Recently, Kurds on each side of the Turkey-Syria border have made significant advances in their quest for autonomy. In Turkey, those gains were won at the ballot box, while in Syria they were won on the battlefield. After garnering global sympathy and the support of U.S. airpower with their defense of Kobani against a formidable siege by the Islamic State (also called ISIS), Syria’s Kurds went on to capture the strategic town of Tel Abyad from ISIS on June 15. And as a result of Turkey’s elections a week earlier, the Kurdish-led People’s Democratic Party (HDP) has entered parliament, irrevocably altering Turkey’s political landscape. Indeed, seating the first Kurdish-oriented party in parliament constitutes a milestone for civil rights in Turkey. But in the context of events on both sides of the border, the true winner is Turkey’s outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a party and militant group that initiated the HDP’s creation and whose Syrian affiliate, the Democratic Union Party (PYD),is responsiblefor the recent victories against ISIS.
The HDP’s entrance into Turkey’s parliament and the PYD’s control of Syrian territory mark a new chapter in the PKK’s decadelong attempt to create a pan-Kurdish confederation that would bring together the Middle East’s 30 million Kurds.
The PKK leadership has already outlined a path for Kurdish autonomy that obviates the need for independence. The HDP, with whom the PKK shares its grassroots support, has made sufficient gains in Ankara to begin making the PKK’s vision for a pan-Kurdish confederation a reality. In March 2005, PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan issued the Declaration of a Democratic Confederalism, which created a road map for establishing a confederation out of four autonomous Kurdish regions, each tied to its country of origin—Iraq, Iran, Syria, or Turkey—through federal relationships. Political advances like the HDP’s victory and military victories like the PYD’s advances in Syria are helping Ocalan’s plan become a reality. In other