For some time Turkey has been searching for ways to solve its Kurdish issue under the label of “the solution process.” Despite the optimism generated by this label, both the government and the Peace and Democracy Party [BDP] (along with other elements of parliament’s Kurdish wing) have shown prudence. One reason for this cautious optimism is Ankara’s concern that power brokers who do not want Turkey to solve this issue might sabotage the process. Many insist that no country in the region, or anywhere in the world for that matter, would like to see Turkey prosper after solving the Kurdish issue. Turkey’s most frequently mentioned adversary is Iran.
For a while now it has been alleged that Iran is in alliance against Turkey with the PKK [Kurdistan Workers Party] — or at least with PKK leaders such as Cemil Bayik, who is said to be close to Iran. We remember how many listed Iran among the possible culprits of the Paris murders. Is Iran really against Turkey resolving the Kurdish issue?
The first theory is a classic one, and posits that solving the Kurdish issue will empower Turkey. Therefore Iran, which sees Turkey as a regional rival, would not want it to gain more power by resolving the Kurdish issue.
But wouldn’t a strong and prosperous neighbor that has solved this problem contribute positively to Iran as well? Isn’t that why Iran backed Turkey’s accession to the EU and its democratic openings? Stability, economic growth and peace in Turkey’s east would certainly be felt in Iran’s restive northwest, which has been living through similar problems for many years.
Another theory is that if Turkey makes progress in solving the Kurdish issue through democratic means, it might put the authoritarian Iranian government — which also has a significant Kurdish population — in a tough spot. Iranian Kurds who see Turkish Kurds making gains might well exert pressure to achieve the same rights. This is why Iran would not want Turkey to solve the Kurdish issue through democratic means, it is claimed. While there may well be some truth to this claim, one has to admit that Iran’s Kurdish issue and the phase it has come to differ from what Turkey has experienced. For example, Iran supported the demands of Kurds in northern Iraq to form a federation, immediately recognized the Kurdistan Regional Government [KRG] without hesitation and quickly developed relations with the region.
Perhaps Iranian leaders won’t be uncomfortable with Turkey solving its Kurdish issue but will rather worry about the Turkish approach to a solution. The “solution process” now means the withdrawal of about 4,000 PKK militants from Turkey. Where will these militants go with their guns? Northern Iraq, Iran and Syria are the places that first come to mind.
Another question that has to be answered is what these militants will be doing after they leave Turkey. Will they sit on a mountaintop waiting for the process to be completed? Certainly not. A PKK that suspends its operations in Turkey is most likely to support the armed struggle of the Iranian Kurds and fight against Iran, or to go to Syria to boost and consolidate the gains of the Kurdish people there.
The PKK fighters’ withdrawal from Turkey with their guns will gain time for Turkey in the solution process. But Iranian officials have serious fears that the PKK will join with the Iranian Party for a Free Life in Kurdistan (PJAK) to focus on the struggle against Iran. Those fears may explain the recent wave of arrests of Iranian Kurdish politicians. It is reported that this wave of attacks is the most comprehensive since 2008. The fact that these arrests have come at the same time as the solution process in Turkey cannot be a coincidence.
In a nutshell, the solution process linked to the PKK’S withdrawal from Turkey is disturbing Iran. This is not because of Iran’s concern with democratization or the empowerment of Turkey, but because of its worry that the PKK fire could ignite its territory.