Ocalan v. Barzani: Two contradictory worlds


Dear Hans,

this is my recent piece, you may agree with me or not. here is the link: Ocalan v. Barzani: Two contradictory worlds

Kamal Chomani


Ocalan v. Barzani: Two contradictory worlds / Written on May 11, 2013 by Editor Kamal Chomani

The Changes in the PKK’s Policies towards the KRG – The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and its legendary leader, Abdulla Ocalan, pose a strong challenge to the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and its leader, Masoud Barzani. The PKK is no longer a party just for northern Kurdistan: Today it also impacts significantly on the other parts of Kurdistan – something the KDP cannot tolerate.

The conflict between the PKK and KDP has become more apparent since the start of the Syrian revolution, with the involvement of the various Kurdish parties there. Basically, the Kurdish Syrian opposition parties have always been supported by the PKK, the KDP or the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). Over the past three decades, the PKK has become the strongest party in western Kurdistan due to Ocalan’s presence there until 1999. Meantime, the PKK has given Syrian Kurds prominent positions in its hierarchy. We can think of current and former People’s Defence Force (HPG) commanders who are from that part of Kurdistan. Dr Bahoz Erdal, also from the western part of Kurdistan, is a noted leader of the PKK. It is therefore unsurprising that the Democratic Union Party (PYD) – which is close to the PKK – is now the leading Kurdish party in Syria.

But this is not a good story for Barzani who now has only weak support in Syria. In fact, his residual strength among the Kurds of Syria is due to the popularity of his father, Mullah Mustafa Barzani.

The different perspectives of the KDP and PKK have provided the basis for conflict between them over Syria. But is this conflict new, as some media outlets claim? Is it as superficial as some analysts argue? Why has it become clearer now? And the most important question is: Has the PKK changed its policies concerning the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and, if so, how?

Many articles have written about all these issues in the Kurdish, Turkish and international media.

As I said, the Syrian revolution has crystalized the conflict between the KDP and PKK, from which we see the PKK in the ascendancy because the PYD has done well in organizing the population and armed defence groups. So the KDP and Barzani have become desperate. Barzani has lost his dream of winning the hearts of the Kurdish Syrian people. The PYD, even if it has become hegemonic, has won people’s hearts and it will continue invigorating its bases within the population.

The future of Syrian Kurdistan is very important for both the PKK and KDP. Both want a hand in future geo-strategic formulations. In a post-Assad era, Kurdish parties will definitely have a great impact on shaping the new Syria.

However, the differences between the KDP and PKK are not new. The ideological roots of each party are different: The PKK’s Marxist-Leninist background is set against the KDP’s tribal essence. Although the KDP is perceived to have a democrat-conservative ideology, in fact it has no real ideological identity. It is more or less a tribal party which has not changed its forms and norms since its foundation. Even though the PKK has abandoned most of its Marxist-Leninist thinking, it remains opposed to tribalism.

If the PKK has not openly criticized the KDP’s policies, this is because it has been avoiding any conflict that affects its freedom struggle against Turkey. In the past the PKK has never won anything from battles with the KDP and PUK. In the 1990s such conflicts cost the lives of many of its guerrillas, not to mention the financial losses.

But the PKK has completely different views towards Kurdish nationalism than the KDP. Masoud Barzani talks every now and then about an Independent Kurdistan while, on the ground, almost everything his party does goes against this. The PKK no longer believes in establishing a nation-state in which basic human rights and freedom of speech and the individual are not guaranteed.   The KDP’s talk of independence is designed to fool the masses and grab their sympathy, while the PKK’s nationalism seeks to build Kurdish identity and educate people.

The PKK doesn’t see the KDP as a strategic ally since it believes that, for the KDP, the interests of the Barzani family are paramount. At the same time, the PKK knows very well that they should not provoke the KDP because they have had experience of a struggle during which the KDP accepted help from Turkey. And the Turkish Army still has bases in the KDP zone of southern Kurdistan.

The PKK has changed its approach towards the KRG and the local political parties. Previously it formed a political party to operate in the region, with a different name though under the Union of Communities in Kurdistan (KCK) umbrella. The Parti Careseri Dimukirati Kurdistan (PCDK), is a PKK-affiliated party in the Kurdistan Region. Although it has been banned by the KRG and its headquarters were closed by the KDP, the party continues to operate – but it has never been successful or met the PKK’s expectations.  The PCDK couldn’t win even a single seat in the 2009 KRG elections, and I doubt they will win any if they stand again this year.

It is true that the PKK has great support from the people of southern Kurdistan, especially among the young, but still people don’t see it as a party that can overcome the KRG’s corruption, nepotism, the violations of human rights and independent journalism, and all the other crises that the KRG has faced.

So the PKK is pursuing a new strategy of working with other parties in the region. It is currently close to Jalal Talabani’s PUK, partly because of their common ideological heritage and also because the PUK shares fewer interests with Turkey than the KDP. While the PUK will never harm the PKK’s interests for the sake of Turkey, the KDP might well do so. The KDP and Turkey’s ties are strong and their interests are interconnected.

At the same time, the PKK has also developed very close relations with the Gorran Movement, because of Gorran’s obvious support for the PKK’s struggle and also their common perspectives on Kurdish nationalism. It is beyond question that Gorran’s media has supported the PKK struggle more than any other KRG party media. The PKK has also built very good ties with the Islamic Union and Islamic Group. The Islamic Union is close to the AKP and so, given the peace talks, it was not strange to see Muhammad Faraj, that party’s leader, shaking hands with Murat Karayilan in the Qandil. After the meeting, Faraj took a letter from Karayilan to Turkey.

The PKK no longer needs a political party to work for them in KRG. What they need are strategic alliances with parties that can work together in the interests of the Kurdish nation. If the peace talks reach the shores safely, such alliances will be much more important than an affiliated party. Kurdish people in the Kurdistan Region wholeheartedly support the PKK but they will not vote for a party affiliated to it. So the PKK may ask the PCDK to run in future elections alongside another party that the PKK is allied to.

Another change in the PKK’s approach is that it no longer needs new members in the region. Instead it just wants people to be educated by Ocalan’s ideology and thought. Ocalan’s books and ideas are now widely read and discussed by the new generation in the region. I think the PKK will focus, more or less, on using the media and NGOs to win the youth, rather than a political party.

When I met Murat Karayilan before the July 25, 2009 elections, I asked him about the PKK’s support for Masoud Barzani’s presidential candidacy. Although he didn’t clearly say the PKK supported Barzani, indirectly he indicated to me that he personally thought Barzani was a good candidate for that time. Today, however, there are two reasons why I don’t think the PKK will support Barzani’s re-nomination. First, the PKK cannot support something that is illegal. Second, it doesn’t want to see the incumbent president strengthened because Barzani has invested heavily in appearing as Ocalan’s stronger rival – a mission in which, I believe, he has failed.