Turkey Must Refocus On Kurdish Peace Process

Despite setbacks in the Turkish-Kurdish peace process arising from the Syrian war, Ankara must recommit itself to achieving a lasting solution.

al-monitor Cemil Bayik, a founding member of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), speaks at the Kandil Mountains near the Iraq-Turkey border, Oct. 19, 2013. Photo by REUTERS.

Topics covered

turkey-syrian border, turkey-pkk talks, syrian crisis, rojava, kurdistan workers party, kurdish peace process, abdullah ocalan

Oct 25, 2013

For years, at every national and international platform, I have stressed that the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in Turkey wants a solution to the Kurdish issue, especially when I was addressing Kurdish audiences who didn’t want to believe me. Mind you, I was never sure that the AKP government had fully understood the Kurdish issue and that it would come up with an appropriate solution.

Nevertheless, I kept supporting any step that would bring Turkey nearer to a solution, and I will not stop doing so. This should not stop us from seeing the gaps in the solution process that arise from the government’s lack of grasping the core of the Kurdish issue, or perhaps its unwillingness to understand it. Such gaps could in time widen and derail the solution process. Those who want a real solution and seek peace have to be aware of the pitfalls and try come up with appropriate solution proposals.

Sadly, we are again in such a phase. The solution process has stalled for a while. It appears to be more of a “resilient ceasefire” than a "solution process," with the risks of cracking and a resumption of violence.

This is why it was distressing to hear Cemil Bayik of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) telling Reuters of the possibility of "reverting to armed struggle" and mentioning the threat of civil war.

Distressing, true, but not to be dismissed especially after the latest messages of PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, who the government has taken great pains to portray as a "reasonable" party, distinct from the PKK's Kandil base and the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP). Contrary to distorted views of the situation by the government and its spokesmen, Ocalan doesn’t appear to be at all pleased with the process apart from its ending the bloodshed, which is of course very important.

Eyup Can of Radikal, aware of the approaching dangers, wrote about it on two successive days. The following passage from his article yesterday, Oct. 24, is particularly important:

"The process is seriously blocked. It is at a breaking point because the parties don’t trust each other and there is a deep chasm between expectations. The biggest problem, contrary to prevailing perceptions, is not about the PKK withdrawal or the steps the government has to take, but what is happening in Syria.”

There are people who have been saying that the process with the Kurds is closely linked to developments in Syria (Rojava). What Can has learned from his sources confirms this concern. Events in Rojava are intimately linked to the stalling of the process and even regressing. The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Iraq has a part in this.

One sentence Bayik used in his statement to Reuters is particularly noteworthy: "The PKK in principle is not against the KRG's relations with Turkey. But it is not advisable to base these relations on oil and natural gas."

A Western journalist living in Iraq and following developments closely interprets Bayik’s words with this tweet: "If I had been a political personality of the KRG, these words would have kept me awake all night.”

Why? What is the connection?

  1. Turkey and the KRG signed an important oil accord, the details of which were not revealed in detail. The pipeline that will transport Kurdistan's oil and — more importantly — its natural gas, which would meet one-fourth of Turkey’s annual natural gas demand, is near completion.
  2. One political consequence of the overlapping powerful economic interests between Turkey and the KRG has been the Kurdish National Council, the umbrella organization of the Syrian Kurds under the influence of Iraqi Kurdistan Region President Massoud Barzani, joining the opposition Syrian National Council (SNC) that is considered to be under the influence of Turkey. Two vice presidencies of the SNC were allotted to Kurds. Abdulhakim Bashar, who is allied with Barzani, and the most important rival of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) is now a vice president of the SNC. It is not yet clear whether the SNC and the opposition coalition will participate in Geneva talks.
  3. If the Geneva II conference is held, the issue of Kurdish representation will be a controversial matter. The PYD wants the Kurds to be represented at Geneva II by the supreme Syrian delegation separate from the coalition and the SNC, based in Turkey.
  4. That means  the PYD is forming its own alliance, which counters the Turkey-Syrian opposition and pro-Barzani Syrian Kurds alliance.
  5. It is useful to add that at a time when Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu is talking of erasing the Sykes-Picot borders that have divided the entire region and the Kurds, Turkish Minister of Interior Muammer Guler has launched the construction of a border wall that will separate Turkey from the Kurds, between Nusaybin-Qamishli and then between Senyurt-Derbesiye. The wall is not being built along the border segment where Islamists and pro al-Qaeda groups are freely roaming. The wall is coming up to contain the areas where the PYD, identified as an extension of the PKK, is strong. The wall will separate the Syrian Kurds from Turkey.

In light of the above, it would be worthwhile to recall a part of Bayik’s remarks to Reuters as carried by the Kurdish news agency ANF: “Bayik said that Turkey, by supporting the gangs fighting the Kurds at Rojava, is actually conducting the proxy war against the Kurds." Bayik warned Turkey by saying, "If the Turkish government continues with its war against the people of west Kurdistan by arming bandit groups, then the Kurdish people have the right to carry their war to Turkey."

This is why Can’s comments, that the biggest problem is not the withdrawal of the PKK or the steps the government has to take but what is happening in Syria, makes sense.

For the sake of peace and solution, the process should not be left to its own devices. The government gave Ocalan and the Kurdish movement the impression that it was ready to take steps for the process, but didn’t. This is why the argument rages over the package.

Moreover, the time has come for the government to make fundamental changes in its Syria policy. The very first change will be to cut all sorts of support it has been giving to Islamist gangs against the PYD with the hope of fending off autonomy for Syria Kurds.

Turkey has to discard its policy of "divide and rule" aimed at Syria and even Iraqi Kurds, as was applied to Turkey’s Kurds. And, construction of the wall on the Turkey-Syria border must stop immediately. 

Unless these steps are taken, the process is about to halt and the risk of clashes will grow.

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