December 20, 2022

U.S. Syria Strategy Needs a Turkish-Kurdish Peace Deal

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by Hadeel Oueis, Senior Research Fellow

The best-known peace process in the Middle East today is the Israeli-Palestinian dialogue. But the most crucial one for the United States is the Turkish-Kurdish peace process that fell apart in 2015.

These negotiations aimed to end a 30-year conflict between the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the government of Turkey. They collapsed in part due to developments related to the war in neighboring Syria.

In 2014, the United States decided to back the Syrian Kurdish Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG) to fight ISIS. Ankara was threatened by the power and legitimacy this gave to the YPG and its political arm, the Democratic Union Party (PYD), directly on Turkey’s southern border. Ultimately, in order to counter Kurdish gains at home and in Syria, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan—who until then had been seen as a moderate Turkish leader capable of ending a conflict that had cost his country tens of thousands of lives and billions of dollars over decades—chose to return to war…