Why is Kobani Dependent on the USA?

After the establishment of direct contact between USA and PYD and the subsequent delivery of US weapons to PYD fighters, in the following discussions on imperialism and its role in the region, one can notice an attempt to legitimize this collaboration under the guise of “necessity” . However, it is clear that political choices made by the Kurdish leadership in Turkey and Syria have been the determinant factor in reaching the current state of affairs with USA.

Last June, after taking control of Mosul, militants of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), later named as Islamic State, released a photo of a bulldozer tearing down the Syria-Iraq border with the message “We declare the end of the Sykes-Picot”. The Sykes-Picot was a secret agreement signed between England and France in 1916 on divvying up the Middle East. However, as USA later became the dominant force within the century, Sykes-Picot turned into a restraining factor after the Cold War.

Preemptive shot against the “Coalition of the Crusaders”

There have been various speculations on why ISIS targeted Kobani (Ayn al-Arab), in Aleppo, which is in the control of the PKK-linked People’s Protection Units (YPG) in Syria. Some claimed that ISIS wanted to control a new border gate while others argued that ISIS considered Kobani as one of the weakest targets, and wanted to solidify their image of “invincibility” by adding YPG to the list of groups they defeated. However, in their publication, Dabiq, it was mentioned that the real reason behind ISIS targeting Kobani was the collaboration of reason why targeting Kobani to the Democratic Union Party (PYD) being willing to join the anti-ISIS “Coalition of the Crusaders” led by the USA. In fact, in Afrin district of north-western Aleppo, only one day after Obama’s “We can reach forth to Syria as well” speech on September 11, the YPG established a command center, “Euphrates Volcano”, working with the jihadist armed groups -although the PYD leader Salih Muslim describes them as secularists. In the statement released about the command center, it was mentioned that all these groups had come together in the war against ISIS. Just as the American authorities speaking to the Foreign Policy regarded the command center as a sign for PYD’s aligning itself with U.S. politics, it would later be revealed that the former al-Nusra-linked group, Raqqa Revolutionaries’ Brigade, which is a constituent of the operation room, had received arms and training from the USA in connection with the “allies on the ground” strategy against ISIS. In other words, the war in Kobani didn’t actually compel the PYD to knock on the USA’s door. On the contrary, it was a result of the PYD’s efforts to cooperate with the USA in Syria.

Why is Kobani dependent on the USA?

Why didn’t Kobani have arms to stand out against heavy weapons of ISIS in such a geography where access to arms is not that difficult? And why did the YPG end up getting to the point of needing the help of the USA? Since 2012, as YPG and RGP have been controlling regions in northern Syria, Rojava is under the third major jihadist attack. The YPG had successfully repelled the first attacks in 2012, had also managed to repel the second wave of attacks, which was mainly organised by AKP of Turkey. However, Turkey’s attempt to strangle Rojava at the hands of the jihadist groups it supported have never pushed the YPG and PYD into an alliance with the Syrian government completely. Moreover, the Kurdish forces started to give stronger signals for collaboration with the jihadists under Turkey’s wings as soon as the Syrian government started showing signs of weakness. For example, when the last big wave of imperialist armament started in the spring of 2013, the fact that the YPG released Sheikh Maqsood quarter in Aleppo, which was under their own control, to the jihadist groups was actually simultaneous with the speculations of the type “Assad is likely to be overthrown this time”. Also, the YPG and PYD’s “tendency to oscillate towards the opposition front when the Syrian Government showed signs of weakness” resulted in mistrust in the countries such as Russia and Iran which could have provided weapons. Therefore, in the fall of 2014, YPG was deprived of weapons supplies unlike in 2012 and 2013 during the jihadists’ attacks against Rojava.

Nevertheless, it is not clear how much this indecisive situation was caused by the Kurdish entities in Syria. This ambivalent attitude was rather due to the “peace process” in Turkey. In fact, the launching of peace process which also coincided with the period of  the establishment of the cantons, the Turkish Foreign Affairs officials went so far to advise Salih Muslim to “obey Imrali and not Qandil (PKK)”. Until the siege of Kobani, it is obvious that in interpreting the regional politics, the Kurdish politicians in Turkey and Syria have differences. While the Kurdish movement in Turkey has been making declarations expressing their willingness for further collaboration with Western countries on the Syrian issue, the PYD has never gone so far as to break up the ties with the Syrian government. In fact, the ties between the PYD and Damascus administration are stronger than they are thought to be. The Jazira Canton, which the YPG has kept under control since 2012, holds rich oil fields and the only customer of this oil is the Damascus administration. The PYD seems not to desist from this important source of income.

Who is driving the bulldozer?

Let’s start with the following: First of all, when the siege of Kobani started, the USA, Turkey and the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government (IKRG) leader Masoud Barzani did nothing but watch ISIS forces advancing. Until October 6th, the date which ISIS managed to enter the city from the east and southeast after capturing the whole rural land in Kobani, the number of air strikes which aimed at ISIS targets in the city since September 27 had only been symbolic. At the same time, U.S. commanders were stating that airstrikes would not be sufficient to liberate the city from ISIS. When US Secretary of State, John Kerry said “Protecting Kobani is not our main strategic objective”, Turkey stated “PYD and ISIS are the same for us”. By claiming that the Irbil government financed the planes striking Kobani, Barzani’s media was trying to make the Kurdish feel good. As soon as YPG got military aid from the USA, Ankara and Irbil started discussing the issue of Peshmerga going to Kobani, the military officers in Washigton put an end to their dark prophecies on Kobani. The aid on October 20 was a direct consequence of the meeting between Muslim and Rubienstein, the Ambassador of United Stated to Syria. Immediately after this date, Muslim went to Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government and tried to negotiate on governing Rojava with the Kurdish National Council in Syria which is under Barzani’s patronage. There are claims that during the meetings in Duhok, PYD changed its attitude on the use of the word “canton” which Barzani did not like. Barzani is also organizing meetings with Turkey fort the deployment of Peshmerga which PYD had earlier been against. Although Barzani got the best deal in the region, the Kurdish movement in Turkey seems to be in festive air after the US aid. The festive air I mention does not result from the US weapons which saved Kobani, but because the USA took the Kurdish movement into account. That the Kurdish mentions the latest military situation in Kobani and the importance of military aid in this crucial point demonstrates this fact.

As the expansion of ISIS in Syria and Iraq “evaporates the border” between these two countries, new bridges have been built between the Kurdish politicians from the three countries. While the PKK acts jointly with the Peshmerga, the Kurdish movement in Syria is stepping back on certain topics which were a source of frustration for Barzani, having pushed the relationship to a deadlock. This also enabled the USA to take up a key position in its strategy to reunite the Kurdish states in Iraq and Syria and to assign Turkey with the guardian role for the oil. It is true that the USA was frustrated with Turkey when it wanted possession instead of guardianship; however, the bigger truth is that by means of this, the AKP also fulfilled a significant duty for moving forward the US plans. This duty is to perpetuate the pressure on the Syrian Army in order for the Kurdish state under Barzani to reach over to Syria. This way, as the main source of the pressure against the Syrian government,  AKP also maintains the reason for supporting and controlling the jihadist groups.

Ali Beysülen writes for the Turkish weekly magazine soL.