Istanbul – At a press conference attended by nearly a hundred Turkish and foreign reporters, Murat Karayilan, acting leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), announced his group’s plan for reconciliation with the Turkish government.
Karayilan said the PKK fighters inside Turkey, who number about 2,000, would begin withdrawing on May 9. Karayilan then called on the government of PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan to fulfill its part in finding a political solution to the Kurdish question.
Karayilan warned his group would pull out from the peace deal if PKK fighters were harassed or attacked by the Turkish army and police during their withdrawal, which is expected to take place gradually over two months.
Two main conditions for reconciliation with Turkey, Karayilan said, were the release of all the group’s prisoners, including PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan, and constitutional amendments to officially recognize the Kurdish identity.
Sources quoted PKK leaders as saying that the group, in agreement with the Turkish authorities, established special committees to coordinate the withdrawal agreement with the Turkish side. The Turkish government, for its part, has instructed its military and police not to engage any PKK militants and to cease all military operations in the country’s southeast and along the border with northern Iraq.
Meanwhile, there were reports in the press that large numbers of Kurdish youths have been making their way to PKK camps in northern Iraq’s Kandil mountains to train for the next phase of political work inside Turkey.
These developments were enough to stir up Turkish public opinion as the government came under sharp attacks from the opposition parties, particularly the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).
MHP leaders accused Erdogan and his government of betraying Turkey. They claimed that the Turkish PM was conspiring with Washington against what they termed the unity of the nation, the Turkish state, and the secular system.
They also claimed that the PKK was seeking self-rule in southeast Turkey, a first step toward establishing an autonomous entity on par with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq.
In the meantime, the opposition leaders argued, the Kurds in Syria will never accept a return to its pre-crisis conditions, regardless of the conflict’s outcome. If the Syrian regime falls, then the new government will have to accept a Washington-imposed federal system.
This helps explain the election of Ghassan Hitto, an ethnic Kurd, as head of the Syrian interim government, and before him, Abdul-Basset Sida as head of the opposition Syrian National Council.
If the regime survives, it would have to strike a deal with the Kurds, who would demand self-rule in northeast Syria. Syrian Kurds represent 40 percent of the northeast’s population, whereas in northern Iraq, they represent around 95 percent.
In southeast Turkey, the demographics are not much different than Syria, with Kurds accounting for about 60 percent of the population.
These demographic calculations have prompted capitals that have a stake in the Kurdish question to speak of a scenario that Öcalan proposed years ago, before he was kidnapped by US intelligence in Nairobi and handed over to Ankara in February 1998.
Öcalan’s idea centered on a democratic confederation among four autonomous Kurdish regions in Turkey, Iran, Syria, and Iraq, given that an independent Kurdish state was unlikely to see the light for many seasons, as Öcalan said at the time. Proceeding from this vision, the PKK has been active among the Kurdish populations of Syria and Iran.
The White House, along with the European Union, has officially blessed Turkish reconciliation with the PKK. To many observers, this is reminiscent of the Sykes-Picot Agreement, which designated Western spheres of influence in the Middle East after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.
These observers purport that the West, after settling scores in Syria, will be seeking to redraw the regional map.
What will a Turkish-Israeli reconciliation mean for Syria? As Israel concedes wrongdoing on the Mavi Marmara, does this signal further alignment on Syria aims? Throw PKK head Abdullah Öcalan’s recent announcement to halt armed activities against Turkey in the mix and the ramifications for Syria are tremendous.
Last week was full of dramatic events, which will continue to impact the situation in Syria and the region. Two days following the election of Ghassan Hitto, a Kurd with a US passport, to head the “interim Syrian government,” the leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) Abdullah Öcalan announced the cessation of armed activities against Turkey. His move is further indication of the strategic and tactical link between the events.
It seems that PKK fighters, whom Öcalan asked to leave Turkey under formal guarantees from Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan, will be heading to Syria to support the Kurdish militias.
Erdogan was quick to reconcile and ally himself with Öcalan to achieve more of his regional aims. These actions prompted confusion on behalf of Turkish nationalists who could not find a logical reason for the reconciliation between Erdogan and Öcalan.
Erdogan and his foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu wanted to leave behind all these complex calculations by strengthening their alliance with the US. This meant a reconciliation with Tel Aviv, according to the conditions set during US Secretary of State John Kerry’s latest visit to Ankara.
This could be the reason behind last week’s backtracking by Erdogan on his former statements on Zionism, announcing that he had not meant what he said and that he is neither against Judaism nor Zionism, but opposed to the policies of Israel concerning the rights of Palestinians.
This new position was enough for US President Barack Obama to convince Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu to call Erdogan and apologize for the Israeli army’s actions against the Mavi Marmara ship in May 2010. But Netanyahu only gave verbal promises about lifting the siege on Gaza, which was the third fundamental condition set by Turkey for reconciliation with Israel.
However, these indicators are not the only reason for Israel’s apology to Turkey. Ankara does not hide its dire need for the support of the Jewish Lobby in the US, which had threatened to sabotage Erdogan’s visit to Washington at the end of this month unless he reconciles with Tel Aviv.
It is expected that the reconciliation will be reinforced with a surprise visit to Ankara by Netanyahu very soon and before Erdogan’s visit to the US.
It has now become clear that, in the next few days, the Syrian regime will be facing more political and military pressures on the Arab, regional, and international levels, as a result of the Turkish-Israeli-US alliance and its Qatari and Saudi extensions. Erdogan will attempt to include Syrian Kurds in the mix, based on his deal with Öcalan, whose terms of agreement are still unknown.
Turkish media, meanwhile, are discussing some dramatic scenarios, including an agreement between Ankara and Washington to redraw the map of the region, like the British-French 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement. This will give the Kurds a regionally independent entity through a federation of Kurdish regions in Iraq, Syria, Turkey, and Iran. It might even be under the protection of the Islamic Ottoman Erdogan, as mentioned by Öcalan in his statements commemorating Nowruz, when he spoke about the Ottoman Islamic brotherhood.
Istanbul – In what may be described as a very odd move by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the Turkish authorities, tens of thousands of Kurds in the southeastern city of Diyarbakir were allowed to participate in the funeral of three Kurdish activists – including a founding member of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) – who were assassinated in Paris on 9 January 2013.
To be sure, Turkish warplanes had carried out airstrikes against PKK positions and encampments in northern Iraq prior to the funeral. Perhaps this was a government message to the Turkish population that the war on Kurdish “terror” would continue, even if the government allowed the slain leaders of the Kurdish “terrorist” group to be buried in a massive funeral procession in Turkey.
Kurdish leaders in Turkey appealed to the participants in the ceremony not to raise PKK flags or portraits of PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan, who has been imprisoned by the Turkish authorities since 1999. These directives are possibly a first for a Kurdish demonstration.
And indeed, tens of thousands gathered yesterday at a square in Diyarbakir, the largest Kurdish city in Turkey, many wearing white scarves, a symbol of peace. The mourners refrained from chanting any “radical” slogans that may have provoked Turkish nationalist factions.
In the meantime, a delegation from the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) met with Öcalan to inquire about his conditions in prison. According to the Turkish media, secret talks between the government and the PKK leader continue, with a view to reach a secret deal that serves both sides’ interests. To many, this is seen as a starting point for the final settlement to the Kurdish question in Turkey.
One key demand by Öcalan is to be released under a comprehensive general amnesty issued by the government for all leaders, members, and followers of the PKK. Only then would he instruct the party’s armed fighters to cease their attacks against Turkey once and for all.
After that, political demands such as recognizing the Kurdish national identity in the constitution would be discussed between the PKK and the Turkish government.
Through its media, the Turkish government has been able to persuade a majority of the Turkish people that a political solution to the Kurdish question is both necessary and urgent, and that reaching one would serve the national interests of the state. Yet independent opinion polls show that most Turks would not readily accept Öcalan’s release or amnesty for PKK followers.
For one thing, this would mean that in the future, Öcalan could become an important figure in Kurdish, and even Turkish, political life, especially if the Turkish government were to give autonomy to the Kurds in southeast Turkey.
In this vein, press reports have often alluded to a Turkish plan for a quick resolution to the Kurdish question, which seeks to counter any undesirable scenarios in Syria, which also has a sizable Kurdish population. Particularly so when the Syria-based Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), which is allied with the Turkish chapter of the PKK, controls the Kurdish regions in Syria adjacent to the Kurdish regions in Turkey and northern Iraq.
This may help explain the strategic alliance between Ankara and Iraqi Kurdish leaders Massoud Barzani and Jalal Talabani. The alliance seeks to influence Kurdish public opinion in Syria, and to convince Syrian Kurds of the need for cooperation and rapprochement with Turkey.
Turkey has provided all kinds of support for the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) of Iraq as it makes profits to the tune of billions of dollars in trade and oil deals.
This has allowed Ankara to become a key player in internal Iraqi affairs, owing to its alliance with Barzani and Talabani, as well as Iraq’s Sunni Deputy Prime Minister Tariq al-Hashemi.
On a related note, it has become an open secret that Erdogan’s moves concerned with the Kurdish question have a lot to do with its most important ally: Washington DC. Next month, Erdogan will travel to the US to hold talks over future scenarios.
Meanwhile, there are reports that the situation may soon heat up in Iran’s Kurdish regions with the approach of Iran’s presidential election. This may prompt Ankara to move faster towards containing Kurdish populations in the region under an umbrella of pan-Islamic sentiment.
Just like the Turkish political and ideological model was endorsed by the Muslim Brotherhood in the countries of the Arab Spring, this Turkish umbrella may take a form that is acceptable for Arab and the Muslim nations. Most probably, it will involve a model of moderate and democratic Islam, that is to say, one that is consistent with US interests.
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