In early July, Massoud Barzani, the president of Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), assembled Syrian Kurdish leaders in Irbil, Iraq, to broker a deal to unite Kurdish groups against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. By the end of the conference, the Supreme Kurdish National Council was born to represent Kurds in a post-Bashar al-Assad Syria. Turkey, which did not participate in the conference, initially welcomed the Kurdish unity: With the fall of Assad as the group’s primary goal, one that Turkey shares, unified Kurdish opposition would only hasten the end of the Syrian regime.
However, Turkey’s perception of the Kurdish unity deal shifted dramatically just weeks later, when the Kurds moved to fill the security vacuum left in northeastern Syria after Assad’s forces retrenched in the aftermath of the assassination of several members of his inner circle on July 18. Ankara’s change of heart hardly came as a surprise. The Syrian Kurds’ takeover of state institutions and subsequent flying of the flags of the KRG and the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) in northeastern cities evacuated by Syrian forces unsettled Turkey, creating a sense of alarm and drawing stern responses from Turkish political leaders.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, on his way to London for the opening ceremony of the Olympics, issued threats, saying that Turkey would not remain silent in the event of a new state emerging on Turkey’s borders. In particular, Erdogan left all options on the table to prevent the emergence of a “terrorist entity,” alluding to the opposition Syrian Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its supposed links to the PKK, a Kurdish group engaged in armed struggle against Turkey since 1984. Meanwhile, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu visited Irbil, the KRG capital, to convey Turkey’s concern and displeasure with the Syrian Kurds’ moves.