Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has come out all guns blazing after Syrian President Bashar al-Assad quietly concluded a deal that handed the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Party control of key areas in the northeast. This raises prospects for Ankara’s worst nightmare: A semi-autonomous region coalescing with Kurds in Iraq, which turns the Turkish maxim of “zero problems with our neighbors” on its head.
Turkish foreign policy, codified by Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, used to be known in shorthand as “zero problems with our neighbors“. When Turkey started calling for regime change in Syria, it turned into “a major problem with one of our neighbors” (even tough Davutoglu himself admitted on the record the policy change failed).
Now, in yet another twist, it’s becoming “all sorts of problems with two of our neighbors“. Enter – inevitably – Ankara’s ultimate taboo; the Kurdish question.
Ankara used to routinely chase and bomb Kurdish PKK guerrillas crossing from Anatolia to Iraqi Kurdistan. Now it may be positioning itself to do the same in Syrian Kurdistan.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan came out all guns blazing on Turkish TV; “We will not allow a terrorist group to establish camps in northern Syria and threaten Turkey.”
He was referring to the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Party (PYD) – affiliated with the PKK; after a quiet deal with the Assad regime in Damascus, the PYD is now in control of key areas in northeast Syria.
So Ankara may provide logistics to tens of thousands of Syria’s NATO “rebels” – which include plenty of hardcore Sunni Arab “insurgents” formerly known as terrorists; but as long as Syrian Kurds – which are part of the Syrian opposition – demonstrate some independence, they immediately revert to being considered “terrorists“.
It’s all conditioned by Ankara’s immediate nightmare; the prospect of a semiautonomous Syrian Kurdistan very closely linked to Iraqi Kurdistan.
Follow the oil
This Swedish report  contains arguably the best breakdown of the hyper-fragmented Syrian opposition. The “rebels” are dominated by the exile-heavy Syrian National Council (SNC) and its Hydra-style militias, the over 100 gangs that compose the Not Exactly Free Syrian Army (FSA).
But there are many other parties as well, including socialists; Marxists; secular nationalists; Islamists; the Kurdish National Council (KNC) – an 11-party coalition very close to the Iraqi Kurdistan government; and the PYD.
The KNC and the PYD may bicker about everything else, but basically agree on the essential; the civil war in Syria shall not penetrate Syria Kurdistan; after all, when it comes to the nitty gritty, they are neither pro-Assad nor pro-opposition; they favor Kurdish interests. The agreement was sealed under the auspices of their cousins – the Iraqi Kurds. And it explains why they are now in full control of a de facto Kurdish enclave in northeast Syria.
As much as Turkish paranoia may apply, it’s a long and winding road from a semi-autonomous area to an independent Kurdistan agglutinating Kurds in both Syria and Iraq – not to mention, in the long run, Turkish Kurds. Yet half of a possible, future, independent Kurdistan would indeed be Turkish. Ankara’s nightmare in progress is that the closer Iraqi and Syrian Kurdistan get, the merrier the agitation among Turkish Kurds in Anatolia.
Priorities though divert; the bottom line for Iraqi Kurds is independence from Baghdad. After all; they have loads of oil. On the other hand Syria Kurdistan has none. This means, crucially, no role in regional Pipelineistan.
This concerns above all two strategic oil and gas pipelines from Kirkuk to Ceyhan – a direct deal between Ankara and the Iraqi Kurds which in theory bypasses Baghdad.
Well, not really. As Baghdad has made it clear, there’s no way these pipelines will be operative without the central government having its sizeable cut; after all it pays for 95% of the budget of Iraqi Kurdistan.
Show me your terrorist ID
Iraqi Kurdistan President Massoud Barzani told al-Jazeera  that yes – they are training Syrian Kurds who defected from the Syrian Army to defend their de facto enclave. It was Barzani who supervised the key deal sealed in Irbil on July 11 that led to Assad forces retreating from Syrian Kurdistan.
What is being described as “liberated cities”  is now being “jointly ruled” by the PYD and the KNC. They have formed what is known as a Supreme Kurdish Body.
One can never underestimate the Kurdish capacity to shoot themselves in the foot (and elsewhere). Yet one can also imagine all this cross-country Kurdish frenzy terrifying quite a few souls in Istanbul and Ankara. This  columnist for the daily newspaper Hurriyet got it right; “Arabs are fighting, Kurds are winning.” The Kurdish Spring is at hand. And it is already hitting Turkey’s borders.
Davutoglu must have seen it coming; when a formerly “zero problem” foreign policy evolves into housing the weaponized opposition to a neighboring government, you’re bound to be in trouble.
Especially when you start itching to kill “terrorists” living in your neighbor’s territory – even though your Western allies may view them as “freedom fighters“. Meanwhile you actively support Salafi-jihadis – “insurgents” formerly known as terrorists – back and forth across your borders.
An increasingly erratic Erdogan has invoked a “natural right”  to fight “terrorists“. But first they must produce an ID; if they are Sunni Arab, they get away with it. If they are Kurdish, they eat lead.
 “Divided they stand: An Overview of Syria’s political opposition factions,” by Aron Lund, Foundation for European Progressive Studies / Olof Palme International Center.
 “Iraq’s Kurdistan Peshmerga forces will be called into Syria when needed, PYD Leader says,” Kurd Net, July 26, 2012.
 “The Arab Spring has transformed into the Kurdish Spring,” Hurriyet Daily News, July 27 2012.