The big winner in the Middle East is Russia. Thus, it will be Russia that will play the biggest role in its post-Islamic State organization. It was Russia that turned Turkey into an ally even after the latter’s air force shot down a Russian Sukhoi-24 jet in November 2015. Then in 2017, Russian backed Syrian forces took back Aleppo, as the various Islamist militias that occupied the Eastern part of the city were pushed out. Erdogan, who faced off a coup attempt in July 2015 while dealing with a series of bombings claimed by the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK) realize that it would be fruitless to support the anti-Asad militias in Syria.
It was more important for Turkey to contain Kurdish ambitions to set up an enclave on its southern border than to overthrow the government of al-Asad. Preserving the integrity of the Syrian State became as much of a goal for President Erdogan – at least in the short term – as it was for Putin. Now, Turkey sits at the winners’ table and can help decide just what kind of independence the Kurds can aspire. Having already persuaded the Americans to relinquish Kurdish nation building in Iraq – supported by Israel no less – Erdogan can thwart any hope that the Syrian Kurds can set up an independent territory, led by the PKK’s allies and capable of unsettling Turkish sovereignty. However, the Russians have also reached agreements with the Kurdish forces in Syria, who are expecting rewards for having contributed to smash the Islamic State, reducing them to a fragmented guerrilla force at best.
The Russians want stability in Syria above all, thus they are prepared to ‘persuade’ their Syrian allies in Damascus to concede a much greater degree of autonomy for the Kurds, who make up some 11.0% of the population. Ultimately, had Damascus failed to regain Palmyra, Aleppo, parts of the capital while steadily weakening the various militias and ISIS, the Turks would have prepared contingencies for a fragmentation of Syria and the end of the Sykes-Picot agreements, which marked the map of the present Middle East 100 years ago. A Kurdish independent political entity could have taken root in such a scenario, which would have resulted in undermining Turkey’s stability. But, as with so many of the Middle East’s current complexities, explanations must be sought in the post-World War I scenario. Perhaps, Kurdish nationalist dreams will have to wait until the entire Middle East rearranges itself. Until then, The Kurds are resigned to living stuck between the various States and can at most expect to win self-rule within these.