International agreements contrary to Kurdish aspirations

12 m.   |  2019-11-01

Author: Nairi Hokhikyan

On October 9, 2019 the Turks began to implement the Adana agreement which was already planned by the Turkish-Syrian governments in 1998, but was delayed because of several geopolitical and regional issues. The Adana Agreement, according to the Turkish and Syrian authorities is a joint fighting strategy against “Kurdish terrorism” and to prevent the increase of Kurdish settlements next to their borders.

Turkish military operations against Kurds were officially banned by US mediation on October 18, 2019 and also by Russia's mediation on October 22, 2019. The international community called it a great achievement and avoidance of what could have been a major humanitarian catastrophe against the Kurds.

The Kurds in the Middle East

K urdish tribes began to settle in the territory of modern Syria since the 6th century, however, they never set up a permanent residence, because they were engaged in cattle-breeding, they regularly moved in search of pasture. The Kurds finally settled in northern Syria in the late 19th century.

Although the Kurds had problems with the Syrian Government on occasions, there were no clashes and atrocities committed until 1957, when Osman Sabri and Daham Miro, the local Kurdish leaders founded the “Kurdistan Democratic Party of Syria”. Syrian Government didn’t accept the name “Kurdistan”, which later became the reason for the clashes between authorities and the Kurds striving for independence in the region.

Turkey Kurdish settlements Iraq Syria

Kurdish aspirations for independence and the actions by the Syrian authorities continued up until 2004, when massive clashes occurred at the meeting of Kurdish and Arab football clubs in Qamishli city stadium on March 12. The Kurds raised the Independent flag of Kurdistan, after which the Syrian army entered the city killing 65 Kurds in street battles with a 160 activists forced to leave Syria after the incident [1].

Dissatisfied with the rule of Bashar Assad, the American and European governments and organizations began generously helping the Syrian Kurds, financial sponsors “appeared” for Kurdish political organizations, who were running a campaign for the establishment of both the “Greater Kurdistan”, and “Syrian Kurdistan” (or as it is called by the Kurds “Rojava”).

1998 Turkey-Syrian Adana Agreement

T he success of Syrian and Iraqi Kurds has worried Turkey for a long time now, who was fighting against 12-16 mil. Kurds in its own country.  Predicting and calculating the Kurdish independent aspirations, Turkish government offered Syria a deal to sign the Adana Agreement in 1998 [2], according to which Kurdish armed and political forces should be called terrorist in nature. The important points of the agreement are presented below:

  • Syria will not allow any kind of activity against Turkey’s security and stability in its territory,
  • Syria will not allow the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) to carry out activity in its territory, which was threatening Turkey’s security. The sale of arms and ammunition was prohibited for the Kurds.
  • Syria doesn’t allow PKK to establish training camps in its territory.
  • Syria recognizes the PKK as terrorist.

The Turkish-Syrian relations became warmer after the signing of the Adana Agreement. In 2004, Bashar al-Assad began the active disarmament of the Kurds living in the border areas of Turkey and deployed its troops in the Kurdish towns of Kobani, Derik, Qamishli, Afrin, Ras al-Ain. After Syria’s efforts in disarming the Kurds Turkey’s President Erdogan called the Syrian President a “brother” and even family relationships were established between them [3].

Iraqi Kurdistan influence on separatist aspirations of Syrian Kurds

Till 2011, the Kurds were equally oppressed in Turkey, Syria and Iran and they could only gain autonomy in Iraq after the U.S. troop’s invasion and after Saddam Hussein’s overthrow in 2003. Iraq’s Constitution of 2005 recognized an autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan region with its own governing system, with the area more than 40,000 square kilometers and with a population of 5.3 million. 

Turkey Iran Syria Iraq Iraqi Kurdistan

The leaders of the U.S. sponsored state units, led by the Barzani clan, stated [4] that the final stage of establishing “Greater Kurdistan” federation has come, by calling the Iraqi Kurdistan as “Southern Kurdistan” (Bashura).

President Masoud Barzani supported and encouraged both the Kurds in Iran, Turkey and Syria. At the very beginning of the Syrian war in 2011, the Kurds decided to repeat the Iraqi Kurds success by stating the idea of an establishment of “Western Kurdistan” or “Rojava”. On October 7, Mashaal Tamo, the leader of the Syrian Kurds was killed in his home. More than 50,000 Kurds gathered at his funeral in Qamishli starting a rally, which sparked clashes with the Syrian police killing 14 Kurds. Two weeks later Mahmoud Wali, another Kurdish leader, who succeeded Mashal Tamo, was killed. 

On July 12, 2012 Iraqi Kurdistan President Masoud Barzani held a meeting with the leaders of the two Syrian Kurdish organizations the “Democratic Union Party” and the “Kurdish National Council” in Erbil. He offered them to help their struggle against Syrian government and declaration of independence [5]. The Kurdish Supreme Committee was established, with the armed wing called the National Self-Defense detachment (YPG), which started a large-scale attack on the Syrian Government troops. 

Fight for declaration of Syrian Kurdistan

D uring the war between the Syrian government troops and Kurdish armed forces, the Assad regime was in a difficult situation and had to fight simultaneously on several fronts. The central areas of the country were occupied by ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) a Turkish sponsored terrorist group, in the northwest where the armed groups known as the Democratic opposition supported by the US and lastly the Kurdish occupied whole north-east of the country. To protect Syria’s capital city and the central districts government troops were withdrawn from Kurdish areas surrendering to YPG group almost without any fighting.

Since January 2013, the Kurdish armed forces had taken full control of the north-eastern regions of Syria, including the cities Afrin, Kobani, Qamishli, Ras al-Ain and the adjacent areas. In 2017, the areas under the full control of the Kurds increased, covering over 30% of the Syrian Republic’s territory. The USA was periodically supplying weapons to the Kurds. Turkey was concerned with the fact that American weapons often appeared in the hands of fighters of the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) and was used against the Turkish Army.

Turkey Afrin Manbich Kobani Ras al-Ayn Qamishli Derik Iraq Syria

Turkish Government has always stated that it cannot allow the establishment and strengthening of a Kurdish State, being sure that it will continue in its territory as well. The position of Turkey towards the independence referendum of Iraqi Kurdistan in September 2017 was similarly fundamental. Although the Kurds declared independence as a result of the referendum, the governments of Ankara and Baghdad, though having many contradictions, agreed [6] on jointly overthrowing Kurdish independent aspirations.

Taking into account that Iran also has a shared border with Iraqi Kurds, Turkish-Iraqi (Central Government) coalition also reached an agreement [7] with Tehran. Since mid-October 2017, all the economic routes to Iraqi Kurdistan were closed, all banks ceased their operations, a financial crisis erupted and when the Iraqi Government troops occupied the oil-rich Mosul and Kirkuk cities, the Kurds had no choice but to retreat and put up with the idea of autonomy.

Turkish Government continued the same policy it had fighting Iraqi Kurds also against the independent aspirations of Syrian Kurdistan. By autumn of 2018, the governments of Russia, Iran and Syria had already struck a deal with Turkey [8] mediating the Syrian authorities to not fight against the Kurds. So what could be more beneficial for Bashar Assad’s authority than to get rid of the Kurdish “burden” by someone else (in this case Turkey)?  

The Adana agreement revival in Moscow

D uring the Erdogan-Putin meeting held in Moscow on January 23, 2019, the President of Russia recalled the Adana Agreement signed between Turkey and Syria in 1998, by emphasizing: “A new security zone should be created in the north of Syria. Russia respects Turkey’s concerns especially in the issue of providing security and creating a new security zone. The agreement between Syria and Turkey in 1998, which deals with the fight against terrorism, is still in force. I think that this is the key to ensuring Turkey’s security and its protection of it southern borders. Today, we have discussed this issue actively and detailed enough” [9].

Vladimir Putin also mentioned, that the US troops withdrawal can have a positive influence on the stabilization of the situation in Syria’s northwest, stressing that they would do their best during the year to intensify the dialogue between Damascus and Ankara and to develop a joint action plan. 

The neutralization of the Syrian Kurds’ within the Superpower agreement and accords.

I n spring of 2019, many US official sources, including President Trump announced [10] their plan to withdraw US troops from northern Syria in autumn. The President of Turkey openly responded that it will be followed by the deployment of Turkish troops in the region. [11].

During a speech at the 74th session of the UN General Assembly on September 25, Erdogan actually made a declaration of war, warning that he will command the invasion as soon as US troops leave northern Syria. According to Erdogan, Turkish troops will establish a 32-kilometer-deep, 480-kilometer-long "safe zone", which will include Manbich, Kobani, Tel Abyad, Suluk, Ras al-Ayn and Qamishli regions [12]. These are the areas, which the Syrian government troops had left when they pulled back to secure Syria’s capital cities.

On October 7, the US President Donald Trump announced: “Anyone who wants to assist Syria in protecting the Kurds is good with me, whether it is Russia, China, or Napoleon Bonaparte. I hope they all do great, we are 7,000 miles away!” [13]. International think tanks found this statement as a “green light” for Turkey and it was perceived as so by the Turkish government. On October 9, Turkish troops invaded Syria, to which Syrian authorities responded with silence. More than 2 days officials in Damascus didn’t express any particular stance on the fighting in its northern borders and only on October 12 there were a few “toothless” statements without any concrete actions regarding the situation.

The Syrian Kurds are not of strategic importance for the major players, due to this negotiations with the administrations of Assad and Erdogan, all was favorable to both Russia (for maintaining Assad’s power), to the US (to get out of the Syrian dungeon without any diplomatic losses), to Turkey (to cut the military link between PKK and YPG) to Syria (to break the Kurdish separatism in the North) and even to Iran (to beat possible Kurdish separatism aspirations on its territory). 

As a result of Turkey’s military actions that began on October 9, the Kurdish armed groups of Syria were deprived from a large number of controlled settlements within a few days. On October 13, the Syrian Kurdish groups officially announced that they are ready to hand over the territories controlled by them to the Syrian government troops, by recognizing the sovereignty of Damascus [14]. It was followed by the movement of Syrian government troops to northern areas.

The six-hour talk between the presidents of Russia and Turkey on October 22 gave a desirable result for all the countries in the region except for the Kurds. The governments of Iran, Iraq and Syria gave their silent consent to the agreement reached between Erdogan and Putin, and even the US didn’t antagonize Russia on the decision.

The Russian-Turkish agreement envisaged to partially carry out Erdogan’s plan to take control over the Syrian border towns of Ras al-Ayn and Tel Abyad, as well as the territories between them of a 32 km. depth. The total length of the following area is 120 km, whereas Erdogan planned to control 480km section of the border with Syria. The Kurdish armed groups will be completely removed from the border zone and Russian and Syrian armed forces will be deployed instead.

Accordingly, the land link between the Syrian and Iraqi Kurds was practically cut off, and Turkey’s Kurds were deprived of the opportunity to provide military assistance to Syria’s Kurds as a result of “The Origin of Peace” Operation.

Turkey, 32-kilometer-deep, 480-kilometer-long “safe zone” free from Kurds, control areas of Kurdish Armed Forces, Iraq, control areas of Syrian government troops

We can conclude that the multistage operation to suppress Kurds has succeeded in the 8-year Syrian conflict. After destroying ISIS and other terrorist groups, the last thing left were the Kurds, who will probably be dispersed across various areas in Syria being deprived of the opportunity to live compactly for a long time.