start with the disarmament and demobilization of the YPG. The U.S. has both the capacity and power to disarm and demobilize the YPG, but this would contradict their earlier position. Threatening and sanctioning Turkey, without taking into consideration Turkey's legitimate security concerns, will undoubtedly backfire.
Such a wrong move can only push Turkey closer to other major global political actors. It is now the responsibility of the U.S. and Europe to collect the weapons they delivered to the terrorists and mold them into legitimate political actors that are friendly with the local populations.
For sustainable stability in northeastern Syria, the Syrian Kurds, not the extremist PYD, should be represented in the local councils according to their population. President Donald Trump's administration can play a significant role in stabilizing relations with Turkey, but the U.S. has to change the paradigm of how it engages with the PYD/YPG/SDF.
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