ISTANBUL — In Syria, the seizing of control by Syrian Kurds of towns close to the Turkish border has raised concerns in the Turkish capital, Ankara. Turkish authorities say Syrian Kurds might seek to create their own autonomous state, fueling similar demands from Turkey's Kurdish minority.
News of Syrian Kurds taking control of towns from forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has raised concerns in Ankara, according to defense correspondent Metehan Demir of the Turkish newspaper Hurriyet. He says long-standing Turkish fears of the creation of an independent Kurdish state have resurfaced.
"It's perceived as a signal of a future autonomous area in this region, just next to the Turkish border. This is second piece of a four piece puzzle on the way to a Kurdistan country. Because one part is happening in northern Iraq, [a] second part is in Syria, east Kurdistan is [in] Iran and Northern Kurdistan as known according to their dreams is [the] Turkish part," Demir said.
Ankara has been fighting a decades-long insurgency by the PKK, which wants greater Kurdish rights in Turkey. Many PKK members are Syrian Kurds.
According to international relations expert Soli Ozel of Istanbul's Kadir Has University, the main concern of the Turkish government is that the success of Syrian Kurds could fuel Turkey's Kurdish insurgency.
"Since our Kurdish problem has not been solved, and we are not near to bringing to a conclusion, the prime minister will be concerned that there will be a fallout from what is going on in Syria, especially because in Syria the PKK-affiliated party appears to be the strong political force," Ozel said.
In recent years, Ankara has developed strong ties with the leadership of the semiautonomous Iraqi Kurdish regional government. That relationship is built on burgeoning border trade. Sinan Ulgen of the EDAM research institute says Ankara will be looking to Iraqi Kurdish regional leader Masoud Barzani to temper the actions of Syrian Kurds.
"Turkey [is] relying on political leadership of the Iraqi Kurds, in particular Barzani, to establish a relationship with the Syrian Kurds themselves. And because of the success of this policy of engagement with the Iraqi Kurds since 2008, this is the favored scenario in Ankara," Ulgen said.
Ulgen acknowledges that Barzani has limited influence over the PKK and its affiliates in Syria. And some questions are being raised in Turkey about Barzani's reliability as an ally. Hundreds of Syrian Kurds who have sought refuge in Iraqi Kurdistan reportedly are returning to Syria with the support of Iraqi Kurds.
"It was Barzani who actually brought all the Syrian Kurdish opposition together, and they came up with a pact and then everything unfolded since then. So I really don't think the things happening in Syria are happening without his knowledge or consent," Ozel said.
If Turkish diplomatic efforts fail to prevent PKK control in the Syrian Kurdish region, analyst Ulgen does not rule out Ankara pursuing a military solution.
"On the more hawkish attitudes of intervention in order to undermine the PKK stranglehold in this region, which is something Turkey did do in the past with regard to northern Iraq. Now that certainly is one scenario if the PKK starts to establish in the Kurdish region of northern Syria," Ulgen said.
Turkish military forces have been reinforced along the border with Syria's Kurdish region. Analysts say that although Ankara will be wary of any military operation, Turkey will be closely monitoring the actions of the Syrian Kurds.