Is PKK leader Öcalan still a player in Kurdish bid

Is PKK leader Öcalan still a player in Kurdish bid

Now that the Nov. 1 elections are over, it is time to go back to the drawing board on the most crucial issue in the region. As the United States and Russia move closer to each other on Syria’s future, Turkey may be getting ready for a bigger role. 

The Pentagon and the Turkish Armed Forces have been in close contact since Turkey openly joined the coalition against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). The U.S. seems to be more eager to accommodate Turkey’s needs to fight the PKK. The Democratic Union Party (PYD), on the other hand, remains a question mark. Despite all the rhetoric from Ankara, the PYD still argues that its fighters in Syria have not fired a single bullet at Turkey. 

As the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) and Erdoğan celebrate another victory at home, outside our borders, most observers are skeptical about the future of Turkey’s democracy. Davutoğlu and the AK Party now have a very clear mandate to push for democratic reforms and continue Kurdish peace talks. But the modality and the mechanism seems to hang on uncertainty. The Turkish Armed Forces are focusing on protecting the borders, and they will be rather uneasy about pursuing PKK militants inside Syria. 

Thus, Foreign Minister Feridun Sinirlioglu’s visit to northern Iraq right after the elections is a sign of the times to come. Sources close to Washington circles told me that Ankara and Washington had agreed on changing the dynamics of the Syrian Kurdish equilibrium and that the peshmerga model is the optimal choice.

According to intelligence sources, Iraqi Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani has received a large donation from the U.S. Congress to defend critical places against ISIL in Iraq. But he and his forces will also be instrumental in transforming the People’s Defense Units (YPG) forces into a regular defense force. The U.S. and Russia have agreed in principal to keep the Kurds in the Syrian force structure even after Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s probable departure. The Turkish Army, on the other hand, will be their supervisor. 

“Why should the Turkish Armed forces do this?” I asked my source. “Imagine fighting a group for three decades then treating a part of them as a legitimate partner in Syria.” My source answered, “What if the Kandil Mountains are vacated? What if the U.S. and Russia push Barzani to send the PKK leadership out? Turkey, after the elections, might be getting more than it can ask for.”

This may actually be good news for the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and its leadership. Without the hard-handed leaders of the PKK on the scene, it may transform more easily into a normal political party. But be ready for a bumpy ride and maybe even a division. HDP co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş’s leadership is still uncontested, but veteran Kurdish politicians like Leyla Zana, Ahmet Turk, Hatip Dicle will have a higher presence and a bigger say. 

So here is the final question. Is PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan still a player? Unlike Deputy PM Yalçın Akdoğan’s remarks, he has not been buried alive but he may be less relevant. My sources tell me that he may come back to the scene, and that is only a possibility. “Even if he comes back,” one intelligence source told me, “he will be a symbolic figure. Currently he is still in touch with the government. Do you know it? Do you hear it?”
“One morning you may hear that phrase again,” my source told me. “Welcome back to your homeland, [PKK leaders Murat] Karayılan and [Cemil] Bayık. And this may come sooner than you think.”