As I write this piece on Oct. 8 it is unclear whether the town of Kobane will fall to ISIL fighters or not. When and if it does fall, as seems likely, the consequences will be substantial.
There are three main parties involved in the fate of Kobane — the Kurds, Turkey and the United States. Since it is the 2.2 million Kurds of Syria who will be mostly affected it is important to understand what they are fighting for against ISIL and Turkey.
Taking advantage of the outbreak of the civil war in Syria in March 2011 and the subsequent withdrawal of most Syrian government forces, the Kurds sought to increase their autonomy by establishing in 2012 three non-contiguous autonomous cantons along Syria's border with Turkey. The regions between the cantons had become separated due to the ethnic cleansing policy of previous Ba'thist regimes.
During the 1980s, nationalist militant Kurds of Syria had become affiliated with nationalist militant Kurds from Turkey who had commenced their own civil war against Turkey in 1984 and with whom they shared similar nationalist and Marxist ideologies.
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Kurds of Syria and Turkey share mutual tribal, familial, cultural and political history due to the fact that many Kurds fled to Syria as a result of Turkey's wars against the Kurds in the period between the world wars.
Kurds of Syria also share many similarities with Kurds of Iraq and fought with Iraqi Kurd peshmerga forces against Iraqi government forces from the 1930s onward. They also hope to emulate their Iraqi Kurdish brethren by gaining autonomy.
Perhaps the biggest challenge to the modern state of Turkey are the challenges that Kurdish nationalism within Turkey, but also in Syria, Iraq and Iran present to the ethnic-Turkish based political and social culture of Turkey. Turkey does not want to have autonomous Kurdish entities on its borders, viewing such entities as threats to the nation-state.
Turkey thinks that an autonomous Kurdish entity in Syria would further ignite demands by its own 16 million to 18 million Kurds, especially the 7 million to 8 million along its 565-mile southern border with Syria. To prevent this from happening, Turkey has supplied jihadist forces in Syria, not only with weapons but also logistical, medical, transportation and political support.
During Prime Minister Erdogan's early September visit to the United Nations he alluded to the possibility that Turkey would take a more active role against ISIL forces besieging the town of Kobane. It seems that the organization of the U.S.-led coalition against ISIL persuaded him that — as a NATO member and a strategic partner of the U.S. — he has little choice but to at least be perceived by the coalition and the international community as not tolerating ISIS.
To this effect, he proposed several times that the coalition should establish no-fly and buffer zones on Syria's side of the border in which the ethnic-cleansed and displaced Kurds could be contained. This would destroy the three cantons that Kurds have established and managed extremely well; it would also end any possibility of autonomy.
Furthermore, it would seriously weaken the Kurdish nationalist movements in Turkey, especially the PKK, and make whatever nationalist movements that remain docile and easier to manage. It would also further sever cooperation among the Kurds of Syria and Turkey with the Kurdish Regional Government of Iraq making it even more dependent on Turkey in order to export its oil and gas to world markets. In effect, Turkey wants the KRG to help it manage its own Kurdish nationalist movements.
Washington seems to agree. On Oct. 8, Secretary of State John Kerry and British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, the latter more reluctantly, broached Turkey's idea of no-fly and buffer zones: "The buffer zone is an idea that has been out there. It is worth examining, it is worth looking at very, very closely."
In truth, the fall of Kobane, unless Kurdish forces managed by extraordinary valor to stand off ISIL's onslaught, seems to have been taken for granted in early September during Erdogan's talks with Vice-President Joe Biden and a host of State Department and Pentagon officials such as Philip Gordon, President Barack Obama's Middle East, North Africa and Gulf Arab Coordinator.
Gordon has emphasized many times that Turkey is a "strategic necessity" for the U.S. on many fronts, regions and issues. And, as Kerry proclaimed, "Kobane is not a strategic goal."