Kurds unite in Arbil for the next step

Kurds unite in Arbil for the next step

Delegations from Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria, the four neighbors with Kurdish populations, met in Arbil on July 22 for “preparatory” talks hosted by Masoud Barzani, the president of Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in order to discuss the details of an international Kurdish conference.

There have been similar conferences in the past in Brussels, Ankara, Diyarbakır and Arbil, too. But this one seems to be much bigger and more ambitious than all the former ones regarding its participation and timing; in a way, the coming planned conference could easily be named as the first international Kurdish conference.

Barzani is, and will be, hosting the conference as the leader of the oldest surviving political Kurdish movement, the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iraq (KDP, established in 1946), but it is the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), outlawed in Turkey where it was established in 1978, which seems to dominate the political atmosphere. The PKK have sister parties in the other three countries; the Kurdistan Democratic Solution Party (KDSP) in Iraq, the Free Life Party of Kurdistan (PJAK) in Iran and the Democratic Union Party (PYD) in Syria. Each of those parties have their armed organizations and campaigns against the government forces of their respective countries and also communication and collaboration among themselves defying the political borders, taking the advantage of the rough geography. It is not only the PKK, or its popular front the KCK, who are taking part in this conference, but Kurds in Turkey are represented there with a strong delegation that includes a wide spectrum from the Kurdish problem-focused Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) which shares the same grassroots with Turkey to non-partisan NGOs like Human Rights Association.

So far, all Kurdish conferences have failed due to pressure from consecutive Turkish governments on Barzani to prevent the participation of the PKK, and all PKK-affiliated organizations, in such a conference.

But now there are two factors of timing which make the conference possible: first, there is the Arab Spring which hit the rocks in Syria, and then in Egypt changing Turkey’s regional paradigm, and the dialogue initiative of the Tayyip Erdoğan government to pursue peace with the PKK for a political solution to the country’s Kurdish problem.

The problem is that the Kurdish problem is becoming a more internationalized one every other day, with the PKK gaining ground both in Turkey and in the region as the composition of the Arbil conference shows. That makes Erdoğan’s job more difficult with more demands from the PKK’s founding leader Abdullah Öcalan in prison and the actual leadership in Kandil mountains of Iraq, who are after a sort of bad cop, worse cop game with Ankara.

The Kurds, PKK and others do not hide that their ultimate goal is a Kurdish state, tomorrow if not today, federative in all neighboring parts with a Schengen type border union if not having its own. Having that as the ultimate step, what will be the next immediate one? All four capitals in the region have their own game plan, rival to each other, and Kurds are uniting to have a single one, perhaps for the first time in their history. That will have consequential effects in regional politics.