PYD leader says no peace guarantees if Turkish opposition wins   

QAMISHLI, Syria (North Press) – There are “no guarantees” for peace if Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan loses the May 14 elections, said Saleh Muslim, co-chair of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), the largest Kurdish party in northeast Syria, on Thursday.  

In an exclusive interview with North Press, Muslim said Erdogan seeks a neo-Ottoman regional order to supplant the ‘Greater Middle East Project’, a Bush II-era policy to re-model the region in its image. “Erdogan’s neo-Ottoman vision needs to expand into northern Iraq and northern Syria, and to annihilate the Kurds wherever they are,” the seasoned politician told North Press.

Erdogan has pushed for a 30 kilometer-deep ‘security belt’ on Syria and Iraq’s border with Turkey. In Syria, the government in Ankara has pushed for the around 4 million Syrian refugees living in Turkey to be resettled into this ‘security belt’, which includes nearly all Kurdish-majority areas of Syria. Ankara has invaded Syria thrice in order to fulfill this vision, including the Kurdish regions of Afrin and Sere Kaniye (Ras al-Ain). As late as January 2023, a Turkish presidential advisor had demanded Turkish suzerainty over the city of Aleppo.

In Iraqi Kurdistan, the Turkish forces have established a military presence 30 kilometers deep into the country, with one base nearly 90 kilometers from the Turkish border.

Yet the ongoing war and occupation of Kurdish territory, says Muslim, “led to the bankruptcy of Turkey politically, economically, diplomatically, as well as in their relations with Europe and America; for these reasons, there had to be an end to this path.”

Muslim was involved in diplomatic talks with the Turkish government, including travelling to meet with officials in Turkey, until 2015, when the Turkish-Kurdish peace process broke down.

If Erdogan were to win the elections, he is likely to mount a further invasion of Rojava, Muslim explains, referring to the Kurdish term for the Kurdish-majority regions of north Syria, as Rojava “represents the main focus of [Turkey’s] policies in terms of interests, failure and expansion.”

However, should Erdogan lose on May 14, there are also “no guarantees” that such an invasion will not be launched, the PYD head says. “The opposition has a different approach and is trying to end the wars that have bankrupted Turkey, as well as to perhaps seek greater communication with the Syrian regime and deal with its domestic Kurdish problem. There are no guarantees, but there is a high possibility that stability, a cease-fire, or a cessation of attacks and violations will come about should the opposition win the elections.”

However, Muslim is also weary of the possible reaction within Erdogan’s camp to a loss at the ballot box. He previously stated that Turkey may become embroiled in a civil war. To North Press, he clarified that the ruling AK party, much like the opposition, has clientelistic relationships with a number of “mafias and criminal rings, as well as SADAT,” a private security company Erdogan has used to ship weapons to Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) in northwest Syria and to hire Syrians to fight for Azerbaijan in Armenia.  

“When this government collapses, the interests of these blocs will be harmed, and they will not stand idly by and will certainly defend their interests, goals and profits, Muslim warns. “Therefore, there is a possibility that a conflict will occur between these mafias and armed illegal blocs, as well as the army and the police, and others. There will also be attacks against Kurds, Alawites, and other minorities within Turkey.”

However, even if the opposition were to come to power peacefully, Muslim does not expect it will reach out to the Autonomous Administration (AANES) in Syria. “We do not expect to hold meetings whether Erdogan wins or loses, but the opposition in Turkey is moderate, perhaps it will come to terms with the northern Kurds within Turkey, to solve the Kurdish issue in parliament. This is what they are claiming now, which spreads an atmosphere of moderation instead of hostility to the Kurds and to all of Turkey.”  

“In the long term,” the PYD politician continues, “we do not oppose any dialogue with the Turkish opposition. But we also believe that there will be a path to finding a solution on Syria, as Erdogan had stood in the way of any solution. The opposition, on the other hand, is seeking a political solution, or at least it would not protest a solution in Syria.”

“Within this framework, there could be a meeting or dialogue through Syrian parties in order to meet with the responsible authorities in Turkey in the future.”

Reporting by Sasha Hoffman