OFRA BENGIO – SINKAYA – ALI SEMIN & OTHERS : ‘Withdrawal of armed PKK terrorists could be concern for Iran’

14 April 2013 /GÖZDE NUR DONAT, ANKARA – ZAMAN – Iran is concerned over the possibility that Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) terrorists may exit Turkey without first laying down their weapons, within the scope of Turkey’s terrorism settlement talks with the PKK, and flee to Iran or conflict-torn Syria, leading to the strengthening of Kurdish insurgents in the two countries, analysts say.

Iran has not made any official statement yet on the repercussions of settlement talks to end PKK terrorism in the region yet.

However, Bayram Sinkaya, an expert on Iranian politics who also teaches in the international relations department at Yıldırım Beyazıt University in Ankara, spoke to Sunday’s Zaman about the issue.

“The possibility that PKK terrorists may withdraw from Turkey without disarming could disturb Iran, in the cases of both Iran and Syria.”

Pointing to a fragile cease-fire between Iran and the Party of Free Life of Kurdistan (PJAK), the PKK-linked group in Iran, Sinkaya said that if armed PKK terrorists enter Iran after ending their fight in Turkey it may lead to new conflicts between Iran and PJAK. Sinkaya claimed that in such a case, the arrival of PKK terrorists would provide “fresh blood” for PJAK.

PJAK reached a mutual cease-fire with the Iranian government in September 2011 when Iran claimed victory after its operations against the group, but many clashes have since taken place. Sinkaya said that the fact that Turkey has not indicated where the PKK terrorists will go after withdrawing from Turkey likely makes Iran uncomfortable, considering it could lead to a Kurdish insurgency flaring up on its territory. He maintained that the increasing level of mass arrests of Kurdish political activists in recent days in Iran is also related to this discomfort.

Meanwhile, a senior diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity, from the Iranian Embassy, told Sunday’s Zaman that the possibility of PKK terrorists withdrawing from Turkey would not affect Iran.

“All these PKK terrorists are from Turkey. They don’t have citizenship in any other country so they cannot enter Iran, Iran would not accept them,” the diplomat said. The diplomat also added that Iranian-Turkish relations would develop positively if Turkey solves its terrorism problem, making itself a lot stronger in the region.

At the same time, another scenario that Sinkaya says could play out is that withdrawing PKK terrorists could join the PKK-affiliated Democratic Union Party (PYD) in Syria and strengthen the Kurdish armed presence in northern Syria. “After such a development, the strengthening of an autonomous Kurdish presence in Syria would be more likely. Such a process would mean a big threat to the incumbent Syrian regime,” Sinkaya said. Iran is a staunch ally of the Syrian regime.

As the talks are ongoing with regard to Turkey’s settlement process with the PKK, some of the terrorists have started to leave Turkish soil and enter Syria. “A significant number of PKK terrorists of Syrian origin have withdrawn, and they have gone to Syria,” Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan confirmed last week.

Media outlets have also reported that the PYD in Syria has entered into increasing conflicts with President Bashar al-Assad’s forces especially in Aleppo over the last week and that the PKK terrorists withdrawing from Turkish soil have joined the ranks of the PYD troops.

Ali Semin, a Middle East expert from the Turkish think tank — the Wise Men Center for Strategic Studies (BİLGESAM) — claimed that Iran is already concerned that the PJAK, which is now based in northern Iraq, has started to draw a roadmap to unite ranks.

“Iran is concerned that it would be the turn of the Kurdish terrorist groups [to strengthen], after the strengthening of PYD in Syria,” Semin said. As the settlement process is ongoing, Turkey could also become a target of Kurdish terrorism in the transition term. With the PYD succeeding in Syria, Iran would be left as the only target for Kurdish groups to concentrate their activities on, Semin noted. Semin stated that Iran’s silence on the Turkey-PKK solution process should be analyzed very well by Turkey at this point. “Not making any comment does not mean necessarily that Iran is supporting the process,” Semin mentioned adding, “Turkey should take the Iranian position [on the solution process] very seriously.” Professor Ofra Bengio, a senior research fellow at the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies teaching at Tel Aviv University, has told Sunday’s Zaman that Iran is rather concerned about Turkey’s “solution process” with the PKK, not about the end result, but rather that they don’t want Turkey to solve the Kurdish issue. “Iran does not want the Kurds in Turkey to have a democratic solution that might create the same type of desires in its Kurdish population,” Bengio explained.