13 Ekim 2014 Pazartesi

Turkey's Kurdish Challenge

The transformation of “Arab Spring” into “Arab Winter” due to bloody civil war in Syria, military takeover in Egypt and instabilities in Libya not only decreased hopes for democracy in the Arab world, but also brought Kurdish question to a new dimension for countries having large Kurdish population including Iraq, Turkey, Syria and Islamic Republic of Iran.

Among these countries, Iran seems to be most secure one since Kurdish armed resistance in Iran (PJAK) is weaker compared to other Kurdish secessionist movements and Iran does not have any concern for democracy or human rights violations against secessionist groups. The radical and authoritarian nature of the Islamic regime interestingly poses an advantage for the Islamist regime in preventing Kurdish secessionism.

In Syria, civil war between Syrian President Bashar al Assad loyalists, Kurdish groups, moderate Sunni opposition and radical Sunni terrorist groups like ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria) presents a complex picture for Kurds. In Kobani town near Turkish border, there are serious fights going on for weeks between the ISIS and Kurdish militia (PKK and its Syrian branch PYD). It seems difficult for Syrian Kurds to fight against the ISIS without Turkish support. However, Turkey does not want to deal with two Kurdish political entities at the same time and new Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu made it clear that Turkey could help Syrian Kurds only with the condition of fighting against Assad regime. “Of course, because we believe that if Assad stays in Damascus with this brutal policy, if [ISIS] goes, another radical organization may come in” said Davutoğlu in order to show that Turkey’s support to Kurds is contingent on the Syrian regime being the principal target.[1]

In Iraq, Kurds have been enjoying an autonomous state for many years and now making preparations for the declaration of an independent Kurdistan on the northern part of the country ruled by Massoud Barzani and Kurdistan Regional Government. Although the recent terror wave created by the ISIS posed a major threat to survival of an independent Kurdistan in Iraq, Iraqi Kurds seem to be the strongest actor among Kurds since they have a regular army (Peshmerga) now will be trained by the British Army and supplied arms by Germany and France. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has already declared that his country is ready to recognize an independent Kurdistan in northern Iraq.[2] It is no secret that energy security and transportation has more weight in Western strategies concerning their plans and policies towards the Middle East. That is why, energy agreements with Western companies and Turkey’s “green light” to an independent Kurdistan for the transportation of cheap oil through its pipelines will be the most crucial factors for such a move. Marc Champion from Gulf News claims that Turkish President of the Republic Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s look for international support for his Presidency due to his decreasing legitimacy related to the claims on the international media about Turkey’s support to ISIS and Iraqi Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani’s ambition of being crowned leader of an independent entity work to mutual advantage for these two Nakshi politicians.[3]

In Turkey, although the Justice and Development Party (JDP) has been the most reformist party ever concerning the Kurdish question in the country, Turkey’s Kurds are now angry towards their government for not giving more help to Syrian Kurds and organized large demonstrations and attacks towards security forces which led to 35 deaths last week in some villages in the southeastern part of the country largely populated by Kurds. Events also spread to some Kurdish neighborhoods in Western villages including Ankara, İzmir and İstanbul. The unrest is largely due to allegations that “Turkey’s government is turning a blind eye to, or even supporting, ISIS’s onslaught against Kurdish militants holed up in Kobani”.[4] However, Turkey’s hesitance for not entering into Syrian soil is not just based on concerns related to Kurdish independence. According to Hugh Pope from The Guardian, Turkish administration thinks that breaking international law by crossing a border could weaken Turkey’s international position (as with Russia in Ukraine), set off angry regional reactions from backers of Damascus such as Iran and Lebanon’s Hezbollah, and could lead to Syria itself firing missiles at Turkish cities.[5] However, Turkey’s indifference towards Kobani tragedy might also be an internal problem since one of the leaders of the PKK, Cemil Bayık, recently declared that “this would mean an end for the peace process going on between the Turkish state and PKK”.[6] Turkey’s Kurds seem now not impressed by the all cultural openings made by the Turkish state and look for autonomy and Kurdish education in state schools in southeastern Anatolia. Recent Scottish referendum in United Kingdom also gave Kurds inspiration and hope for a peaceful democratic solution. However, the biggest problem of the Kurds in Turkey is that the Kurdish population living in the Western cities are larger compared to Kurdish population in the southeastern Anatolia and not all Kurds want autonomy or break-up from Turkey.

Having said these, policy options for Turkish government seem rather limited. Turkey might try to use its military force in addition to some cultural openings (Kurdish education in weekend schools and elective Kurdish courses) and political psychological methods to increase its legitimacy and to regain control in Kurdish villages or to accept a referendum in order to finalize its Kurdish question with a democratic tool and leave the decision up to Kurds themselves. In any case, Kurdish nationalism will continue to have a growing effect over Turkish politics.  


[1] Semih İdiz (2014), “Assad, not Islamic State, in Ankara’s crosshairs”, Al Monitor, Date of Accession: 13.10.2014 from http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2014/10/turkey-united-states-syria-isis-kurds-assad.html.  
[2] “Netanyahu calls for Kurdish independence from Iraq”, Haaretz, Date of Accession: 13.10.2014 from http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/.premium-1.601997.
[3] Marc Champion (2014), “Why Turkey will help the Kurds to break up Iraq”, Gulf News, Date of Accession: 13.10.2014 from http://gulfnews.com/opinions/columnists/why-turkey-will-help-the-kurds-to-break-up-iraq-1.1355861.   
[4] Piotr Zalewski (2014), “Turkey Catches Fire as ISIS Burns Kobani”, Time, Date of Accession: 13.10.2014 from http://time.com/3482714/isis-battle-kurds-kobani-turkey/.  
[5] Hugh Pope (2014), “Why Syria’s disaster threatens a war in Turkey”, The Guardian, Date of Accession: 13.10.2014 from http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/oct/10/syria-disaster-war-turkey-isis-pkk.  
[6] Marie Jégo (2014), “Les raisons de la défiance turque envers les défenseurs kurdes de Kobané”, Le Monde, Date of Accession: 13.10.2014 from http://www.lemonde.fr/international/article/2014/10/13/les-raisons-de-la-defiance-turque-envers-les-defenseurs-kurdes-de-kobane_4505517_3210.html.  

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