A new report by the European Council on Foreign Relations calls on Europe to prioritise diplomatic support for peace between Turkey and the Kurds as a pre-requisite for a successful strategy against Islamic State (IS).
The report, ‘Turkey, the Kurds and the fight against Islamic State, written by Kurdish analyst Cale Salih, was released amidst escalating violence between Turkey and Kurdish political grouping the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, ahead of new Turkish parliamentary elections later this year.
“The recent flare up between Turkey and the PKK now threatens to deepen the strife engulfing the region, seriously complicating European efforts to promote some measure of stability and fight IS,” Salih said.
In the report, Salih asserts that while Turkish cooperation is undeniably valuable for the anti-IS coalition, a policy that traded participation against IS for the breakdown of the PKK-Turkey peace process would risk the spill-over of that conflict into northern Syria.
“Europe faces a tricky balancing act. To combat IS in Syria, Europe needs Turkish partnership, yet the YPG [People’s Protection Units, affiliated to the PKK] has proven to be an effective ‘boots-on-the-ground’ partner and complement to the anti-IS coalition’s airstrikes in northern Syria,” Salih said.
Salih calls for European diplomatic attention to support the revival of the Turkey-PKK peace process, and greater political engagement with the PYD and conditional support to the YPG in the areas it already controls.
“Europe must, therefore, pursue a more active policy that recognises that both Turkey and the Kurds are essential to progress against IS. It should recognise the Turkey-PKK peace process as a matter that directly affects its own interests in the region, including pulling together a coordinated and effective fight against IS,” she added.
But she also said stronger backing for the PYD/YPG should be tied to conditions that dissuade the YPG from making unilateral advances into additional territories that are not predominately Kurdish, excluding FSA-affiliated partners from meaningful decision-making roles, and encourage the PYD to share power with other Kurdish parties, Arabs, and other local ethnic groups.