U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (L) sits with U.N. Special Representative Lakhdar Brahimi (C) and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (L) sits with U.N. Special Representative Lakhdar Brahimi (C) and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (Reuters)

While the world holds its breath awaiting the Geneva II peace talks, scheduled for 23 November, analysts are beginning to wonder whether a minor player may shed new light on the Syrian puzzle.

Together with the Syrian opposition, Syrian Kurds are preparing themselves to take to the negotiating table. While their hope is to gain recognition of the historical northern Kurdish region of Rojava, deeper regional and international interests may currently be at stake.

A tangled web of divisions and mistrusts is preventing both Kurds and international actors from considering the potential of their participation. Should they overcome these suspicions, however, the international community may dispose of a key piece in the Syrian puzzle.

Brothers and foes

The fragmented constellation of Kurdish parties in Syria seems to converge in two competing blocs.

On the one hand there are those gathered under the banner of the Kurdish National Council (KNC), an organisation created in 2011 with the support of Masoud Barzani, president of the Kurdistan Regional Government of Iraq (KRG).

On the other, there is Salih Muslim's Democratic Union Party (PYD), the so-called "Syrian branch" of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) based in Turkey.

The PYD is among the strongest organisations on the ground, administering a good number of towns in northern Syria through well-organised "popular councils".

In 2012, in an effort to prevent the "conflict within the conflict" experienced by Iraqi Kurds in the 1990s, Barzani tried to merge the two blocks into a single Kurdish Supreme Committee (KSC).

Despite the initial success, however, parties within the KSC did not manage to find a unified position and many of them criticise the Committee for having become a "PYD tool".

It is still unclear whether these parties may overcome their opposition before Geneva II takes place. While Russia has disclosed its preference for a solution that includes the PYD, Turkey and the US are still quiet on the issue.

Interestingly enough, these silent actors are exactly the same as those who have most interest in the stabilisation of Rojava.

Two birds with one stone

Kurdish female fighters
Kurdish female fighters (Reuters)

In the last two years both Turkey and the US have focused their efforts on tackling two major enemies in the Syrian region: Assad and al-Qaida affiliated groups.

In doing so, however, they may have undervalued a potential ally which naturally fights against both - the Kurds, especially the armed troops of the PYD, who since the beginning of the war have been engaged in a strenuous two-pronged offensive.

The killing of the son of Salih Muslim, head of the PYD, by a group linked to al-Qaida on the eve of the Eid al-Adha holiday stands as striking proof of this struggle. Ankara, which in the past had expressed its scepticism over the PYD's position on jihadist groups, has received the ultimate proof that Muslim is an ally on his side.

With such powerful potential, why hesitate in strengthening the support to Syrian Kurds - especially when such an easy way to kill two birds with one stone is being offered?

Mutual suspicions

Suspicion on both sides seems the primary reason holding back dialogue in the Turkey-USA-Kurdistan triangle.

Ankara cannot conceal its distrust towards an affiliate of the PKK, Turkey's historical enemy.

Then there is the fear that a Syrian twin of the Iraqi KRG may foster the dreams of autonomy for its own Kurds.

Both the USA and the PYD, on the other side, have voiced on many occasions their concern over Turkey's aid to Syrian rebels, including al-Qaida affiliated radical groups, through the Turkish National Intelligence Agency (MIT) and its chief, Hakan Fidan.

While fears and expectations rise, the Geneva II conference nears with no definitive resolution of these tensions yet in sight.

If the main actors could manage to overcome their mutual suspicions, the Syrian Kurds may reveal themselves to be a key piece to solving the Syrian puzzle.

Emanuela Pergolizzi is an expert in Turkish affairs. She has published an essay entitled "AKP foreign policy: a 'neo' or 'post' Ottoman recap?". From 2013 she covered the peace process between the Turkish government and Kurdish jailed leader Abdullah Ocalan. She writes for Osservatorio Iraq and Resetdoc.