Shift of axis: What future PKK eyes in Syria, Iraq

Shift of axis: What future PKK eyes in Syria, Iraq

With the Turkish government’s ongoing reconciliation efforts with the country’s Kurds, the latter’s leadership has been appearing day-by-day shifting its axis toward a regional plan that is overlapping with Turkey’s ambitions to become a regional power.

The first signals of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) fighting against the Turkish military in a three-decade old conflict had been given in the March 21 speech of its jailed leader Abdullah Öcalan. In his speech, Öcalan vaguely called for redrawing the boundaries of Turkey’s near region. Perhaps, his call, which might now seem ambitious considering today’s political scene in the region, would not be entirely redundant in the long-term amid the recent positioning of Kurdish groups both in Turkey and its neighborhood.

Öcalan’s blueprint is now barely finding its way in the Turkish politics but it has surely echoed in the region, particularly in Syria and Iraq. Engaged in a power struggle with Iraqi Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani-supported groups in northern Syria, the PKK affiliated Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) has also been trying to over-power other Syrian Kurdish groups despite a recent fragile unity agreement in addition to its rivalry with the mainly Sunni-Arab dominated Syrian rebels fighting against President Bashar al-Assad.

Obviously altering the stance of the PKK, which previously warned against a Turkish-ignited “Kurd-Arab civil war” in Syria, Öcalan’s elusive call was a direct reference to the Syrian conflict, encouraging the PYD for more influence, dominance and support in the midst of political vacuum over there. Despite the up and down tensions in northern Syria, the deadly quarrel within the Syrian Kurds did not reached to its peak, since Barzani, the leader of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in northern have purposely avoided such a deadly proxy war between the KRG- and the PKK-supported groups over there.

Having boost KRG’s ties with Turkey after years of chill, Arbil has been enjoying an economical blossoming with Ankara that led to a political decision of not to confront with the PKK in Syria, where Turkey put aplenty of effort for the ultimate victory of the Syrian rebels. However, at one point or another, Barzani had to confront with the PKK either to burry the hatch or to engage in a leadership fight for the region’s Kurds. Having lost its cause, at least in Turkey, the diminished military power of the PKK will have few options after leaving Turkey, will be heading to their safe havens in northern Iraq if they will be anymore welcomed.

The other direction for the PKK militants will be Syria, in where the group is now seemingly positioning itself under Turkey’s “greater” plans on a way to be a regional heavyweight especially with Öcalan’s regional blueprint. But until now, Turkey’s plans for Syria are mainly based on the success of the Sunni-dominated Arab Syrian rebels, as well as on isolating the PYD despite the friction over an al-Qaeda-backed group with Washington. Amid the PKK’s shift, Turkey might try to way for an “untold reconciliation” with the PKK-affiliated group that will further resonate between Syrian Kurds and Sunni Arab rebels.

What appears clear today is that the PKK, perhaps not for now, but in the very near future will find a spot in U.S.-backed plans for the region, not only for Syria and Iraq, but for against a greater enemy: Iran, where the militant group has also been active very recently.