Turkish government plays with Kurdish fire

In its seeming criticism of the Islamic State, the Turkish government takes every opportunity to attack Kurdish political groups and undermine the peace process.

al-monitor Women wave banners with the portrait of Abdullah Ocalan, one of the founding members of the Kurdistan Workers Party, during a protest against Islamic State (IS) militant attacks on Syrian Kurds, in Istanbul, Sept. 21, 2014. Photo by REUTERS/Murad Sezer.

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turkey, syria, kurds, justice and development party, islamic state, democratic union party

Oct 1, 2014

The Justice and Development Party (AKP) government, while giving the impression of “somehow protecting” the Islamic State (IS), seems to have opened a frontal attack against the axis of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), the People's Democracy Party (HDP) and the Democratic Union Party (PYD) — that is, against the top political representatives of Turkey’s and Syria’s Kurds, or in other words, against the Kurdish political movement.

Yesterday, Sept. 30, Diken, a new but outstanding online newspaper, reported Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu’s seeming criticism of IS under this headline: “Everybody is responsible but Turkey! This time Davutoglu blames HDP and PYD over IS.”

Diken carried the following excerpts from Davutoglu’s remarks, which he had made to pro-government journalists:

“The PYD took a stance against the Free Syrian Army (FSA), expelled all other Kurdish groups from the region and oppressed the Kurds.

“When IS saw that the FSA was weakened, it turned on the PYD. Once in trouble, the PYD began to cry out. And the HDP is now manipulating the Rojava issue to put us under pressure.

“The HDP refuses to see all those problems as a universal humanitarian issue. Because of their ethnic blindness, they were the ones to cause the biggest harm to the PYD in the Rojava problem. Had they joined the Free Syrian Army at the time, IS would have failed to entrench itself there.

“Rojava took the heaviest blow from [the PKK command in] the Kandil mountains. They themselves delivered the heaviest blow to Rojava by not touching IS while it cooperated with the Syrian regime.

“What they are trying to do is to win legitimacy by making a fuss about this problem. That is, they are trying to create an impression like ‘We are the only ones fighting IS, so give us an acknowledgement.’”

The prime minister’s remarks, blaming the PYD and the HDP for IS, hardly hold any water. Each and every sentence is problematic. Some are even detached from reality, such as his assertion that “had they joined the Free Syrian Army at the time, IS would have failed to entrench itself there.”

Which Free Syrian Army really? This opposition group, which Turkey held in its lap, kept changing its leaders and structure. At one point, a large part of the FSA formed the Islamic Front, whose strongest component was al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra. The PYD was the most organized group in the overwhelmingly Kurdish areas. The FSA did not even exist there. While the FSA’s “Islamist department” attacked the PYD together with IS, the FSA’s “non-Islamist department” never reconciled with the PYD on the issue of Kurdish rights, holding tight to Arab nationalism. So much so that even a number of other Kurdish groups — those under the influence of Turkey and Iraqi Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani — failed to reach a compromise with the FSA on Kurdish rights.

Hence, Davutoglu’s remarks are devoid of any factual and justifiable basis.

The same Davutoglu had earlier offered an “academic analysis” of IS, the group that beheads journalists, rapes women, destroys religious shrines, churches and Shiite mosques alike, outstripping even the Crusaders and the Mongols in the devastation it causes to the Middle East. Davutoglu had said IS was “not a cause but an outcome,” arguing that the group had grown strong because Sunnis were marginalized from power in Iraq.

This observation is partially correct, but for the most part it is inaccurate. Counterarguments are easy to bring. Yet, to portray IS in such a light and then blame the PYD and the HDP means that one has gone beyond making an “academic mistake” and begun to play with fire politically.

The developments in Kobani undid the tune of government rhetoric on the Kurdish question. Off-key government officials are now coming up with such illogical reactions that people can hardly believe their ears.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, for instance, made the following statement, calling out to an unknown interlocutor: “Hey, world! You speak out against IS, but why don’t you speak out against the PKK?” Those are words that should have never come out of the mouth of a politician who has engaged in a dialogue with the PKK leader and made this dialogue a linchpin of his policies in recent years.

Let alone that, another question arises here: On the one hand, there is an IS that occupies Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria, seeks to take Erbil, Kirkuk and Bagdad in Iraq and Aleppo in Syria, beheads people, destroys religious shrines, has declared a “state” in the areas it controls in Iraq and Syria and seeks to expand its borders, and relentlessly attacks Kobani just across the Turkish border. On the other hand, there is a PKK-PYD that purports to have begun talks for “permanent peace” with Ankara via PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan (imprisoned on Imrali Island), wages defensive struggles in the Sinjar mountains on Iraqi soil and in Kobani in Syria, where it has no plans to expand its “cantons.” So, what is the commonality that Erdogan sees in these two groups?

Moreover, in his tirade to the “world,” Erdogan asks, “Why IS but not the PKK?” being criticized. And doesn’t this resonate as a chord supportive of IS?

This and similar statements by government officials are without any rhyme or reason, but it is intriguing that the president and the prime minister targeted the PKK and the HDP-PYD only a day apart.

Thus, while giving the impression of “somehow protecting” IS, the AKP government appears to have opened a frontal attack against the PKK-HDP-PYD axis, that is, against the top political representatives of Turkey’s and Syria’s Kurds, or in other words, against the Kurdish political movement. And all this just at a time when Turkey’s and Syria’s Kurds seem to have united around Kobani, removed the “fictitious border” between them and launched a struggle for survival in Kobani.

In the past two days, the ANF agency carried comprehensive assessments of the latest developments by Sabri Ok, a veteran of the Kurdish political movement who has spent 20 years in Turkish jails and taken part in all attempts at a negotiated settlement, including as a negotiator in the Oslo talks.

“The Turkish state is pursuing a dirty and sly policy, whereby it seeks to crush the Kurds via the IS gangs, while opening its door to the desperate people [of Kobani] on the assumption they will be forced to flee to Northern Kurdistan [Turkey]. They have made a plan that seeks to first empty Kobani and then set up a buffer zone under the pretext of humanitarian concern,” Ok said.

One may disagree with this assessment, but one has to take it into account as the way in which the Kurdish political movement sees the latest developments.

Ok is also critical of the Kurdish administration in Iraq. One of his remarks stands out: “Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani speaks comfortably on behalf of the AKP. While the international community exposes the links between the AKP and IS, he easily says the AKP has no links with IS, doesn’t support them, etc. Even AKP supporters don’t speak with such certainty, but he feels compelled to cover up the AKP-IS links more than any AKP supporter would do. We don’t understand that. The Kurds resisting in Kobani say just the opposite. The people who resist at the border, who suffer the blows of the [Turkish] police and soldiers’ truncheons, who are the target of tear gas and bullets say the opposite of what Mr. Nechirvan Barzani says.”

And how does Washington view the situation? When Erbil came under IS threat, the Iraqi Kurdistan Region was propped up by US support and an intensive US air operation.

Will Kobani receive similar support? If the United States looks the other way and allows Kobani to fall, it would mean it favors Ankara and Erbil over the Kurdish political movement in Turkey and Syria. If the contrary happens, it would mark a new chapter in Middle Eastern politics and power balances.

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