Turkey warns U.S., Russia against supporting Syrian Kurds

Turkish prime minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, referring the Syrian Kurdish forces, earlier today said that Turkey cannot accept “cooperation with terrorist organizations,” as Turkey summoned the U.S. and Russian ambassadors to Turkey to express Turkish displeasure with the United States and Russia supporting Kurdish groups fighting ISIS.

Davutoğlu, has warned the United States and Russia against “unacceptable” military and political support for Syrian Kurdish forces fighting Islamic State in Syria.

In televised comments, Davutoğlu said: “We have a clear position. That position has been conveyed to the United States and the Russian Federation. Turkey cannot accept any cooperation with terrorist organizations which have waged war against it.”

A Turkish foreign ministry official said the U.S. and Russian ambassadors were told on Tuesday “to convey Turkey’s views” about the Democratic Union party (PYD), the main Kurdish group in Syria. “Necessary warnings were issued,” the official added.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Turkey regards the PYD, the Syrian offshoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), as a terrorist organization. The PKK itself has been designated a terrorist organization by the United States and the EU.

Between 1982 and 2012, the PKK, the main Kurdish movement supporting the independence of the Kurds in Turkey, led a bloody campaign of violence against the Turkish government, a campaign in which more than 40,000 Turks, most of them civilians, were killed.

The PKK leader, Abdullah Öcalan, is serving a life sentence in a Turkish jail.

In line with the new U.S. strategy in Syria, U.S.-led coalition forces over the last three days have airdropped arms and ammunition to anti-ISIS rebels in northern Syria. The Pentagon has not identified the groups receiving the new military supplies, but the United States had already been supplying military assistance to the Syrian Kurds even before the new policy was announced.

Russia’s main goal in Syria is not to fight ISIS, but rather to prop-up the regime of Bashar al-Assad by attacking non-ISIS rebel forces. The Syrian Kurds were loyal supporters of the Assad regime since Hafez al-Assad, Bashar’s father, took over power in Syria in a coup in 1970. Until 1998, thePKK had its headquarters in Damascus, and the PYD, the main Kurdish political movement in the Kurdish areas of Syria, enjoyed freedom not accorded to other political movements in Assad’s Syria.

As has been the case with the Iraqi Kurds, the Syrian Kurds have proven themselves to be the most effective fighters against ISIS.

The United States is facing a problem in Syria which Russia does not face.

All the rebel groups in Syria are interested in toppling the Assad regime as much – and some of them, at least in the short run, even more so – as they are interested in fighting ISIS. The U.S. strategy in Syria has so far been a failure because armed Sunni groups are not going to fight the Sunni fundamentalist ISIS on behalf of an Alawite-Shi’a Assad regime. Many anti-regime rebel groups — and countries supporting them, such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf States – refused to sigh-up to the U.S. strategy of fighting ISIS unless such a fight would also include a sustained military effort to replace the minority Alawite regime with a majority Sunni regime in Syria.

The Kurds are Sunni, but they are an ethnic minority which has not always fared well under Sunni regimes in the region. Moreover, the Syrian Kurds’ support for the independence aspirations of the Turkish Kurds has been another source of tensions between Syrian (and Iraqi) Kurds and Syrian (and Iraqi) Sunnis, who support the Sunni government of Turkey.

Russia can offer the Syrian Kurds more open support than the United States can, even if such support means that the Kurds would be more effective in fighting Isis, a goal which is not at the top of Russia’s priorities in Syria – in the knowledge that the Syrian Kurds are not likely to turn their guns on Assad.

Thus, it was not a surprise when news emerged last week that a top Russian official held talks with the PYD leader, Salih Muslim, to discuss the fight against ISIS.

Turkey’s military actions in Syria are a mirror image of Russia’s military actions there. Russia says it is “fighting terrorism” in Syria, but more than 90 percent of its bombing attacks have targeted moderate, non-ISIS Syrian rebels, some of them backed by the United States.

Turkey is also waging a “war on terror” in Syria, but the overwhelming majority of its airstrikes have targeted PKK and PYD targets in the Kurdish region of Syria, not ISIS targets.

Davutoğlu said on Wednesday that there was an “organic bond” between the PKK and the PYD. “We know that some of those who fled from [Turkish] operations against the PKK in northern Iraq joined the ranks of the PYD in Syria. We have a clear stance against terrorist organizations which waged a war against Turkey. We have the same attitude against their affiliates,” Davutoğlu said.

He warned the United States and its Western and regional allies against any cooperation with the PYD. “Just as the United States and other friendly allies fight against al-Qaeda linked groups, Turkey is determined to fight against the PKK and its affiliates.”

The prime minister also warned that nobody could guarantee that the ammunitions provided for Syrian Kurdish groups would not end up in Turkey. “We will never allow a weapons stockpile in Syria to be inserted into Turkey,” he added.

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