A wolf in sheep’s clothing: Turkey sponsored Kurdish card in Syria

An entity with clear ties to Turkey has emerged claiming to represent a segment of Syrian Kurds and calling for the ouster of what it considers to be Kurdish terrorist organizations.

Syrian Kurds typically have been dominated by two sides: the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its armed wing, the People’s Protection Units (YPG); and the Syrian Kurdish National Council (ENKS). The YPG is thought by many to be the Syrian extension of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) of Turkey, which is considered a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States, and others.

But on Feb. 23, the so-called Independent Kurdish Coalition of Syria met in Turkey’s Mediterranean city of Mersin. The coalition defines itself not as a party or an organization, but as a fully independent initiative. Its members include notable politicians, lawyers, writers, academics and religious figures. The group, which had met quietly three times before, held its largest meeting in Turkey at the same time as a potential Turkish operation east of the Euphrates River is being considered.

The coalition readily gives the impression it was created by or is at least strongly supported by Turkey, adorning its meeting hall with Turkish flags and holding its previous meetings in the Syrian town of Afrin, which is under Turkish control.

About 300 people attended the meeting in Turkey. The questions most discussed were: “Who represents the Kurds?” “What are Kurdish interests?” and “Who are their friends and enemies?” The most debated topic was the YPG and its PYD political wing. The new group shares Turkey’s views on this matter and freely describes the PYD and YPG as terrorists.

Coalition President Abdulaziz Temo said Syrian Kurds have been played like cards in hands of other countries.” According to Temo, Syrian Kurds are being squeezed between the capital of the Kurdistan Regional Government in Erbil, and the Qandil Mountains — the main command center of the outlawed PKK.

According to al-Monitor, Temo said the coalition has no problems with Iraq, Iran and Turkey. He believes Damascus is the Kurds’ challenge. He doesn’t hesitate to reveal the group’s close relations with the Turkish state as well.

We have friendly ties with Turkey. We are part of the Syrian opposition [to President Bashar al-Assad] that doesn’t see Turkey as an enemy. Our problem is in Damascus. The solution is there. We want to tell Turkey that we have nothing to do with the PKK/YPG. Turkey has never fought against the Syrian Kurds but against the PKK. Our common enemy with Turkey is the PKK,” he said.

Turkey’s strong support for the new group is beyond doubt. But observers note that to seek a solution in Syria without first finding a solution to Turkey’s own Kurdish dilemma isn’t feasible, especially when everyone agrees that the solution to Turkey’s own Kurdish issue is linked to the Syrian Kurds.

The Independent Kurdish Coalition of Syria insists on a Damascus regime without Assad. This, however, doesn’t mesh with recent reports that Turkey is quietly looking into improving ties with Damascus. That contradiction casts doubt on the new coalition’s ability to achieve a long-term solution.