Kurdish politics on rise inside and outside Turkey

Kurdish politics on rise inside and outside Turkey

The Arab Spring has turned out to be a massive failure.

It did not bring democracy to the Arab peoples.

It brought a new era of coup d’etats like in Egypt, chaos and division like in Libya, and civil war and the decomposition of existing borders in Syria and Iraq.

Moreover, it has led to a new formation calling itself the Islamic State across the territories of Syria and Iraq, established by the new generation radical group the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

This organization has now raised its flag on the Iraqi side of Turkey’s Akçakale border post and its, leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared himself the new Caliph of all Muslims on June 29.

Being the country that put an end to the Caliphate in 1924, a year after shifting to a Republic from an imperial monarchy, Turkey - through its Foreign Ministry - on June 30 said that Turkey’s policy in the region would not be changed by what a “terrorist organization” has said. That terrorist organization, ISIL, is still holding at least 80 Turkish citizens, 49 of them from Turkey’s Mosul consulate as captives, after the June 13 raid. Turkey has already asked the Iraqi, U.S. and U.K. governments not to perform air raids on ISIL around Mosul in order not to trigger a reaction that could cost the lives of the Turkish captives.

The issue is turning into the biggest crisis faced by Turkish foreign policy in years, even bigger than the situation in Syria.

The ambitious line taken by Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu regarding Syria has led to accusations by their opponents, both inside and outside Turkey, that they gave an unnecessary boost in the development of jihadi movements in Syria, which ended up with ISIL.

It also helped lead to the formation of a liberated zone by Kurds in the northeast of the country, bordering Turkey, called “Rojava.” The Kurds in control of Rojava are acting in line with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been waging an armed campaign against successive Turkish governments for independence since the early 1980s. The armed campaign has been on hold since Erdoğan started a dialogue initiative with the PKK’s imprisoned leader, Abdullah Öcalan, via the Turkish National Intelligence (MİT) chief Hakan Fidan two years ago, aiming for a political settlement.

Kurds have already been constructing their independence in Iraq, since the declaration of a new constitution following the U.S. occupation, under the federal composition called the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), under its leader Masoud Barzani. The KRG’s eastern borders are next to the (Kurdistan region of) Iran and its northern borders are next to Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish-populated southeast.

Having captured the oil-rich city of Kirkuk on the day after ISIL’s capture of Mosul, in the practical absence of the Iraqi military, Barzani said on June 29 that he wanted to hold a referendum for independence from Iraq, and asked for U.N. help for this.

On the same day (also the same day of ISIL’s declaration of its “state” and “Caliphate” in northwestern Iraqi territory) Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said “the Kurds deserve independence.” The next day he told France 24 that the borders in the region were being “redrawn”.

Again on June 29, in Ankara, the Kurdish problem-focused Peoples’ Democracy Party (HDP), which shares almost the same grassroots with the PKK, decided to name its co-leader, Selahattin Demirtaş, as its candidate for the presidential election, the first round of which is scheduled for Aug. 10. Demirtaş’s candidacy was announced at a press conference on June 30.

It is almost impossible for him to win the first round, in which 50-percent-plus-one-vote will be needed.

However, it is possible that Kurdish votes, with help from some Turkish socialists, could mean that PM Erdoğan (who will probably announce his candidacy today, on July 1) will not win in the first round. The other candidate, Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu, is supported by the two bigger opposition parties, the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).

A second round would mean more bargaining power for Kurdish votes against Erdoğan, who definitely wants to get the presidency in the first round, in order to not risk it in a second round scheduled for Aug. 24.

All this means that not only in Turkish foreign policy in the Middle East, but also in the Turkish domestic scene, Kurdish politics are on the rise to settle in a key position.

If this is not the Kurdish Spring, what is it?

It is sure to have consequences that might include not only border changes, but also regime changes in the region. Time will tell whether it will have a similar fate as the Arab Spring.