Why Iran is the key for Kurdish independence

Despite their cunningly tactical and determined backing of their own peace process, Turkey’s from-head-to-toes-politicized Kurds are raising their voices to make Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan choose: either the Kurds of the entire region, including the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), or the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

Selahattin Demirtaş, the presidential candidate of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), said on Saturday that ISIL is a big international network, a frontline terrorist organization. “It targets the Kurds today. But if it captures Kobani [Ayn al Arab, northern Syria], it will enter Turkey’s Hatay province in 15 days and will reach Adana in a month. If Turkey remains silent before ISIL’s assaults in Syria’s Rojava region and thinks it will wait and see if ISIL can finish off the Democratic Union Party [[PYD), a PKK-backed Syrian Kurds’ organization], we can witness those ISIL terrorists capture some parts of Hatay. The situation is very dangerous, very grave.”

Almost simultaneously, the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK), the local political network of the PKK, issued a severe warning to the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government.

“The AKP must leave its ‘three monkeys’ policies. The settlement process in the ‘north’ [Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish part] and supporting ISIL in Rojava cannot go together. The AKP should either support ISIL or respect the spirit of the peace process. Otherwise, the spillover of the revolution from Rojava and vice versa will be inevitable. No force will be able to stop this.”

The lack of clarity from Turkey and Iran on the Kurdish issue only adds to the great elusiveness of the situation.

A multi-faceted analysis is of the essence from now on. One of the most valuable comes from Arzu Yılmaz, an outstanding expert on Kurdish issues. Her latest article, posted by diken.com.tr, shines a lot of light on how local players position themselves. Here are some key points:

* The KRG’s declared referendum in September may not lead to independence, but to a crucial threshold.

* The biggest issue is Rojava. It has energy resources and the potential to open the region to the Mediterranean Sea. It remains a trump card in the PKK’s hands when independence is called for.

* After Mohammed Morsi’s fall, the Syrian Sunni opposition collapsed. This led Turkey to increase support to Islamist extremism, “subcontracting” their forces against the PYD’s advances in Rojava.

* Barzani felt he had to act realistically. He has gotten closer to the AKP, but failed in his efforts in Rojava. Barzani and the KRG have in fact no issues with Iraq’s Shiites. Getting closer to Ankara meant that the KRG could control its own future against ISIL. Ankara also helped the KRG to “harmonize” with Turkmens of the region.

* But the PKK has flexed its muscles since the start of this year. Stopping a withdrawal of its rebels from Turkey, it moved closer to Talabani’s Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), which saw such an alliance as a way to strengthen itself in Iraqi Kurdistan and be influential in Rojava. Iran backed this move discreetly, and stood behind PUK in KRG formations.

* But ISIL’s advances into Iraq complicated things. Loss of border crossings meant that the Iran-Syria line was jeopardized, thus the battles for Kobane in Rojava gained importance for strategic control.

* Meanwhile, relations between Masoud Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and PUK have become tense. PUK refuses to be part of Barzani’s move to pull out of Iraq’s parliament, and it is seen as a message by Iran telling Barzani that “an independent Kurdistan will be one of the KDP and not PUK.”

* So, the plot thickens: While an Iranian-PUK alliance is under way to “balance” the Turkish-KDP axis, the PKK is doing its outmost to stand firm, keeping Rojava. While PUK shows some moves to reach out to Ankara, the PKK is trying not to burn any bridges with Barzani. A delicate game, indeed. It exposes Ankara’s dilemma: Not only must the AKP clarify its choice between the PKK and ISIL, but also its stance on the ruler of Damascus, because of Iran.

It is safe to say, at the current juncture, that whatever happens in Rojava will determine to a great deal the path to independence of Kurdistan, but also seal the destiny — or eventual success — of the demands of Turkey’s Kurds.

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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