At the same time, the United States had entered the scene by deciding that the best asset against the Islamic State in Syria would be the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, a militia of the Y.P.G., which, according to the C.I.A. World Factbook, is the Syrian wing of the P.K.K. Turkey strongly objected to this plan to “defeat terrorists with other terrorists,” but the Obama administration didn’t mind. Soon “the Kurds,” without any nuance, become heroes in the West. Americans looked at Kurdish female fighters, and saw them as brave emancipated women. Turks, by contrast, saw them as comrades of Seher Cagla Demir, the Kurdish female suicide bomber who killed 37 people in downtown Ankara, and whose posters were put up in Y.P.G.-controlled locations in Syria.
That is why anti-Americanism has skyrocketed in Turkey in the past four years. And President Vladimir Putin has used it cleverly to lure Turkey’s leaders to his side.
Now the Turkish army is marching into northern Syria, to create a “buffer zone” between Turkey and the Y.P.G. While Turkey is indeed right to be concerned by a “P.K.K.-istan” beyond its longest border, it is unclear what this operation may really achieve — other than stoking nationalist sentiment at home, which may help Mr. Erdogan’s declining popularity. The idea of relocating more than a million Syrian refugees to this barren buffer zone is simply frightening.
The United States should help, not by unilaterally siding with “the Kurds” against Turkey, which will only further infuriate the latter, but by doing what the Obama administration should have done four years ago: Understand Ankara’s concerns, mediate between the two sides and broker a peaceful deal, an option President Trump suggested Wednesday.
For the longer run, both Turks and Kurds should finally grasp the century-old lesson: There is no “military solution” to this problem. Kurdish nationalists will not be able to carve out a Kurdistan from Turkish territory, nor will Turkish nationalists be able to “wipe out all terrorists.”
The only solution is to liberalize Turkey, to make it more respectful to its Kurdish citizens — in fact, to all its citizens — while curbing the totalitarian ambitions of the P.K.K. And while this seems far away from the current reality, there are saner forces in Turkey that may turn the tide.
Mr. Erdogan himself once spearheaded this idea during the peace talks, with a beautiful slogan that then became popular: “Let the mothers not cry.” Yes, let the mothers not cry anymore — neither Turkish nor Kurdish ones, neither in Turkey nor in Syria.