What We're Watching
Turkish drones killed at least one civilian, a former aid worker, and injured at least three more in northeastern Syria in the last week of November. There have been at least 145 Turkish drone strikes in North and East Syria in 2023. In the past, we've covered the devastating impact of Turkey's drone program—including extrajudicial killings of SDF and AANES leaders and attacks on critical civilian infrastructure—and the global economic and geopolitical context in which Turkey's state-linked defense companies spread and profit from the destruction. It's part of a larger Turkish strategy to collapse the SDF and AANES and remove its Kurdish population by means short of a ground invasion. Turkey has bet—correctly–that these tactics will not cause the same international backlash that a new invasion would.
The temporary pause in hostilities in Gaza brought a respite from U.S.-Iran escalation in northeast Syria and northern Iraq. But since fighting resumed, Iran-backed armed groups have launched new strikes on U.S. positions, and the U.S. has responded with strikes on Iran-backed groups in Iraq. Turkey isn't the only threat the Syrian Kurds face. Iran, too, wants the region under its influence and fears that its own Kurdish population might be inspired by the AANES and SDF's successful fight for autonomy. Across organizational and ideological lines, Kurdish political and military actors oppose the expansion of the war in Gaza and hope to avoid being caught in a U.S.-Iran crossfire. We have an explainer on some of their deeper positions on Israel and Palestine out this week—keep reading for more on that.
The pro-peace, pro-Kurdish Peoples' Equality and Democracy Party (HEDEP), the latest successor to the HDP, has announced that it will run its own candidates in all parts of Turkey in the March 2024 local elections. This marks a shift from its strategy in the May 2023 general elections, where it refused to run a presidential candidate in order to strengthen the opposition's hand without any guarantees from the CHP-led opposition bloc in return. Pro-Kurdish candidates did worse than expected in May, a failure attributed to both massive political repression and unpopular strategic choices by the party itself. With no end to repression in sight, this more independent strategy may help motivate Kurdish voters to take back their municipalities—and even push the CHP and the ruling AKP to make concessions. The outcome will matter for peace and security in Turkey and Syria—we've published first-of-its-kind data illustrating the mass disenfranchisement of Kurdish voters at the local level and the higher levels of political violence in disenfranchised districts.
New From Our Experts
How Have Kurdish Movements Reacted to the War in Gaza?
No issue captures as much international attention as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The October 7 attacks by the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas and subsequent Israeli war in Gaza have led to an outpouring of international solidarity by foreign backers of both Israelis and Palestinians. The United States and Iran have implicitly threatened war with each other over the issue and have clashed in Syria and Iraq. Given the importance of the issue for the entire Middle East, several Kurdish leaders have weighed in with public statements.
In the New Middle East Turmoil, What About Turkish-Kurdish Peace?
I write these words as the flames of war threaten the Middle East. The Israeli conflict with Hamas has lasted nearly two months. Iran’s hidden strikes against American bases in Syria and Iraq are increasing, and the U.S. is stepping up its military footprint in the region in turn. To international silence, Turkish air strikes against the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) continue. On October 27th, Turkey assassinated a senior SDF commander who worked as a coordinator with the U.S.-led international coalition and had years of experience in fighting ISIS. In late November, drone strikes killed three people, including an NGO worker, and injured eight more within the span of three days.
In such a time of escalation, few, if any, talk about a way out. Talking about a new Kurdish-Turkish peace process is like walking alone in a minefield. There is no alternative to war in current Turkish policy towards the Kurds and the communities allied with them in North and East Syria. Turkey’s occupation of the cities of Efrin, Serêkaniyê, and Tal Abyad is the most prominent examples of this, along with its clear support for extremist groups and jihadist factions to fight the SDF. Six months after Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) won re-election, it seems that Turkey will continue with this policy.
But this was not always the case. Recent history tells us of Kurdish-Turkish meetings and coordination in Syria that can be built upon—and may be a cornerstone for reaching comprehensive peace in northeast Syria.
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