Turkey Mulls Future Kurdish Scenarios
By: Hüsnü Mahalli
Published Friday, January 18, 2013
Istanbul – In what may be described as a very odd move by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the Turkish authorities, tens of thousands of Kurds in the southeastern city of Diyarbakir were allowed to participate in the funeral of three Kurdish activists – including a founding member of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) – who were assassinated in Paris on 9 January 2013.
To be sure, Turkish warplanes had carried out airstrikes against PKK positions and encampments in northern Iraq prior to the funeral. Perhaps this was a government message to the Turkish population that the war on Kurdish “terror” would continue, even if the government allowed the slain leaders of the Kurdish “terrorist” group to be buried in a massive funeral procession in Turkey.
Kurdish leaders in Turkey appealed to the participants in the ceremony not to raise PKK flags or portraits of PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan, who has been imprisoned by the Turkish authorities since 1999. These directives are possibly a first for a Kurdish demonstration.
And indeed, tens of thousands gathered yesterday at a square in Diyarbakir, the largest Kurdish city in Turkey, many wearing white scarves, a symbol of peace. The mourners refrained from chanting any “radical” slogans that may have provoked Turkish nationalist factions.
In the meantime, a delegation from the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) met with Öcalan to inquire about his conditions in prison. According to the Turkish media, secret talks between the government and the PKK leader continue, with a view to reach a secret deal that serves both sides’ interests. To many, this is seen as a starting point for the final settlement to the Kurdish question in Turkey.
One key demand by Öcalan is to be released under a comprehensive general amnesty issued by the government for all leaders, members, and followers of the PKK. Only then would he instruct the party’s armed fighters to cease their attacks against Turkey once and for all.
After that, political demands such as recognizing the Kurdish national identity in the constitution would be discussed between the PKK and the Turkish government.
Through its media, the Turkish government has been able to persuade a majority of the Turkish people that a political solution to the Kurdish question is both necessary and urgent, and that reaching one would serve the national interests of the state. Yet independent opinion polls show that most Turks would not readily accept Öcalan’s release or amnesty for PKK followers.
For one thing, this would mean that in the future, Öcalan could become an important figure in Kurdish, and even Turkish, political life, especially if the Turkish government were to give autonomy to the Kurds in southeast Turkey.
In this vein, press reports have often alluded to a Turkish plan for a quick resolution to the Kurdish question, which seeks to counter any undesirable scenarios in Syria, which also has a sizable Kurdish population. Particularly so when the Syria-based Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), which is allied with the Turkish chapter of the PKK, controls the Kurdish regions in Syria adjacent to the Kurdish regions in Turkey and northern Iraq.
This may help explain the strategic alliance between Ankara and Iraqi Kurdish leaders Massoud Barzani and Jalal Talabani. The alliance seeks to influence Kurdish public opinion in Syria, and to convince Syrian Kurds of the need for cooperation and rapprochement with Turkey.
Turkey has provided all kinds of support for the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) of Iraq as it makes profits to the tune of billions of dollars in trade and oil deals.
This has allowed Ankara to become a key player in internal Iraqi affairs, owing to its alliance with Barzani and Talabani, as well as Iraq’s Sunni Deputy Prime Minister Tariq al-Hashemi.
On a related note, it has become an open secret that Erdogan’s moves concerned with the Kurdish question have a lot to do with its most important ally: Washington DC. Next month, Erdogan will travel to the US to hold talks over future scenarios.
Meanwhile, there are reports that the situation may soon heat up in Iran’s Kurdish regions with the approach of Iran’s presidential election. This may prompt Ankara to move faster towards containing Kurdish populations in the region under an umbrella of pan-Islamic sentiment.
Just like the Turkish political and ideological model was endorsed by the Muslim Brotherhood in the countries of the Arab Spring, this Turkish umbrella may take a form that is acceptable for Arab and the Muslim nations. Most probably, it will involve a model of moderate and democratic Islam, that is to say, one that is consistent with US interests.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.