COMMENTARY : PKK leader’s reading of the Arab Spring and ‘new’ Mideast

CİHAN ÇELİK  – Hürriyet – 2.3.2013 – The fledgling peace efforts between the leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Turkish state have taken a new turn with the second visit by deputies from the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) and the leak of the alleged “official prison records” of their meeting.

The daily, which published the records, said the records were not “served” to them, and the source of the leakage remained a mystery as this article was being penned.  The governing Justice and Development Party (AKP) pointed at the BDP for the release of the documents and labeled the disclosure as “an attempt to sabotage” the peace talks. There is quite many who think otherwise, suggesting the leakage is part of the “transparency” of the ongoing process. The authenticity of the documents was also doubtful and, even if they are real, the possibility that the records were “doctored” is highly unlikely considering both the BDP and the government’s elusive stance toward the details of the peace talks.

Putting aside, if we can, the controversy and doubts over the source and genuineness of the records as well as the long-term ramifications of the leakage – as in whether it hinders the slow-moving peace push or boosts the success of it by making its course transparent – the PKK’s jailed leader, Abdullah Öcalan, supposedly appeared aloof to the changing equilibrium of the Middle East on the heels of the so-called “Arab Spring” turmoil.  On the issue of Syria, which is home to a significant number of Kurds, who have recently buried the hatchet with Syrian rebels with a fragile alliance deal after long-standing friction, Öcalan advised Syrian Kurds to play both ends against the middle by suggesting “they need to have contacts with the two sides.”  While warning Syrian Kurds against the “Saudi Salafis,” the PKK leader wants them to ally with “Kurds, Arabs, Turks and Turkmens, all,” under an umbrella group that he called the “Syria Democratic Liberation Front.” Calling Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime a “petit bourgeois dictatorship,” what Öcalan’s most striking assessment about Syrian Kurds was his, as well as the PKK’s, fear that they might follow Iraqi Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani. According to the suspected leaked records, Öcalan thinks Syrian Kurds “cannot obey Barzani’s rule [because] his stance is different.”

The PKK leader did not further elaborate upon what he meant by calling Barzani’s stance “different,” but his mentioning of the Iraqi Kurdish leader can be seen as his anxiety over a possible boost to Barzani’s influence on the region’s Kurds if the PKK sees a loss in dominance in the event of a possible deal with the Turkish state over disarmament. Still, Öcalan reportedly seemed confident about the PKK’s fighting power and said a possible pullout deal would not necessarily mean an end to the guerrilla war since “there are 50,000 fighters in Syria, 10,000 in Kandil and 40,000 in Iran.” His estimation about the numbers of fighters in neighboring countries seemed exaggerated and with his high tally, he emphasized the importance of establishing “self-defense forces” for Syrian Kurds.

Moving from Syria to Egypt, Öcalan appeared to assess the regime change there as artificially created by foreign powers, in particular the West, which he accused of abusing Islam for its own goals.

According to the PKK leader, the Brits used Islam to bring down the Ottomans, and now their new “fabrication” is Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi. Öcalan said now they were fabricating “imams” after years of fabricating “generals” in the past, purportedly referring to the West, which he said is organizing a “revisited” coup against the PKK and his peace project.

Overall, Öcalan’s differing approach ultimately hands Kurds conflicting tasks as he offered them an alliance to the Arab Spring at the micro level with macro-level harsh criticism of “Western-fabricated” political changes that are “no good” for the region.