Developments in the ‘Kurdish neighbourhood’, that is, the centre of the Middle East, have been relatively ‘slow and calm’ on the eve of the US elections – at least, this was how they have been reflected in international public opinion. While Joe Biden made his way towards the White House, negotiations based on the ‘Kurdish issue’ – which have always been the precursor of serious political and military storms – began to be discussed.
Actions and ‘operations’ in Turkey, however, that were aimed at annihilating democratic forces and the Kurds, had been intensifying. The occupation of South Kurdistan was envisioned whilst the military operations against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) guerrillas were being conducted across a broader landscape.
The occupation of South Kurdistan as well as the besieging of the PKK were key objectives. However, the Turkish government and its armed forces could not achieve these desired results despite continued attacks on Rojava and initiatives aimed at destroying all the achievements of the Kurds using all powers at their disposal. The Kurds who resisted and the PKK frustrated these plans of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who had invested significantly in trying to achieve them before November 2020.
Turkey’s government, led by Erdoğan, ‘played’ US President Donald Trump in the run-up to the US presidential elections and on the eve of possibly a new conjuncture that threatened to end Trump’s political presidential career. Turkey, during this time, launched a new ‘siege’ campaign together with the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the regional powers. It sought to achieve the surrender of the PKK. Therefore, messages of Ankara were forwarded to Kandil. According to Ankara, the PKK had to end the armed struggle it carried out in Turkey and North Kurdistan. Moreover, Turkey stated it had the financial power to continue a century long war against the PKK. As a consequence of these messages, some considered that Turkey might be at the edge of a cliff with Erdoğan in charge. However, these concerns were possibly deceptive, argued some commentators.
Representatives of international powers that agree with Turkey – a member state of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) – regarding its position and stance against the PKK, took the road to Kandil as well. They all became players in a game of ‘bluff’, with Turkey and its supporters as key players. For the PKK, such ‘threats’ in such ‘games’ did not mean much in the mountains. The PKK, which has reached an advanced political level, knows very well that Turkey has been standing at the edge of a cliff for some time.
Hulusi Akar and General Yaşar Güler’s official visit to Iraq
Whilst Biden made his way towards the White House, key developments in the region began to take place. Turkey’s Defence Minister Hulusi Akar and the commander of the Turkish Armed Forces (TAF), General Yaşar Güler, conducted an official visit to Iraq. They held nine official meetings in 36 hours with important figures, including the leaders of Iraq’s central and regional governments.
Akar defined these meetings as “a fertile dialogue process which may result in significant results”. At the centre of those meetings, the plan to include Iraq in the equation as a new oppressive factor of the PKK was discussed. Turkey’s message was that it is ready to facilitate any required bribes to Iraq to acheive these ends.
The discussions held with the Kurdistan regional administration were aimed at intervening with “some works” that have not been accomplished as yet. The KDP could not achieve its mission to ‘wage a war with the PKK’ within the specified time period initially planned. But Turkey needs this ‘Kurdish civil war’ at any cost. The KDP had made some attempts to realise this, with the assurance of the American diplomat Jim Jeffrey. However, public opinion was against this and the commonsense approach of the PKK – seeking dialogue rather than readily engaging in the civil war – has frustrated this initiative. This ‘mission unaccomplished’ has been revisited and evaluated and the new meetings Turkish representatives have had in recent days have sought to take more active steps in addressing this issue. Decisions arising from these assessments have resulted in the operation targeting a region including Rojava’s Derik town and Sinjar has once again become a key ‘agenda’ item.
Meetings between Damascus and Ankara, and Russia’s role in the region
There have also been meetings between Damascus and Ankara over the ‘Kurdish issue’, with Russia acting in ‘conciliatory’ mode. Hakan Fidan, the key person who chairs the National Intelligence Organization (MIT), and who is a key ‘actor’ in determining the foreign politics of Turkey as well as its ‘foreign intervention and occupation’ of areas, took part in the meetings in Damascus. According to some reports, Russia’s role was discussed and as a result of these meetings, new tensions in the region have arisen.
Lands (such as Ain Issa, which Russia wishes to be transferred to the control of the Syrian government) and oil that Russia demanded provocatively from the Autonomous Administration of North East Syria (AANES) and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) as a ‘bribe’ were reportedly agenda items that were discussed during these meetings. The SDF and AANES were reportedly expected to provide – as discussed in the meetings – a share of oil revenue to Russia from the oil reserves that were being exploited and expected to leave Ain Issa to the Syrian government. The SDF responded this reported threat by stating that it would be “ready for anything”.
Reportedly, an outcome of the meetings was that Turkey was supposed to demonstrate the power at its disposal to its targeted groups. Reportedly, this resulted in gangs that were affiliated to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) being activated and used in new military offensives against targeted regions such as Ain Issa. The SDG has resisted these attacks and dealt a crushing blow to these gangs and the powers sponsoring them directly and/or indirectly.
Russia’s involvement has also been significant. It has launched provocative attacks in the regions controlled by AANES – and protected by the SDF – as a result of its involvement with the Syrian regime and its reported partnership with Turkey. Together with these assaults targeting the stability of the region, the attacks have particularly affected civilians living in the towns along the border with Turkey. Whilst civilians living in the towns of Tal Rifaat, Jarabulus, Manbij, Kobanê, Gre Spi (Tell Abyad) and Ain Issa, for example, have been killed due to the attacks of Turkey and Ankara-backed and sponsored gangs, MIT and the Syrian regime have reportedly activated secret cells to target people and areas in the South.
Whilst the real purpose of the attacks was to break the resistance and power of the SDF, the other purpose was to create an unstable region and weaken the Rojava revolution, which is determined to attain ‘recognized’ status for AANES within the international community. However, these attacks have not attained their objectives.
How will the new US Biden administration act?
One waits to see how the new US Biden administration will react to all these plans and strategies. Those currently in power in Turkey believe that if they can integrate these plans and agendas into the new US administration’s policies for the region, they will be able to destroy the achievements and initiatives of AANES as well as those of the PKK. AANES and the PKK, of course, stand opposed to these types of plans, political ‘games’ and initiatives and will no doubt act to defend themselves if attacked.