How to resolve the Turkish - Kurdish standoff in Syria
How to resolve the Turkish - Kurdish standoff in Syria

Jerry Gordon, and Dr. Robert Sklaroff co-authored this artcile

President Trump’s peremptory call on December 19, 2018, for an immediate withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria, exacerbated the U.S.-led Coalition’s mission to defeat the Islamic State, resulting in the death of four Americans at Manbij by an alleged Islamic State suicide bombing.

The Caliphate isn’t crushed, and the Islamic State has not been defeated. In fact, more radical groups and ruthless regimes are emboldened given recent attacks in Manbij, Kenya, Idlib, Afrin, and elsewhere.

Turkey’s President Erdoğan has threatened to dislodge the Kurd-led Syrian Democratic Force (SDF) from the strong point of the Arab city of Manbij with U.S. forces maintaining a cordon.  He and President Trump suggested the creation of a safe-zone inside northern Syria from the Mediterranean to the Iraqi Kurdistan frontier to deal with the SDF because it is allegedly comprised of “terrorists” — the PYD-PYG — affiliated with the PKK, Turkish Workers Party, a designated Kurdish terrorist organization in eastern Turkey.  PYD- Partia Yekitia Demokrat- is a political party in Kurdistan of Syria, the YPG is military wing of PYD.

Turkey needs to start addressing the root cause of its problems with Kurds within Turkey first before blaming them on all the issues abroad. Kurds in Turkey have been marginalized and victimized since the inception of modern Turkey.

This initiative was triggered by the August 2016 Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army incursion at Jarablus, followed by the January 2018 invasion and occupation of the ancient Kurdish enclave of Afrin by Turkish and FSA units. The FSA is “al-Qaeda on steroids,” explaining why it displaced tens of thousands of Kurdish civilians and YPG fighters, who fled to the autonomous Kurdish homeland in northeast Syria under the aegis of the U.S.-backed SDF.

This homeland is coveted by Turkey, Iran and the Assad regime because it contains 90% of Syria’s energy resources plus productive agricultural lands that constitute the country’s bread-basket.
This homeland is coveted by Turkey, Iran and the Assad regime because it contains 90% of Syria’s energy resources plus productive agricultural lands that constitute the country’s bread-basket (Mesopotamia). They threaten “Turkification” thereof by repopulating it with repatriated radical Syrian Sunni refugees from Turkic and Arabic ethnic groups who don’t identify on ethnic bases. They identify as Muslim Brotherhood who are allied with Turkey.

Given President Trump’s announcement withdrawing U.S. forces from Syria, PYD-YPG leaders entered discussions with both Moscow and Damascus to obtain protection from threats emanating from Turkish and allied Jihadist Syrian rebels. The Assad regime posted forces in the Manbij vicinity and Russian military police began patrols across the Euphrates River. The price of PYD-YPG protection was a capitulation to Assad, allowing for his regime to control the de facto autonomous Kurdish region (which also has minority Sunni Arab, Turkman and Assyrian Christian populations).  That meant relinquishing control of the region’s energy resources and dissolving of the PYD-YPG-led SDF into the Syrian Arab Army and giving up any claims to autonomy or federalism. It also meant de facto recognition of Iranian hegemony over the Assad regime.

Several other proposals have emerged regarding so-called safe-zones. Erdoğan wanted control over the entire international frontier from the Mediterranean coast to the Iraqi Kurdistan frontier to a depth of 32 kilometers. All heavy weapons would be withdrawn, and the zone would be administered by the Turkish military and allied Free Syrian Army jihadist militias. The PYD-YPG asserted that it would administer the safe-zone.

 Another suggestion was to evacuate heavy weapons leaving only light weapons in the possession of the SDF, empowering international groups (e.g., the U.N.) to supervise designated Kurdish, minority Arab and Christian areas in Qamishli, the capital of the predominately Kurdish northeast region.

None of these proposals recognize the significant contributions of the Syrian Kurds in the U.S.-led Global Coalition that has been defeating the Islamic State.  Thus, it is necessary to formulate an alternative that recognizes the valued contributions of Syrian Kurds in that conflict. Further, it is unclear that Kurds and other minorities adhere to the Marxist values of the PKK or the governing PYD-YPG councils. It was initially supported by Assad to manage the Kurdish affairs allowing its forces to fight elsewhere in Syria.  Furthermore, they know that Marxist ideology espoused by the PYD would not be accepted by Kurds. However, it was the best available option for the Kurds that can be remotely controlled by Assad. Most of the alternatives were worse than working within PYD/YPG.

Thus, we suggest a solution that would have the following components:

  • Establish a safe-zone administered by NATO members (notably France and the U.K.) that have been active members of the U.S.- led Coalition and already have air and special units positioned in the area.
  • Form a Kurdistan National Guard to absorb and replace the PYD-YPG-led SDF, free from any control by PKK and Assyrian militias linked to Assad and his allies.  
  • Then withdraw both SDF units and heavy weapons from the safe-zone.
  • Hold an internationally sponsored referendum with foreign observers to maintain fair polling to elect local governing councils and a legislature for the autonomous Kurdish federal region of Syria that stretches from the Iraqi border to the Kurdish mountains to the west of Afrin.
  • Draft and implement a basic constitutional law providing fundamental civil and human rights for the Kurdish majority and protected Arab, Turkic, and Christian minorities.
  • Negotiate a separation agreement with the Damascus government akin to the 2011 Comprehensive Peace Agreement between the Islamic Republic of Sudan and what became the Republic of South Sudan.
  • Develop a five-year investment plan for the Syrian Kurdistan Federal Region zone with international sponsors.
  • Establish diplomatic relations with the geopolitical actors in the region (i.e., Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Russia, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Egypt, and Israel).
  • Develop a regional mutual defense pact modeled on the NATO charter.

Although not an independent entity, the successful neighboring Iraqi Kurdistan region provides a model. It was fostered by the U.S.-led coalition in 1992 that defeated the former Saddam Hussein regime in the First Gulf War that liberated Kuwait, but not Iraq. With its energy resources and democratic political system defended by its Peshmerga, it became the landlocked version of Dubai in the UAE.  It now provides sanctuary for 2 million refugees and protected-minority Christians.

What is not a useful model is the Idlib  safe zone currently under Turkish control, which now is the next hot-bed of Islamic groups like Hayat Tahrir al-Shams that could replace the Islamic State at any moment. al-Qaeda is “moderate” by comparison.  

The overwhelming majority of Kurds in Syria subscribe neither to PKK nor PYD-YPG Marxist ideologies.  They are protecting themselves from the Islamic State and the FSA, and ultimately from Assad, Russia, and Iran.   

The international community must accept the fact that Iraq and Syria are failed states. Kurds and other minorities should be allowed to form federations to create zones of safety, to promote democracy, and to prevent additional refugees from being displaced and radicalized.

To that end, the Kurdistan National Assembly of Syria (KURDNAS) could play a major coalition-building role that would be acceptable to the West, regional countries, and local people.


Sherkoh Abbas is President of the Kurdish National Assembly of Syria (KURDNAS), Jerry Gordon is senior editor of New English Review and co-host of Israel News Talk Radio- Beyond the Matrix and Robert Sklaroff is a physician-activist.