Turkey should be alarmed by PYD's declaration, experts say

A militant of the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) stands guard near the Syrian-Iraqi border in this Oct. 31, 2012 file photo.

Ankara should be alarmed by a declaration from the Democratic Union Party (PYD), a political offshoot of the terrorist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in Syria, announcing that it will declare its autonomy in Syria's northern region, experts say, as this development at Turkey's southern border may pose a huge security problem.
The PYD has been fighting against opposition fighters in northern Syria for months in an effort to gain an advantage and declare autonomy in a nation rocked by a war between President Bashar al-Assad's regime forces and opposition groups.
Syria's Kurds have come closer to their aspiration for autonomy now that al-Assad's forces have left the country's north to Kurdish militants. Although many Kurds say they are distancing themselves from both sides because they do not want to be included in violence, some groups, like the PYD, are thought to be collaborating with al-Assad's regime. Opposition forces have accused Kurds of taking sides with al-Assad's forces.
With these developments on the ground, the PYD's declaration of autonomy, which will go into effect on July 19, can bring great risks for Turkey, which is already suffering from a decades-old terrorism problem and has been witness to severe clashes between the PKK and the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK). In a bid to solve the terrorism problem, the Turkish government recently launched a settlement process with the PKK, yet the process is still in its early phases with PKK terrorists starting to leave Turkey.
Dr. Nihat Ali Özcan, a specialist on the PKK, says the establishment of a Kurdish autonomous region in northern Syria is not an unexpected development as the PYD has been working for this political end since the beginning of the Syrian uprising.
According to media reports, the PYD has received support for the autonomous region plan from some Kurdish politicians in Syria. If the PYD succeeds in establishing an autonomous region, the group is expecting to hold elections in three months and rule over the Kurdish region with the new administration. The PYD forces have been holding talks with different political parties, belief groups and representatives of nongovernmental organizations in an effort to determine potential figures for the new government it will soon establish.
The declaration was announced by a high-ranking PYD official, Aldar Khalil, who said the group's plan for autonomy will be put into effect in all cities and villages “freed” by the group. “We believe the Syrian Kurdish regions should be controlled by Kurdish parties. Therefore, we have prepared a plan which we will be able to be set into motion in all villages and cites. The control of all regions will then be decided in a democratic election after three months,” Khalil told the pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat.
According to Sedat Laçiner, rector of Çanakkale 18 Mart University and an expert on the Middle East, the PKK and al-Assad's regime have agreed on the establishment of the Kurdish autonomous region, a development which not only troubles Turkey but also the Syrian opposition. Laçiner speculates that if al-Assad is included in Syria's future, Turkey might still be dealing with a terrorism problem -- this time with terrorist groups residing to its south. Al-Assad and Iran might continue to use the PKK and its offshoot groups to threaten Turkey's security, Laçiner notes.
Özcan says that, failing joint efforts to depose him, if al-Assad stays in power he will continue his alliance with the PYD just to be able to play the terrorism card against Turkey. Ankara and Damascus, two neighbors that once enjoyed good relations, cut their ties after al-Assad launched a war against his own people, who were rebelling in opposition to his rule and Baathist policies.
Although the PYD has been given support from Kurdish parties for its autonomy plans, the militant group was not able to collaborate with Iraqi Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani to that end. The PYD and Barzani have long been at odds. Recently, Barzani warned the PYD against declaring itself as the representative of the Kurdish population in Syria, a move that has deepened tension between Barzani's Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and the PYD.
Laçiner says that an autonomous Kurdish region in northern Syria is not only a threat to Turkey but could plunge Syrian Kurds into a civil war against each other.
On the other hand, for Birol Akgün, a specialist from the Institute of Strategic Thinking (SDE), an autonomous Kurdish region is not a threat to Ankara. On the contrary, Turkey might benefit from an established autonomous region in its south, as this will decrease the risk of spillover from Syria, he says. The Kurdish autonomous region could function as a “buffer zone” for Turkey, according to Akgün.

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