Winners, losers of Turkey’s bid to solve the Kurdish question

Winners, losers of Turkey’s bid to solve the Kurdish question

While Turkey has been taking baby steps to solve its long-standing Kurdish question, the Turkish government’s still unripe move has appeared to trigger a domino effect that might have both regional actors and global heavyweights considering shifting their stance in their foreign policies.

Amid the quarrel over the second visit to outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Öcalan on an Istanbul island where he has been serving a life sentence, the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK) released last week a statement in which the group slammed both the Syrian government and rebels for attacks targeting Kurds in Syria, while warning of a “Turkey-engineered Arab-Kurdish Civil War” in the country. The KCK’s statement came a few weeks after a leading Kurdish deputy of Turkish Parliament accused regional players, namely Iran, Israel and Syria, of blocking peace efforts in Turkey.

Both statements must have been surprising to those who have long alleged an alliance between the PKK and the Syrian government, which they say has been using the group in its proxy war against Turkey in the background of Ankara’s support to the Syrian rebels.

Deeming their scenario a reality, the Kurdish movement in Turkey seemed to distance themselves from Syria and further position themselves against Damascus. However, the shift might put Kurds in Syria in the crossfire, as the Democratic Union Party (PYD), a Syrian pro-Kurdish party affiliated with the PKK, has been coming to odds with other armed rebel groups in Syria, according to senior Turkish officials. Moving to a wilder scenario, should the Kurdish group in Turkey, Syria, as well as Iraq and Iran find a long-lost “magic formula,” they might move to capitalize on a possible power vacuum in Syria to create a de-facto autonomous government in northern Syria. For now, that scenario seems highly unlikely considering the PYD’s weak influence in northern Syria against other rebel groups as well as poor signals from both the Syrian opposition and government to engage in lost negotiations that would at least delay a probable vacuum there.

In the meantime, the wait-and-see policy of the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq in regards to Turkey’s peace efforts is also quite eyebrow-raising, but reasonable as Ankara and Arbil start to move even closer and cement trade ties, particularly regarding energy, despite Baghdad’s fury and U.S. opposition. The policy might also be linked to the KRG’s prospects for an influence hike over Kurds across the region, as a potential peace might lead to the PKK vanishing from its post of being the second dominant Kurdish player after the KRG. The EU and the U.S. have also assumed a similar policy, which might be related to their “unpreparedness” regarding a new power balance in the region after having a conflict-based status quo for decades.

Noting a darker scenario, a would-be final agreement between Ankara and the PKK might not please all in both legal and outlawed Kurdish movements. In that case, probable PKK offshoots might be isolated but would remain troublesome not only for Turkey and the PKK, but also Iran, who has been involved in a long fight against a PKK-affiliated group, the Party for Free Life in Kurdistan (PJAK) in western Iran. The Islamic Republic might see a flow of militants to its soil after a relative calm due to its self-declared victory against the PJAK.

One way or another, should it be accomplished, Turkey’s move to find a resolution to its Kurdish problem would change the face of the region and the winners will be both the Turks and Kurds of Turkey, after a disastrous conflict that has claimed thousands of lives. But whether it applies to others, that’s extremely questionable.