Turkey Objects to Kurdish Presence at Syria Peace Talks

The Kurdish fighters of the People's Protection Units via AP
The Kurdish fighters of the People's Protection Units via AP

An AFP-Reuters report on Tuesday highlighted the difficulty of getting Syria’s many warring factions together for U.N.-brokered peace talks, as many of the parties involved consider the presence of other parties to be non-starters. Turkey, for example, has announced that it strongly opposes participation by Kurdish groups.

“We are categorically against the YPG and PYD sitting at the table,” declared Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu. Reuters reports Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu flatly describing the PYD as a “terrorist group” with no place at the negotiating table.

The PYD is the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party, while the YPG is its militia wing. The Turkish government sees the YPG as linked to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in Turkey. Turkish government forces are currently waging a bloody battle against PKK insurgents.

The United States views the PYD as an effective battlefield ally against the Islamic State, and has supported it with air cover and ammunition, with some thought given to providing even heavier military assistance. Russia has also insisted the Kurds must be part of a political solution in Syria.

The Russians also portray the PYD as elements of an ISIS-smashing coalition along with the Assad regime, which has decent relations with many Kurdish groups (the Kurds are, generally speaking, much more interested in defeating ISIS than deposing Assad.)

The Turks resent U.S. and Russian support for the PYD, and loathe Assad. Their adamant opposition might be keeping the Kurds away from the Geneva talks, as Reuters reports PYD leader Saleh Muslim says he has “not received an invitation and was not aware that any Kurdish representatives had been asked to come.”

“The PYD group was causing the most problems, and [U.N. special envoy Staffan] de Mistura told me he had not sent them an invitation letter,” said French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, as reported by Today’s Zaman on Wednesday.

Another senior French diplomat noted that the Syrian opposition platform assembled late last year in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia considers the PYD “not part of the opposition against the regime.” This was meant literally; the PYD simply does not consider removing Bashar Assad from power a priority.

Their inclusion at this time would therefore risk “exploding” the Riyadh coalition, although the diplomat conceded the Kurds would have to be part of the ultimate political solution in Syria.

French Foreign Ministry spokesman Romain Nadal stressed the importance of the Riyadh opposition group in the AFP-Reuters report:

The opposition group created in Riyadh gathers for the first time a large spectrum of politicians and non-jihadist military that are committed around a common project for a free, democratic and inclusive Syria. It is therefore up to this group to be the interlocutor of the regime in these negotiations.

Hurriyet Daily News reported on Wednesday afternoon that Turkish opposition to PYD involvement might be slipping, with their boycott threat changing to protests about the Kurds getting slipped into the Geneva talks as “a last minute move is against the endeavors and negotiations conducted so far,” in the words of presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin.

“Claims of representing Syrian Kurds by a group which creates a de facto situation there, puts pressure on other groups, hasn’t stood by the Syrian opposition so far, resumes shady relations with the regime and continues its dirty relationship with the PKK terror organization is not something acceptable,” Kalin declared.

With this in mind, he said that Turkey would be “represented at the highest level” in Geneva, most likely by a cabinet minister, but would not actively participate in the peace talks. Hurriyet’s report muddles the situation further by quoting U.N. spokesmen who say Turkey was never actually invited to participate in Geneva, because only Syrian groups were meant to be involved.

Hurriyet also includes a word from the PYD’s Saleh Muslim, who predicted the latest talks in Geneva would fail without his group’s involvement, as previous Syrian peace talks have failed. “We are representing a large number of people on the ground… so by excluding us they are not doing well for a political solution,” he said.


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