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by
Jonathan Spyer

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January 17, 2013 - 12:00 am
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Turkey is currently deeply concerned by the emergence of an enclave in northeast Syria which is dominated by the PYD, the franchise of the PKK among the Syrian Kurds. The Turks are doing their utmost to enfeeble and impoverish this new Kurdish autonomous area. Evidence has emerged of Turkish support for Islamist elements among the Syrian rebels — including the al-Qaeda linked Jabhat al-Nusra group — who have clashed with PYD fighters on the edges of the Kurdish enclave.

In addition, Ankara has made use of its flourishing relationship with Massoud Barzani — head of the more established autonomous Kurdish area in northern Iraq — to secure the closing of the borders between this area and the newly established Syrian Kurdish autonomous zone.

Barzani needs Ankara’s support in his face-off with the government of Nouri al-Maliki in Baghdad. Against this background, he is evidently unable to refuse Ankara’s request regarding the border, though this means mid-winter hardship for Kurdish residents of northeast Syria.

So there are now Kurdish autonomous zones in both Syria and Iraq, stretching along a massive border with Turkey. The Syrian zone is controlled by elements close to the anti-Turkish insurgents of the PKK, and in the Iraqi zone, the PKK also operates from the border area with the tacit acceptance of Barzani.

Ankara has every incentive to try to neutralize the problem.

Diplomacy and political processes form part of its effort to do so. But since Ankara is unlikely to offer anything more substantial than an amnesty for PKK members in return for their disarmament, greater powers for local authorities, and a liberalization in policy toward education in the Kurdish language, Kurdish ambitions can probably not be contained within this framework.

Erdogan wants to commence a political process vis a vis the Kurds before the issue transcends boundaries which he can control. Ankara’s overtures are an indication of how far the Kurds have come, and how much the region is changing.

The murders in Paris may well also be a harbinger of things to come, as powerful regional forces move to disrupt and stall Kurdish gains by making use of familiar, brutal means.

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Jonathan Spyer is a senior research fellow at the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center, and a fellow at the Middle East Forum. He is the author of The Transforming Fire: The Rise of the Israel-Islamist Conflict (Continuum, 2011).
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