A new momentum for Kurdish talks?
It is hardly surprising to read the statements from the Turkish Presidential Palace regarding a different approach to the Kurdish issue after CIA Director Mike Pompeo’s visit to Ankara. İlnur Çevik, a former journalist and currently advisor to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, said Turkey may start looking at the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) from a different perspective. He even cited the example of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region (KRG) and Massoud Barzani’s relations with Ankara. “Why shouldn’t the PYD be like Barzani?” Çevik told the New York Times.
Çevik knows the issue very well. For a long time he was a close confidant of President Barzani and helped smooth out some of the troubled issues with Ankara. He not only knows the sensitivities in Ankara but also has a very realistic view about Kurdish politics, its credentials in Washington DC, and its relevance in the region.
But it is not just Çevik who has hinted at the possibility of a solution on the Kurdish front. Cevat Öneş, a former Deputy Undersecretary of the National Intelligence Agency (MİT), has stressed the need to revive the Kurdish peace talks inside Turkey as soon as possible due to the fast-changing facts on the war theater.
“It is time to rethink and restart the democratic solution process right now,” Öneş said last week in an interview with me on CNN Türk. “And this should be kept away from the daily discussions of referendum.”
His remarks coincided with the visit to Turkey of CIA Director Pompeo and amid debates on the possibilities of a safe zone inside Syria. The U.S. policy towards the PYD/YPG will not change overnight. President Donald Trump’s decision-making shows us he will give enough freedom to generals on the ground to choose their partners. For the time being, Pentagon is content with the PYD/YPG.
The silent yet unignorable fact is the lack of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) attacks on Turkish targets and soldiers since Trump’s inauguration. It is as if a hidden hand has intervened and halted the spiral of violence between Kurds and Turks. The fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) inside Syria and Iraq may just be the obvious reason behind this. But there is definitely more than meets the eye.
Meanwhile, several pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) deputies are in jail, while most of its local officials in the southeast are locked up and its mayors have been removed. The Justice and Development Party’s (AK Party) game plan after the referendum probably has no room for HDP co-chair Selahattin Demirtas and his team. But we should not be surprised to hear something surprising from jailed PKK head Abdullah Öcalan - just before Nevruz for example.
Meral Akşener, a former interior minister and currently the leader of the “No” campaign, has hinted a couple of times that there are talks going on between İmralı (the island where Öcalan is held) and Ankara. No official has denied her claims that there is an overture for a possible re-start of talks. That has to come with a price though, and that is probably a boycott by HDP voters during the referendum. A missing 10 million votes would be the dream gift for the Justice and Development Party (AKP) to win the vote for the presidential system, and even opening the door for a possible amnesty.
Re-energizing the Kurdish peace talks would be something that everyone could vote “Yes” for. But trading it for a negotiation process and holding the Kurdish vote hostage to one’s prison terms is another thing entirely. If the AK Party is talking to Öcalan, why are our sons getting killed in the hellhole called Al-Bab?