The Kurds have been a third side to the Syrian civil war since the beginning. While the majority of the conflict appears to be turning primarily into a Sunni-Shi’a slugging match, with overtones of proxy war between Iran and Russia on one side and Saudi Arabia and Qatar (with some half-hearted support from the West–SecState Kerry just declared that “Any solution to the Syrian problem had to involve the international community and could not involve Assad.”) on the other, the Kurds have consistently taken all comers, with an attitude that can best be described as, “Leave us the hell alone.”
There are close to 30 million Kurds spread across northern Syria, northern Iraq, southern Turkey, and western Iran. They are the largest ethnic group without a homeland in the world. In the 1990s, the Kurds in northern Iraq, with the aid of the Coalition no-fly zone, began to develop their own autonomy, in what is now known as Iraqi Kurdistan. The Kurdistan Regional Government is functionally now its own country, although it is still officially recognized as part of Iraq.
On Tuesday, Jan 21, the 2.2 million Kurds in northern Syria declared the formation of their own provincial government, moving toward establishing some stability and security for their people in the war-torn country. They insist that they are not seceding, but are developing their own constitution and preparing to hold elections early in the year.
The move has strengthened fears in Turkey. The Turks have fought a Kurdish insurgency under the PKK for decades, and have worked hard to prevent the formation of any independent Kurdish state. There have been Turkish incursions into Iraqi Kurdistan in the past, and while plans for a wall along the Syrian border near the Syrian Kurdish regions sparked protests, they have strengthened security along that border, including outright closing the border there and strengthening the barbed wire fence along the border. While the PKK insurgency had died down for a time, fearing a nationalistic backlash, Prime Minister Erdogan recently rekindled the crackdown on the PKK.