Ankara and Kurds: living in denial and falling short

How will the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government deal with the Kurdish issue now?

One would think that there already is a clear-cut strategy developed, or that most of the events roll with what Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s adversaries think of as his hidden agenda. That is, he is endorsing a Kurdish state in Iraqi Kurdistan for “damage limitation” and control.

Caution is required, though there are some influential Western publications that suggest such a scenario. Others may see different patterns forming, such as assembling Iraq’s non-Shiite population under one, “Sunni” dome.

A think tank-affiliated junior AKP ideologue and columnist with the pro-government Star daily is the type to relay such information.

He raises some suspicions about the abilities of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) to deal with the social fabric of Iraq’s north. His premise is that a “new Sykes-Picot agreement,” dividing the Middle East anew upon artificial borders, is a new Western invention to dismantle Iraq, and not a good idea.

An Iraqi transition will take years, he argues. “One will either deepen the chaos through the reinvented Sykes-Picot borders, or develop a new scenario in which one will try to endorse a new vision for a common future over the oil revenues. To accomplish this, Sunni Arabs must be ‘Kurdified’ a little and Kurds become more ‘Turkmenified’ and ‘Sunnified’.”

Further on, he suggests that in order to not intensify the chaos, all the Sunni actors there must establish a “common will.” Otherwise, he concludes, each and every liberated area in Iraq will import the crisis of Baghdad to its own turf.

Such a naive “analysis” invites only wishes of good luck.

This “Pollyanna tale” would have us believe that Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) gangs and their tactical allies — the shrewd Baathists and the Turkmens — will share common ground with the mainly secular, Arab-skeptical Kurds, and that — and this is the tragicomic part — Ankara may engage in another farce to waste its time to establish unity in northern Iraq under a Sunni identity.

Obviously, this seems to be the core of the AKP’s apparent allergic reaction to the idea of Iraqi Kurds declaring independence “down there.” These thoughts are aired as the rest of the world — including the Saudis and Kuwaitis — are experiencing growing anxiety over how to deal with the Salafi madness spreading into vast areas of Iraq and Syria.

The problems do not start and end there.

A Kurdish colleague, Çetiner Çetin, published on Saturday what he claims is the real content of the AKP’s “Kurdish solution reform package,” now passed by parliamentary commission and set to be voted through before the presidential election, which some argue to be a “carrot for the Kurds.”

Çetin’s story, if accurate, tells us about a law package which includes only the conditions that would make PKK rebels lay down arms and return home without facing jail.

According to Çetin’s story, there are 6,155 PKK rebels in the Kandil Mountains of Iraq, and some 2,000 of them will be expected to return in July 2015. The same is expected of those in the Mahmur refugee camps, some 10,000 of them, around the same date.

More than 120 of the PKK’s top figures will have to stay in Iraqi Kurdistan because they are seen as serious criminals.

If not leaked solely for spin, this story exposes yet another phase of tactical delay. It sets an interesting start date, July 2015, and will occur after the parliamentary elections, which indicates that Erdoğan is now determined to engage Turkey’s Kurds to support him as the only alternative, as long as he can hold the stakes.

His securing absolute power seems to be the primary goal rather than working out a plan for convincing Turks in general of a solution. The latter, he knows, would cost him his power.

How are Turkey’s Kurds reading into this move? Hard to guess. One thing is for sure: They will not go for anything less than a general amnesty, including for Abdullah Öcalan, and this package does not say anything about that.

Deny as much as you want, such an option seems the only way out for Turkey. Erdoğan also knows that he will come to need it as much as anybody else because the graft probes and some of his admissions in the audio leaks indicate a not-so-rosy picture.


About yavuzbaydar

Yavuz Baydar has been an award-winning Turkish journalist, whose professional activity spans nearly four decades. In December 2013, Baydar co-founded the independent media platform, P24, Punto24, to monitor the media sector of Turkey, as well as organizing surveys, and training workshops. Baydar wrote opinion columns, in Turkish, liberal daily Ozgur Dusunce and news site Haberdar, and in English, daily Today's Zaman, on domestic and foreign policy issues related to Turkey, and media matters, until all had to cease publications due to growing political oppression. Currently, he writes regular chronicles for Die Süddeutsche Zeitung, and opinion columns for the Arab Weekly, as well as analysis for Index on Censorship. Baydar blogs with the Huffington Post, sharing his his analysis and views on Turkish politics, the Middle East, Balkans, Europe, U.S-Turkish relations, human rights, free speech, press freedom, history, etc. His opinion articles appeared at the New York Times, the Guardian, El Pais, Svenska Dagbladet, and Al Jazeera English online. Turkey’s first news ombudsman, beginning at Milliyet daily in 1999, Baydar worked in the same role as reader representative until 2014. His work included reader complaints with content, and commentary on media ethics. Working in a tough professional climate had its costs: he was twice forced to leave his job, after his self-critical columns on journalistic flaws and fabricated news stories. Baydar worked as producer and news presenter in Swedish Radio &TV Corp. (SR) Stockholm, Sweden between 1979-1991; as correspondent for Scandinavia and Baltics for Turkish daily Cumhuriyet between 1980-1992, and the BBC World Service, in early 1990's. Returning to Turkey in 1994, he worked as reporter and ediytor for various outlets in print, as well as hosting debate porogrammes in public and private TV channels. Baydar studied informatics, cybernetics and, later, had his journalism ediucatiob in the University of Stockholm. Baydar served as president of the U.S. based International Organizaton of News Ombudsmen (ONO) in 2003. He was a Knight-Wallace Fellow at University of Michigan in 2004. Baydar was given the Special Award of the European Press Prize (EPP), for 'excellence in journalism', along with the Guardian and Der Spiegel in 2014. He won the Umbria Journalism Award in March 2014 and Caravella/Mare Nostrum Prize in 2015; both in Italy. Baydar completed an extensive research on self-censorship, corruption in media, and growing threats over journalism in Turkey as a Shorenstein Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.
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