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March 17, 2016

GLOBAL IMPACT | The Kurdish Federal Region

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This Wednesday, representatives from the Democratic Union Party (also known as PYD) announced their intentions to declare a federal region in Northern Syria. This news came as the UN Peace Talks over Syria continued, and it is impactful because it may pose negative repercussions on the current ceasefire and diplomatic talks in Geneva. More specifically, it may bode more issues for  an already embattled Turkey.

Turkey has had high tensions with the Kurds ever since its establishment as a republic in 1923. There have been a variety of massacres or injustices committed against the Kurdish people in Turkey and this past, coupled with new problems arising from the Syrian Civil War, has led often to violence between the two groups in recent years. During the recent siege of Kobani, many Kurds protested in Turkey over the lack of Turkish assistance to the Kurdish fighters in neighboring Kobani. The Turkish government responded to these protests with tear gas and live fire.

It doesn’t end there. Last month, a Kurdish extremist group took credit for an act of terror on Turkish soil. This past weekend, a bombing in Ankara that killed 37 and left at least 120 wounded has been possibly linked to Kurdish groups by the Turkish government. Despite no official claimant to the attack as of yet, the Turkish government has enacted curfew in Southern Turkey, where a large proportion of the Kurdish population resides.

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So, unsurprisingly, this announcement by the PYD has been rejected by both the Syrian representatives (who do not wish to lose any territory) and the Turkish representatives at Geneva. Moreover, this announcement is almost entirely antithetical to Turkish foreign policy and likely will never be supported by Turkey unless there are some serious benefits in it for them. Ostensibly, Turkey has stated that this announcement is not acceptable because it does not support any final resolution resulting in Syria losing territory: territorial integrity is essential for a lasting peace. In reality, they are probably worried about what the domino effect allowing this partition of Syria could lead to. There are large pockets of Kurds spread throughout Northern Syria and if the idea of secession takes hold in those regions, Turkey’s fears of an independent Kurdish state will be realized.

This announcement threatens to destabilize the currently ongoing peace talks if the PYD is able to gain international credibility. For now, the main argument posed by the opposition to this announcement has been that, since the PYD is not even at the negotiating table, their opinion does not matter and, frankly, is unacceptable. This claim is largely true, since a party that isn’t even at the negotiating table cannot make much of an impact. However,  if the Kurds are able to get backing from major international powers such as the United States and Russia, they would gain more legitimacy in the debate for Kurdish independence. When asked, the Russian Foreign Minister suggested that they would be open to Kurdish independence – a troublesome sign for Turkey – if it was in the wills of the Syrian people.

Given past tensions and recent violence, credibility for the PYD also bodes trouble at home for Turkey. With Turkey continuing to violate the ceasefire as it shells PYD territory (since it has deemed most foreign Kurdish groups as terror organizations that should be grouped with ISIS), the chance of further terrorist attacks and protests will only go up. Given the authoritarian nature of Turkey’s government with its frequent blocking of social media and other infringements on standard liberties, I fear that further strife at home will only lead to a quickening in the decline of what was once the most stable nation in the Middle East.

Pulkit Kashyap is a sophomore CS & Economics double major in the College of Arts and Sciences. Pulkit loves to watch superhero tv shows, read books on just about anything and swim. Global Impact appears on Wednesdays this semester. He can be reached at pk374@cornell.edu

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