East of Euphrates, West of Eden
When Schopenhauer said “Every man takes the limits of his own field of vision for the limits of the world,” he surely could not have meant Syria, could he?
When you look at the Syrian quagmire that keeps on unfolding despite having been through every conceivable scenario already, you begin to realize that the differences of opinions on the threats is the driving force behind the situation in Syria since 2011.
Russians, Iranians, Americans, Turks… 7 years on, and they still have not been able to agree on the principal threat over in Syria.Russians and Iranians both like Assad and are fighting against non-ISIS rebel forces, Americans stand with the Kurds and other moderate anti-Assad forces while fighting primarily against ISIS. Turkey supports moderate but non-Kurdish opposition groups including the FSA, and used to be vehemently against Assad(but is increasingly becoming tolerant of an Assad regime as long as the Kurds do not take part in the administration). With that vast differences on what to fight for and what to fight against, it is not a surprise that the civil war is still raging on.
As more and more alliances are formed, only to be resolved shortly thereafter, it is becoming more and more difficult to gauge the best outcome for all the players involved -not to mention the best interests of the Syrian people. For a while Turkey seemed to have joined the Russia-Iran allegiance despite Putin’s love affair with Assad. Then, things started to turn sour as Turkey wanted to take initiative against Kurdish controlled regions against Russia’s intentions. Things smoothed out on the surface, however, when Turkey’s actions in the region transformed from flashy “breaking news” operations to timed-out, subtle, and footnote military actions.
It was exactly with that intention in mind that Turkey soon approached the US to form joint patrol excursions. But Erdogan’s perceived Kurdish threat soured the joint task force between the two allies shortly thereafter. Between the US asking the Astana Process to be abandoned (which the US thinks, has too many players that are disconnected from the conflict and that don’t agree on the best strategy to pursue), and its decision to erect observation posts between Turkey and YPG-controlled regions (so as to stop clashes between the two), Turkey, once again, finds itself stranded and without a dependable partner.
The United States, of course, has not become cozy with the Kurds for humanitarian reasons. YPG stands at a near-perfect spot for the Americans: fervently anti-ISIS, moderate, without any big ambitions for the future. Furthermore, James Jeffrey has stated as recently as this past weekend that their “cooperation with Syria’s Kurds is technical and temporary”. But statements like this are far from easing Turkey’s doubts and fears about the future of Syria. As much as Jeffrey says he believes he can split the PKK and the YPG, that is not really possible without alienating the Kurdish public’s support for both each of them separately and as a whole.
Even if we manage to set aside the paranoid pro-government papers calling the observation towers as “rogue espionage towers erected to help terrorists -part of a broader scheme of the US and its partners to establish a greater Israel”, there are more and more pressing concerns within Turkish foreign affairs circles about USA’s true intentions. Some believe that the ultimate aim is to merge the two factions (PKK and YPG) into an international “freedom fighting”militia, complete with uniforms and an international status. Turkey’s fears are not without any merit at all. US Chief of Armed Forces Joseph Dunford has recently gone on record to confirm that the US has already trained 8 thousand of the planned 35-40 thousand Kurdish fighters. Though far-fetched, an internationally recognized fighting force in Syria would be a nightmare scenario for Turkey.Above all, it would mean that Turkey would be accountable for its unilateral actions against Kurdish guerrilla groups, something it is not in its current state. There are even talks of a new proposed Federal system with an autonomous Kurdish region to be implemented in Turkey following the local elections herein March of 2019.
What does seem more likely is the realization of YPG’s efforts to form a partly autonomous region within Syria. Both Russia and USA seem to be siding with it, and the YPG has reportedly already started talking to the Assad regime regarding such a scenario. YPG’s willingness to work with Assad in turn for a North Iraq style autonomy has already advanced into practical talks about YPG asking Assad to be included in a possible military action in Idlib.
If such a plan comes to fruition and the Kurds score a partial autonomy in the East of Euphrates, they will be part of the Syrian state but will be able to act on its own in regional matters as well as cultural and economic freedom.
Turkey’s assumed reaction towards such a plan is not hard to fathom. What it will actually do to stop, however, is.