Another issue is the position of the Kurds in Syria, which will have ramifications in the neighboring countries. Neither Damascus nor Ankara wants a semi-independent Kurdish entity within its own borders. In this respect they share a common interest. Yet in the ongoing conflict between the two countries, the Kurds, particularly with the influence of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) (an armed pan-Kurdist militant organization that has wings in Iran, Turkey, Iraq and Syria aiming to unite in a “larger Kurdistan”) have been an issue for debate.
The Turkish government accuses the Syrian government of sending PKK militants across the border; the Syrian rulers accuse Turkey of using the same border to smuggle arms and anti-government forces to aid in the fight against the Assad regime. Yet they both dread the making of an autonomous Kurdish enclave in Syria that will spread like an epidemic to other Kurdish enclaves.
If the Turkish-Syrian conflict escalates, and the PKK militancy in Turkey increases in tandem, inviting harsher sanctions to quell it, sooner or later we may see an irreversible Kurdish political presence under the leadership of the PKK affecting all Kurdish enclaves in the Middle East.
SANA, a Syrian Arab news agency, published an interview with President Assad on July 6, 2012, in which he addressed the Kurdish issue. It is worth bringing the interview to the reader’s attention to highlight the similarity in the political perspectives of Turkish and Syrian officials.
Question: “The Turkish government is trying … to exploit the PKK issue in order to incite the Turkish people against Syria and say that Syria is using the crisis between Syria and Turkey to support the PKK, which escalated its military operations recently.”
President Assad: “This is not true. Perhaps those thinking this way are used to treachery. They think that others are as treacherous as they are. But when you have turbulence in your country … you become unable to control things completely, and certain groups could move more freely than they used to in normal situations.”
Question: “But [Turkey] is saying that … you are sending [PKK militants into Turkey].”
President Assad: “First, where is the evidence? Second, the PKK has been fighting Turkey for decades; consequently, they don’t need us to send them to do this. When relations between us and the Turkish military and security institutions were good, the PKK used to conduct operations. The only difference is that when you have a neighboring arena with chaos in it, movement becomes easier. This is self-evident.”
Question: “What is your perception of the Kurdish issue, from a regional perspective?”
President Assad: “There is no doubt that this is a complicated region characterized by great cultural diversity. Each cultural component needs to feel that they have a real and significant existence. This is a healthy and natural thing. The problem is that during the past decades there were those who exploited these components for political objectives. They placed these components in opposition to the national interest. [We will not allow] these components to seek separation.”
Question: “In the medium or long term, do you see the possibility of creating a Kurdish state in the region?”
President Assad: “No, this amounts to separation. I said that no one accepts separation. … In such a case, there would be dozens of states, not only a Kurdish state. Then every sect, religion or nationality will seek an independent state. [We don’t] have an interest in this division. We have lived with each other for thousands of years in this region, and there were no problems. These problems evolved recently, after colonial powers started interfering. … If we develop a full consciousness that we must live with each other, the borders drawn by colonial powers will diminish; and maybe in larger countries such borders will no longer be important. Now we live in our existing states. Maybe in the future we’ll unite in larger countries, countries which embrace all these cultures on an equal basis.”
It is surprising to see the similarities in political perspective between the rulers of Turkey and Syria and their perception of the Kurdish issue. How did they become so inimical?