Is Intra-Kurdish Strife the Price of Turkish-Kurdish Peace?

RADIKAL – AL MONITOR – 22.11.2013 – Iraqi Kurdistan President Massoud Barzani’s visit to Diyarbakir together with Kurdish singer Sivan Perwer is no doubt a development that has historic aspects.Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, for instance, made quite emotional remarks about Turkish-Kurdish fraternity. He broke a taboo by uttering the word “Kurdistan.”He pointed to a new threshold in the peace process by saying, “God willing, we will see the day when those up in the mountains return and the prisons are emptied.”

He paid tribute to [Kurdish singer] Ahmet Kaya, saying he wished Kaya were there with them. The Kurdistan and Turkish flags flew side by side. Perwer returned home after 38 years, singing a requiem in Kurdish.

Erdogan paid his first ever visit to the Diyarbakir municipality, which is run by the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP).

No doubt, those were long-awaited moments that came with a heavy price. Yet, they carry merely symbolic significance that can no longer remedy Kurdish scars and can only help erode the Kurdish barriers in Turkish minds and the regime’s allergy to the Kurds.

Now, having given the historic gestures their due, let’s turn to the essence of the matter. We could have been optimistic today if previous “courageous” steps had not been followed by the derailment of the Oslo process, the ensuing arrest of thousands of people in the probe against the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK), the rush to build new military outposts or the Uludere tragedy. We could have said, “It is different this time” if Erdogan had not turned the historic day into a start for his election campaign, using the Barzani card. Or if he had not used the language of war and had not slammed the BDP and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) by saying, “We will not allow a single party to dominate the east and the southeast,” in addition to, “Some people are annoyed when the youth do not die.”

Draining values

The government, unfortunately, has adopted domestic and foreign policies that are draining religious, ethnic and cultural narratives and recklessly exploiting historical, communal and political figures. I’m afraid that this Turkish-Kurdish fraternity, too, is being built amid multiple deviations.

First, the path chosen in the name of Turkish-Kurdish peace has triggered divisions among the Kurds. Barzani, whose past credibility in Ankara owed to his cooperation against the PKK, is being given another mission this time. It appears that Barzani is being presented to the Kurds as an alternative national figure at the expense of PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan.

Second, the government’s attempts to speed up the peace process are actually leading it away from the central interlocutors in the Kurdish conflict. The government, on the one hand, is moving forward by making reforms, but at the same time it is failing to shrug off the syndrome of disregarding those who demand those rights. Yet, the salute given to peace in Diyarbakir was the result of a negotiation process launched after heavy prices were paid. Today’s atmosphere is the follow-up of Ocalan’s farewell-to-arms letter, read out at the 2013 Nowroz celebration. And the interlocutor in the peace process is not Barzani but Ocalan on the planning level and the BDP and the [PKK cadres in the] Kandil Mountains on the practical level. Barzani could play only the role of encouragement and facilitation, and even that role is not problem-free. BDP lawmaker Pervin Buldan, for instance, shared the following message on Twitter: “Mr. Barzani, who claims to have come to support the peace process, slammed all doors in Hewler [Erbil] in our faces yesterday. As we headed to Kandil, our vehicles were stopped at all checkpoints and searched for hours. [Lawmaker] Sirri Sureyya Onder was denied entry to the VIP hall and unable to get a vehicle at the border crossing. He had to pass through the border crossing on a van from Cizre.”

Desperate Rojava alliance

Third, the policy of “pitching Kurds against Kurds” is under way not only at home but also in Rojava, Syria’s mainly Kurdish region. According to Radikal correspondent Tarik Isik, sources from the prime minister’s office said that Erdogan and Barzani had agreed that “the de facto administration the PYD wants to establish in northern Syria will not be allowed.” Iraqi Kurdish official Fuad Hussein has denied such an agreement, but Rojava is already embargoed in practice. Barzani’s message to BDP lawmakers yesterday, Nov. 17, is no different from what he said ahead of his visit: “The PYD is being a spoilsport. It broke the Erbil deal. All parties must abide by the deal. Otherwise, I wish them good luck.”

Both Erbil and Ankara are insisting on a policy with no prospect of success in Rojava. As much as the government links the Kurdish process to Rojava, the Kurds tend to see the peace objective as a simultaneous “peace with Rojava.” If the peace process is reduced to good ties with Erbil and a few openings without touching upon essential matters, Turkey is bound to continue wasting time. The discussions in Diyarbakir are reverberating more in Qamishli than in Erbil. At a time when even Iran — at war with [PKK-linked] PJAK — is winking at Rojava, Turkey’s policy of dismissing the PYD reality is serving nothing but the enlargement and regionalization of the Kurdish problem.