Analysis: ‘Turkey Continues to Protest the Coalition’s Syrian Kurdish Allies’

The Orton report

Uncritical backing of the , and the failure to seriously support ‘s opposition, sets up further conflict.

This morning, Turkey issued arrest warrants for forty-eight members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has fought a forty-year war against the Turkish state. The PKK is listed as terrorist by Ankara, Britain, the European Union, NATO, and the United States. Among those being sought is Saleh Muslim Muhammad, the leader of the Syrian branch of the PKK, known as the Democratic Union Party (PYD), whose armed wing—the People’s Protection Units (YPG)—happens to be the favoured Western instrument in combatting the Islamic State (IS) in Syria. The West has long denied or obfuscated the fact it is working with an organization that a NATO partner considers its nemesis and a long-standing threat to its national security. The Turks, it seems, are not content to let this ambiguity stand, and there are good reasons of Western self-interest why the alliance with the PKK deserves another look.

The Structure of the PKK

The PKK’s transnational structure is deliberately designed to be confusing. This is partly to avoid Western terrorism designations. It is also partly as a political strategy with its own Kurdish constituency. In some countries—Iran and Syria most notably—there is some suspicion about the PKK because the organization has long had ties to the governments in those countries, despite those governments having histories of vicious repression against their Kurdish minorities.

The PKK originates in Turkey but is also operates in Syria, Iran, and Iraq, though the latter is more a base than a theatre of operations. The PKK has a political and military branch in each of the theatres—e.g. in Syria it’s the PYD and the YPG, respectively. The political organizations are under the central command of the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK), and just to make things even more awkward the KCK has a separate parliamentary body called the Kongra-Gel (KGK).

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