Geopolitical Shifts in Mideast to Benefit Kurds

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Geopolitical developments in the Middle East in the wake of the Arab Spring revolutions will play out in favor of the Kurds, writes Jihad el-Zein.

No matter where the rains fall in our region these days, the bloom is always Kurdish. In the Kurds’ view, be they elites or commoners, this political era is theirs — an era that would see the redressing of 90 years of injustices perpetrated against them since after the First World War. Here, then, is the Kurdish view of the situation in the region on this new-year celebration of Nowruz today.

In the last decade, the first truly independent Kurdish state in modern times was established under the formula of a “federal region” within the Iraqi state. Yet, if it weren’t for the region’s share of the central government’s oil, nothing would remain of this formula, except nominal ties marred by a relation of daily confrontations.

During the two years since the Syrian revolution erupted, Syrian Kurds in the extreme north and northeastern parts of the country have enjoyed self-rule in their areas, which extend discontinuously over hundreds of kilometers from Afrin to al-Qamishli along the border with Turkey. The term "Western Kurdistan" was even created during the Syrian revolution to describe these regions, which possess historical roots dissimilar to those of Kurdish areas in Northern Iraq. This is because a large portion of their inhabitants came from Turkey and took refuge there after World War I to escape the Kurdish-Turkish clashes that erupted in the first decade following the establishment of Kamal Ataturk’s republic.

Throughout the revolution, and despite the fact that control over Kurdish areas fell mostly to the Democratic Union Party — which does not agree, and even clashes, with the Free Syrian Army militias, especially the Islamic fundamentalist factions among them — the Syrian revolutionary leadership committees established abroad were always keen to give precedence to Kurdish individuals. This led to the appointment of Abdulbaset Sieda as head of the Syrian National Council and then Ghassan Hitto as head of the interim government for the liberated areas. It is also well known that many disagreements erupted within the opposition’s institutions between Arabs and Kurds concerning the future identity of Syria and its regime.

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But the happiest development, which might turn out to be the most important event for Kurds in the region, is the ongoing transformation in the relationship between the leader of the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK), the imprisoned Abdullah Ocalan, and the ruling Justice and Development Party in Turkey, headed by Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Information in the Turkish press confirms that an agreement has been reached between Ocalan and Ankara, following negotiations started by members of the Kurdish bloc in Turkey’s parliament with officials from the country’s intelligence services, concerning a series of unprecedented steps to establish peace between the two sides, especially in southeastern Turkey. The whole of Turkey is now waiting for Ocalan to address his party’s fighters, instructing them to withdraw beyond Turkey’s borders (to the Kandil Mountains in Northern Iraq) on the occasion of the Kurdish Nowruz celebration on March 21, in return for Ankara’s consent to a series of steps that would strengthen the democratic gains achieved by Turkish Kurds on the political and cultural fronts. This would hinge on the condition that the PKK abandons its secessionist agenda.

This bold step by Erdogan would undoubtedly not have occurred — or hastened — had the situation in Syria not changed two years ago. It is true that Kurdish political and military pressure inside Turkey has a long history. It is also true that Erdogan strives to amend the constitution and instill a presidential system of governance with him as president. However, the situation that has arisen on the Turkish-Syrian border after March 17, 2011, pushed Erdogan, after much hesitation, into going further and implementing bolder steps in his negotiations with Ocalan. For Erdogan, two years ago, had gone so far as to adopt a hardline discourse against the armed Kurdish insurrection, similar to that espoused by extremist Turkish nationals against any form of recognition of a distinctive Kurdish political identity in Turkey.

The Syrian crisis has revealed, and the Turkish leader has discovered, that Turkey’s border with Syria — from Aleppo’s countryside to al-Qamishli (approximately 500 kilometers long) — is, in large part, Kurdish.

The practical experience gained on the ground during the last two years, and Erdogan’s orders to Turkish intelligence services to systematically take charge of the border region with Syria and help Syrian opposition forces spread their control over those regions or even “surrender” them to the opposition on the Syrian side, have made the Turkish president realize that his support of the Syrian revolution against the regime has given Turkish Kurds — and the PKK specifically — a source of backing and a demographic, political and military depth that he had not expected.

This means that Turkey, as it entered into this wide-ranging international and regional operation to curb Iranian influence over Damascus, not only found itself suddenly at loggerheads with the Russians and their decision to back the Syrian regime, but was also surprised by the negative developments taking place on its border. Ankara was worried about the growing possibility that a Western Kurdistan be established, affording the PKK fighters a safe haven at a time when Turkey sought to establish a buffer zone on its northern border with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. These developments manifested themselves through a dangerous escalation of armed Kurdish attacks inside Turkey, despite the fact that, in theory at least, the guerillas originated in Northern Iraq.

Through experience, Erdogan understood that preventing his policies toward Syria from mutating into a strategic burden for Turkey — in this, its most worrisome of internal affairs — requires that unprecedented initiatives be undertaken in his negotiations with prisoner Ocalan.

Turkey still awaits the results of this negotiating experiment between its strong government and the Kurds, which echoes the courageous decision that former French president Charles De Gaulle took to negotiate with the Algerian National Liberation Front after 1958. These negotiations led to very difficult times internally for France, culminating in a series of attempted coups d’état by extremist French colonial officers who were backed by a portion of French society unable to digest the idea of Algerian independence.

The fundamental difference in the Turkish case is that the reconciliation project completely precludes any secessionist proclivities by the Kurds, despite the fact that it remains unclear what agreements were reached pertaining to the manner by which the Turkish state’s Kurdish areas would be ruled.

The agreement is still in its infancy, yet its first victims were the female Kurdish leaders in Paris a short while ago. Nationalist Turkish factions, represented in parliament and the (politically impotent) army, are still observing the events unfold, and we still don’t have any indications as to the depth of the agreement. Thus, we cannot anticipate any final reactions to it; except to say that they range from caution (the Republican People’s Party) to rejection among hardline nationalists (the Nationalist Movement Party).

Turkey’s labor pains just started, but current events seem to indicate that the ensuing birth will be to the Kurds’ liking and will fulfill the nationalist interests that they aspire to.

As a result, the Kurdish elite finds itself needing to contend with the following issues:

The Kurds’ critics could claim that Kurdish aspirations can only be fulfilled at the expense of the “disintegration” of other nations, specifically Iraq and Syria. This means that, since their inception in 1920, Kurdish nationalist movements have always been reliant upon the need to dismantle the region’s countries.

In response, the Kurds could say that it was no accident that their political and economic rise occurred in the era of democratic changes in the Arab world, which means that the oppressive ruling regimes were responsible for Arab repression against them.

Both views are correct! Congratulations to the Kurds and Iranians on the occasion of Nowruz today, and condolences — on Mother’s Day — to all the grieving mothers of the victims of this upswell in nationalist, democratic, Arab, Kurdish, Turkish and Iranian sentiments.

The region has long exploited the Kurds. Now, their time has come to return the favor.

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Found in: turkey, syrian crisis, syrian, recep tayyip erdogan, pkk, ocalan, northern iraq, massoud barzani, kurds, kurdistan, krg, iraq
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