03/18/2013 04:11 pm ET Updated May 18, 2013

Fears and Expectations of Sykes-Picot

The Kurdish entity born out of the invasion in Iraq and the uprisings in Syria resulted both in exaggerated expectations and fears. This state, which in fact coincided to fears and expectations about Sykes-Picot, prevented a healthy analysis and discussion of the issue. Those who took such exaggerated fears as their basis interpreted every single development in the field as another step towards "dividing and falling apart," sometimes, going too far, even to the point of "demonizing the Kurds." And those who relied on exaggerated expectations made political moves that were not only divorced from the realities of Mesopotamian geopolitics to the point of extending to dreams of neo-Sykes-Picot, but were also anachronic.

While the "Sykes-Picot order and its borders" meant division and weakening for our region, for the Kurdish political movement it represented the advantages all other actors acquired at the cost of Kurds. This approach, however, does not seem to have the necessary maturity to question what in fact all other actors have gained from "Sykes-Picot" order in the last century. In such an approach in which one's loss is seen as the other's gain, the first casualty is politics and history itself. In fact, regardless of how things were arranged within the borders drawn as a result of the First World War, all peoples of the region were among those who lost. A simple mental exercise of going through all possible conflict scenarios had the Sykes-Picot order given the Kurds a nation state could be enough to comprehend the century old maelstrom in which there are no winners. Without a doubt, there will be those who interpret the analyses above as "century old excuses" crafted for Kurds. However, the quandary we are in now leaves us with two choices -- we either seek, through rational analyses, for a "new order," in which everyone is an actual actor or we, intentionally or not, remain prisoners to the clichés of the century old status quo and let the "disaster scenarios" repeat itself.

Century-old drama of the Middle East

Let's imagine some possible scenarios that could come about if the Sykes-Picot maps were to be realized today. First, let's remind ourselves that neither the Turkish nor the Arab states in Mesopotamia were built on lands in which only Turks or Arabs live. Similarly, it is physically impossible for the territory defined as Kurdistan today to be consisting of Kurdish peoples, only. This fact is the very source of the century-old drama lived in Turkey, Syria and Iraq.

Sykes-Picot borders have not only presented us nation-states, but inscribed denial, assimilation, nationalism and secularism into the package as well. It should always be kept in mind that were the territory known as Kurdistan today to become a reality exactly as imagined by Kurdish nationalism, non-Kurdish peoples would make up almost half of its population. For example, the last thing that could happen in the territory known as the Iraqi Kurdistan, independent of Syria, Iran and Turkey (even if Kirkuk and Mosul were included as imagined by Kurdish nationalism) is a state based solely on Kurdish ethnicity. It is certainly possible to overlook this reality.

It would not be difficult to imagine that the cost of such an oversight would be comparable to the cost of Kemalism in Turkey, Baathism in Iraq and Syria. It would be naïve to expect a different outcome from the break of the ethnic-sectarian fault lines that were activated as a result of invasion in Iraq. Or else, the new nation state of Iraqi Kurdistan, established on the belated premise of nationalism, will have to devise a miracle political solution to appease the non-Kurdish peoples that made up almost half of its population.

The picture given above can be read in one of two ways. All the equations in the region are evaluated based either on the assumption that the intention has always been to leave the Kurdish nation stateless; or on the belief that all peoples in the region are in dire need of a new political contract beyond Sykes-Picot. While the former only results in a demand for the reiteration of the status quo, ignoring the real political, the latter can create the opportunity for all actors in the region to become an actual participant in the creation of a new order. Under these circumstances, the quest for a new order in Mesopotamia is in fact necessitated by history and politics.

In the coming days, either the actors will face this bitter truth or will remain as obsolete guardians of the Sykes-Picot order. As such, today, Turkey faces the choice of growth or deeper integration, Iraq the choice of sharing or falling apart, and Syria the choice of lifting the wreckage in union, or meeting the challenge of divisions that barely lasted a few years after occurring a century ago.

A new order in Mesopotamia could be implemented positively to the extent that Sykes-Picot borders are rendered meaningless in the political, economical and societal sense while sustained in the legal sense. The revolution in Syria broke out at a time when discussions of a new order in our region were no longer avoidable. It could be argued that the Syrian crisis served as a litmus test in our region. Although it remained invisible in the first months of the Syrian uprisings, at the point Assad seemed to lose control over the crisis, a Kurdish reality emerged.

The Kurds' role in the Syrian uprisings was strongly suppressed by the PYD -- the Syrian branch of PKK. The PYD debate's reflection in Turkey had severe results. All of a sudden a "Northern Syria" phenomenon dominated the daily agenda. The reason behind this was not so much the negative role PYD played in the Syrian uprisings or its power or capacity in Syria, but rather the terror PKK caused in Turkey during the same months. As a matter of fact, the debate of "Kurds in Syria" was taken hostage by the PKK. In fact, as PKK's terror eased up, the issue of Northern Syria no longer dominated the headlines.

The "Northern Syria" debate in Turkey, in its essence, resembled the "Northern Iraq" debate a decade ago. Turkey's reaction was once again criticized harshly by those who stood closer to the PKK line. Similarly, a good number of liberal writers, without needing to acquire the basic facts about the situation in Syria or the region called the "Northern Syria," insisted on articulating a discourse in which Turkey was made out to stand against "Kurds' gaining rights." It should be readily admitted that this campaign often launched with an insistence on "solving the Kurdish question in Turkey first" was successful to a certain point. As all these were happening, no one paid attention to the political and psychological conditions under which the Kurds were forced to live as a result of the invasion in Iraq and the uprising in Syria despite having acquired limited rights and a certain status.

Kurdish alienation

However, the possibility of Turkey, criticized during the Iraqi invasion, following an ethnic policy, was relived about Kurds in the Syrian crisis. The situation in Syria today deserves criticism as much as Turkey's problematic interventionist attitude for Turkmens in Iraq deserved it then.

Today, ignoring what is happening in the rest of Syria and implementing a policy only in consideration of Kurds is just as unethical and geopolitically incoherent as Turkey's policy to focus on the Turkmens while ignoring the rest of Iraqis was then. And yet, Kurds in Syria, in tandem with PKK and the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Administration (KRA), formed an ethnic council independent of the Syrian opposition. As such, they not only gave the impression of becoming the first actors to bank on disintegration scenarios after Assad, but they also, implicitly, crafted a controversial position for Kurds in Syria that they did not deserve.

As this controversial position was extended to cooperation with Assad with PKK's efforts, the impression of Kurds as an entity that was out only for its own agenda and interest at the cost of Syrian's blood was inevitably created. Thus, the emergence of alienation of the Kurds resulted in the quickly spreading discourse of hate in the region that was intensified in Arab discourses. Kurds, who suffered the most under the Baath regime for years, had not deserved any of this. The PKK, however, in the power vacuum that occurred, actualized the attitude adopted by some gangs in Turkey in the past regarding the Iraqi Turkmens. Just as the Turkmens paid the real price in Iraq a few years later, the Kurds will have to live with the "Ba'athist dirt" in Syria for years to come.

The majority of the Kurdish population in Syria does not live in the region that is the center of conflict today. Kurds live with other peoples in Syria, mostly in Aleppo and Damascus. Besides, the population we call the Syrian Kurds is mostly an extension of Kurds living in Turkey. Coming to fore with demands of a Kurdish federation or autonomy before the conflict, in which Assad is resisting despite the fact that Ba'ath regime has lost the control of the country, comes to an end was enough to invalidate the Kurds' demand for rights in the eyes of all actors in the field and to consider their relations with the Kurds vexed.

As the uprising progressed and the Assad regime lost control in Northern Syria completely, problematic relations unavoidably brought the Syrian opposition against the Democratic Union Party (PYD). Any analysis that focuses only on Kurds instead of attempting to grasp this anticipated situation from all angles or at least recognizing that all this took place in the Syrian political pool, will have to first explain the facts on the ground. trying to make sense of the entire situation from a perspective that only takes Turkey as the basis will not produce a sound analysis either.

Analyses that fail to grasp what Syria means for PKK are forced to take the easy way out of assessing the situation over Turkey. From the PKK's perspective, the Ba'athist regime that played host for PKK leadership for years, with the Syrian crisis turned into a conjectural partner. As a matter of fact, the PKK, which is trying to fill the void left by the explicit Assad support, made its intentions very clear. It aims to bring the Syrian Kurds that currently provide some of PKK's human capital completely into the fold. PKK is not entirely unjustified in its aim. The problem here is that Kurds as are seen as dispensable collateral so much a politicized Kurdish group unique to Syria could be manipulated to emerge out of the conflict with other peoples in Syria. The heavy cost Kurds, who make up a small fraction of the population in Syria, will have to pay in case of such a conflict, such as the "Arab hatred of Kurds" does not seem to interest the PKK. Most importantly, PKK sees Syria as a stepping-stone for furthering its own interests, rather than an opportunity for Kurds to gain rights. The strengthening of KRA's relations with Turkey, particularly in In Northern Iraq is intensifying PKK's feeling of "temporariness" and "not belonging". PKK is aims to attain a space in Syria in which it will feel at home.

PKK will have to update its status by facing the Syrian reality. And the first step in this confrontation is to come to an agreement with the Free Syrian Army of the PYD under some certain conditions. It will not be a surprise to see PKK run into problems first with the Kurdish peoples ,then other peoples in Syria. Turkey, needs assure that the Kurdish peoples, independent from the PKK, can exist on the agenda on a positive note in the post Assad period. There are no other actors that could stand against the Arab hatred of Kurds increasing everyday at the face of PKK's irresponsibility and KRG's (Kurdistan Regional Government) focus on its own agenda. The worst harm inflicted on Kurds who have lived in Damascus for centuries and who are in fact partners in Syria as the "one of the owners of Damascus" would be to force them to leave Damascus only to be crowded in Serêkanî (Ras al-Ayn). Precisely for this reason, the disarmament of PKK is in the best interest of all peoples of Mesopotamia as mush as it is in Turkey's.