Contacts with imprisoned PKK Leader Abdullah Ocalan is one of the approaches to solve the Kurdish issue. But it is not enough. He is the first among equals, but his personal decision will not lead the PKK to give up its arms. The president of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region, Massoud Barzani, is essential for a solution with the PKK. What is important now is what the PKK’s armed wing, based in Iraq’s Kandil mountains, wants.
Deputy Prime Minister Besir Atalay recently said that contacts with the imprisoned Ocalan is one approach to solving the Kurdish issue, while they are making contacts with other parties located within and outside Turkish borders. Let's start with Ocalan.
Ocalan is indeed an important figure. He is first among equals, but his personal decision will not lead to PKK to give up its arms. But...
If Ocalan doesn't approve the disarmament of the PKK, even if all other parties unite in backing this endeavor, the effort would fail. This is why I say Ocalan's position is the first among equals. Let me elaborate on other factors.
The Barzani Factor
Years ago, President Turgut Ozal described the situation in the region as such: The US agreed to withdraw from Iraq. Shiites are the majority in Iraq. They will probably control the government. The Shiite government in Baghdad will enjoy self confidence due to the backing of Iran. Iraq’s neighbor, Syria, is governed by an Alawite ruler. Within such a context, who should the northern Iraqi Kurds ally with? They have no other option than Turkey. In return we should support the Kurdish authority in northern Iraq.
This was a summary of Ozal's understanding of the region.
I assume Barzani is among the most important figures Atalay refers to when he said “other parties”. While Turkish jets fly over northern Iraq, Barzani maintains his silence, unlike his previous protests. Doesn't this imply he has an implicit alliance with Turkey? It seems that the U.S. wants this rapprochement and supports this alliance. Turkey has the largest Kurdish population. If the PKK can exert influence over this population, it would threaten Barzani.
The democratization process in Turkey, and the rights and freedoms granted to them over the past few years, makes Barzani comfortable vis-a-vis his own people. This democratic opening is an important card in the disarmament of PKK.
Due to the serious health condition of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, Barzani is the sole and most powerful figure in northern Iraq. Negotiating with one person might shorten the process, however it could also end in failure. Moreover, we should always keep in mind that there are those waiting in ambush to sabotage the solution of Turkey's most important problem.
Psychology of Kandil
The PKK's command center in the Kandil mountains must be busy devising future plans in case they get disarmed. We know their blueprints. They want autonomous Kurdish rule in certain cities that they have listed. They want the armed wing of the PKK to constitute the security forces in this autonomous region. Domestic and foreign policy or taxation and fiscal issues are of secondary importance. If this process ends with the disarmament of the PKK, the most important obstacle hindering the solution would be eliminated. Those in the Kandil mountains have a political party that can carry out peaceful politics and a growing constituency. There is an historical opportunity that should not be missed.