The Kurdish problem: developments to watch

The Kurdish problem: developments to watch

When you read the statements Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan made in Qatar on Friday, and those Masoud Barzani, the leader of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Iraq made in Ankara the same day, you can see two important similarities.

The first is a call to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Both Barzani and Erdoğan asked the PKK to drop its weapons immediately. This is perhaps not new, since we have heard the same from both of them at different times before. But the difference this time is that they met in Istanbul on Friday and discussed the matter. 

That meeting was followed by a long overseas trip by Barzani, the most important part of which was a visit to Washington, D.C. There he was received by U.S. President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta; it was almost like the state reception of a national president. 

In Turkey Barzani was met with a similar presidential-style reception as well. After his meeting with Erdoğan and National Intelligence Organization (MİT) chief Hakan Fidan on Thursday, he met with President Abdullah Gül and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu on Friday. In addition to that, Barzani met with the co-chairman of the Kurdish problem-focused Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), which acknowledges that it shares the same power base with the PKK.

Barzani made his statements following all those meetings. And Erdoğan made his statements in Qatar at almost the same time that Barzani made his in Ankara. Plus, Barzani underlined very clearly that he would not allow the PKK to continue to use the territory of the KRG to carry out attacks on Turkey; we can assume that this had been a subject of discussion in D.C., as well as in Istanbul and Ankara. Erdoğan’s addition to his call was that negotiations would not be possible unless the PKK abandoned arms.

Meanwhile, very interesting developments are taking place on the domestic scene with the Kurdish problem in Turkey. On Thursday it became clear that İrfan Dündar, one of the leading lawyers for Abdullah Öcalan, the founder and leader of the PKK, who is serving a life sentence on the prison island of İmralı, had applied to benefit from the repentance law. He revealed how he and other members of Öcalan’s legal team had secretly conveyed coded messages obtained during prison visits with their client to the PKK, giving the organization instructions as to what step to take, including their actions of all kinds. Following the exposure of some MİT informants linked to the PKK, that development is likely to escalate the psychological pressure on the PKK.

The second of two similar statements that both leaders made was about the need to preserve the unity of Iraq. When you talk about unity, it means you consider the possibility of the opposite as well. It is meaningful for the leader of an autonomous region, bordering Turkey and Iraq, to make that statement at a time when he is harboring the Sunni Arab Vice President of the country (Tariq al-Hashemi), who is on the run from an arrest warrant issued under Shiite Arab Prime Minister Nouri Maliki. Al-Hashemi is currently staying in Turkey, and Barzani accused Maliki in his Friday press conference of trying to establish a regime of one-man rule in Iraq.

It will be worth observing the new moves all of the parties involved will make following Barzani’s return to his homeland.