The quintessence: none of the regional and global players want Kurdish self-rule in Northern Syria to survive!
The decisive role is being played by Turkey: In Kobani Ankara got the final say. The Turkish calculus is obvious. If Rojava held on it would serve as a precedence enormously strengthening PKK. The pressure on Ankara to grant substantial autonomy also to its own millions of Kurds would increase massively.
The US, on its part, is pushing Turkey, pillar state for the NATO, to join their alliance against the Islamic State (IS) thus defining the Jihadis to be the main enemy in the regional civil war. The US air campaign is turning Asad into the lesser evil potentially upgrading his regime even into a partner.
This is, however, unacceptable for Turkey’s ruling AKP. For them Asad definitely remains the main enemy. They have linked their fate to toppling their former ally and believe not to be able to afford a step back. Ankara clearly stated that they will not accept weakening the IS without taking on Asad. It is apparent also to them that the “moderate rebels” are not only marginalised, at the end they are a phantom. It was Turkey which helped to destroy the Tahrir-type democratic opposition by driving the spiral of sectarian militarism logically leading to Jihad. (The Syrian conflict has been having a serious reachback on the AKP itself which took a more sectarian and authoritarian profile dismantling the alliance with parts of the liberal middle classes1)
In order not to openly rebuff Washington’s request, Erdogan made it contingent on a buffer and no flight zone on Syrian territory – a highly aggressive project which is not new but which is definitely trying to shift the focus from the IS to Asad as the main target. For doing so Ankara needs the political and ultimately also military support by the US which they do not want to extent.
Since the beginning of the conflict Washington has been reluctant to become directly involved in a war which might be without end. Turkish troops on Arab soil could add a new aspect to the complicated and contradictory configuration of the regional civil war further helping Asad to regain political hold.
The US de facto reconciled with the impossibility to bring down Asad and embraced the project to force his regime into a political settlement. Now it is all about to foment a political and military counterweight able to occupy the vacuum which might open up as a result of degrading the IS by serious aerial campaign. Until now the creation of a western puppet force has proved, however, to be equal to squaring the circle. Any attempt to prop up subservient forces has been ending up in uncontrollable Jihadi hands. Although the impact of sustained US bombardments will doubtlessly be felt on the ground, its translation into the political field is unknown and insecure. Without a strong political operation including regional powers it is doomed to fail. The posture of Ankara to maintain IS and Jihadism as balance against Asad is reflecting these difficulties. On the other hand, however, Turkey cannot totally ignore US interests or even go against them.
Therefore Erdogan’s military advances got mainly political character. Also for the AKP government Turkish soldiers on Syrian soil would entail incalculable troubles:
a) To let die Rojava will severely damage the peace process with Kurds in Turkey. Unrest is programmed and is already setting in. The AKP, however, needs the Kurds to keep the internal opposition in check.
b) In one way or another Kurdishs element will be required for a Syrian coalition co-operating with the US alliance against IS. Though Turkey is trying to weaken the PYD/PKK but therefore cannot allow their total annihilation in Syria.
c) A military intervention would lead to a confrontation with the IS entailing significant repercussions in Turkey itself. The Syrian civil war would be carried into Turkey to a much larger extent than already by now.
d) Already by today the majority of the AKP’s electorate maintains sceptical distance to direct military involvement of Turkey. Troubles within the ruling block will be inevitable in case of an actual invasion.
What can be done?
PYD/PKK first of all are asking for military support. This is understandable as for them it is a struggle for live and death. But no significant power is ready to provide that help. And any imperialist intervention needs to be refused and fought. 2 The heroic armed resistance by the Kurds against a superior enemy is therefore a political signal. Each day they can carry on is causing more political troubles to Turkey.
Main addressee for the question of Syrian Kurds is Turkish society: On one hand full support for a strong Kurdish autonomy in Turkey is needed including and recognising the PKK – and not circumventing them as Erdogan is intending. On the other hand a broad platform for a radical change of Turkish policy towards Syria is required. The goal must be a democratic and supra-sectarian solution and not a replica of Syria’s conflict pattern threatening also to tear Turkey apart. (The Sunni Islamic block led by the AKP on one side; the Alevi Kemalist block with leftist elements led by the CHP on the other side.)
For Europe and Germany the main slogan is to end the retro-imperialist ban on PKK.
Ultimately a perspective for Syria is crucial. Today negotiations are not possible for both sides keep radicalising and go for an exclusively military solution. To simply call upon them to return to the negotiation table is abstract and therefore impotent.
The task is to build a political pole to gather those segments of society ready for a de-escalation of sectarianism and a democratisation comprising a well-tempered dose of sectarian power-sharing. Core of such an attempt will the historic democratic left together with the remnants of the defeated Syrian Tahrir. One flank must be elements of Sunni Islam drawn from the Ulama, Sufi orders and also Political Islamism such as the Muslim Brotherhood or parts of it. The sectarian radicalisation and the drive to Jihadism are devouring them as well. The other flank should be elements of the social block nurturing the regime such as democratic secularists, liberal middle classes, Sunni business elite as well as enlightened parts of the confessional minorities knowing that the sectarian transformation of a regimes is an historic impasse. Put differently: The regularisation of the Shabiha militia into the National Defence Forces (NDF) in return gives way to the unbearable Shabihaisation of the regime itself.
All these enumerated forces to be addresses do exist within Syrian society, though they have lost political representation. Today only those forces holding arms can maintain presence. Furthermore all the regional as well as international players are poised against a democratic and popular project. All the more anti-systemic forces in the west must lend their support to any attempt to build and further a democratic and social opposition pole in Syria.