The United States and Russia have cooperated towards bringing about a ceasefire in Syria but at the same time Washington appears particularly skeptical of the commitment of all parties involved and their willingness to stick by the agreement. In previous days, both President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry highlighted the daunting difficulties of this attempt.
The American leadership, however, has not limited itself to expressing reservations. Instead, projecting the method of “carrot and stick” diplomacy, it went on to indicate that there is no other alternative to a ceasefire that could gradually lead to a political settlement of the Syrian crisis. As it pointed out, if reason does not prevail in reaching a political settlement, chaos and Syria’s division will follow.
Russia and its allies in the Syrian war were recipients of that American warning, reminding them the risks of a total war due to the readiness of Saudi Arabia and Turkey to kick off ground operations in Syria. Yet the other recipient of the American warning was Turkey. Understanding that Ankara is a key player for the maintenance of the ceasefire, the US raised the danger of a Kurdish state at Turkey’s southeastern border.
The cooperation and entente between the United States and Russia for a ceasefire in Syria excludes the fight against ISIS and Al-Nusra, the Syrian branch of al-Qaeda. However, to Ankara’s disappointment, the ceasefire does not exclude the Syrian Kurdish militia of YPD as Turkey wished, leading to a further deterioration of US-Turkish relations. Although YPD is the US’s closest allies in the fight against ISIS and other Islamist terrorists in the region, it is considered by Ankara as a terrorist group with links to the PKK. The quintessence of the friction between Washington and Ankara lies in Turkey’s interest to choke off any prospect of Rojava – the Syrian area that borders southeastern Turkey, where most of Turkey’s Kurdish minority lives – either expanding, growing stronger or obtaining an official autonomous status in the post-war era.
However, Turkey has failed to persuade the international community in general, and the United States in particular, to declare the YPD and its political wing PYD as a terrorist group. It has also failed to gain legitimacy from the international community for its onslaughts against Kurds in Syria, blaming them for the recent terrorist attacks against Turkey.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s administration has come to an impasse in its attempt to avoid what seems to have become unavoidable: the necessary correction of a “historical error,” which for as long as it exists will continue to burden the entire region. This error is depriving the Kurdish population of its right to autonomy and self-determination. However, the correction started with the Kurds in Iraq and continues in an incremental process with the Kurds in Syria.
In this context, the US is once more attempting to block Turkey’s ability to interfere in, and affect, developments related to the Kurds in Syria, as Washington did in the case of the Iraqi Kurds. However, the US and the international community cannot continue to remain silent on the continuous crimes that are being committed against the Kurdish minority in Turkey.
Similarly, Ankara cannot continue playing the game of hide-and-seek in its attempt to avoid a serious discussion on the possibility of transforming the country towards a federal system of governance.
Among other things, Turkey’s federalization would provide the necessary autonomy to the Kurdish minority to exercise its fundamental rights and freedoms, as well allowing it to be defined in new terms. It would also enable the country to move on to the necessary structural and political reforms that would contribute to Turkey’s stability and democratization – fundamental parameters that would facilitate Turkey’s accession to the European Union.
* Melanie Antoniou is a political correspondent for Kathimerini’s Cyprus edition.