By Christian Chesnot
14 March 2018
Three years ago, the Kurds seized Kobane (Ain Al-Arab) from the jihadists. The whole world hailed this symbolic victory, underlining the heroism of the Peshmerga. The image of women in battledresses against the ISIS fighters wearing black made the headlines.
The battle of Kobane will always be the first victory on the roadway leading to the demolishing of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi's "self-proclaimed caliphate" in Syria. Kurds with the help of local tribesmen were present at all the battles. Westerners were not wrong: while the United States and France let loose the Free Syrian Army, Washington and Paris "invested" in the Kurds by supporting them with weapons and sending them Special Forces for back up.
But all of this was yesterday! Today, dramatic turnaround, the Syrian Kurds are very much alone. They feel abandoned. Enlightened by the vicissitudes of history, they had nevertheless succeeded in creating links with all the actors of the Syrian crisis: the regime, the opposition, the Russians, the Westerners. Keeping equals distance with everyone allowed them to remain on the surface of the chaos of the civil war, reinforcing the territories under their control.
Obviously, on the other side of the border, Erdogan closely monitored the rise of the Kurds, whose militia has close ties with the PKK, the arch- enemy of Ankara.
As the Turkish tightens their grip on Afrin, a jurisdiction located in the far north-west of Syria, the Kurds will have to make some tough choices. The Westerners - so as not to cut off the ties with Turkey - let Erdogan loose to a certain extent. In other words, the Kurds seem to be let loose by the United States and France in this battle of Afrin.
A Fixation Point
All the indications point to the fact that everyone wishes to teach the Kurds a lesson after their military triumph over ISIS.
Even though the regime of Bashar Al-Assad has allowed reinforcements to pass to Afrin, Damascus is not sad to see the Kurds in trouble. The objective is to win them back to its camp and regain the territories that were lost. The Syrian President is betting that once the Kurds lose their strength they will be more willing to negotiate with his regime to slip away from the claws of the Turks.
The Russians are almost hoping for the same thing. They hope that the Kurds will drop the United States in turn and gather around the diplomatic agenda of Moscow. Russia was not happy to see that they boycotted the Sochi conference. As for Turkey, it does not hide the fact that the Kurds are its sworn enemies and that its purpose is to expel them out of Manbij, further east.
These are the agendas of some and the other. Already, we are beginning to see the repercussions on the field. Kurdish fighters have announced an "operational pause" in the remaining battles against the last cells of the jihadists. The letting down of the Kurds is also likely to radicalize them a little more against Turkey. The loss of Afrin will be a painful stroke for the Peshmerga. Especially since this location is highly populated by the Kurds, which is not the case for other parts in eastern Syria.
In short, one needn’t to be a great prophet to know that the Syrian-Turkish border, very calm to this day, is becoming a fixation point in the Syrian conflict. As they say in detective novels, "who benefits from the crime? Most certainly it is Bashar al-Assad and Russia who expect that Turkey will use its forces in its asymmetrical battle with the Kurds. Nobody doubts it: it is a new Turkish-Kurdish war which started at Afrin.
Christian Chesnot is reporter at Radio France in Paris in charge of the Middle East affairs. He has been based as correspondent in Cairo and Amman. He has written several books on Palestine, Iraq, Syria and the Gulf.