Turkey’s new Kurdish strategy involves Iraq

Turkey’s new Kurdish strategy involves Iraq

The background of Turkey’s new Kurdish strategy was first brought to the attention of the media by ranking security officials in Ankara last week.

At first sight, it seemed to give a “back-to-future” impression, as the focus was more on the security dimension. This appeared similar to the strategy of the 1990s, when military operations against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militants were intense. The Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) government’s strategy of carrying out talks with the PKK’s imprisoned-for-life leader Abdullah Ocalan and his representatives abroad, through Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MİT), had failed by the time of the last general elections in June 2011, and the recordings of the talks were exposed, making Prime Minister Erdoğan embarrassed and furious. The “new” strategy, saying that from now on talks with the PKK were out of the question, was linked to that failure.

When Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç reacted to press reports by saying that he was not aware of a new strategy, there was some confusion about the validity of those reports. Some columnists advocating the government went as far as to say that the bureaucracy might be plotting against Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan once again, by trying to push him back to the military solution option in Turkey’s decades-long Kurdish problem.

But it was actually Erdoğan who confirmed that there was to be a new strategy on Friday evening, before flying to South Korea for the Nuclear Summit. He summarized it thus: “Fighting with the PKK and negotiating with the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP).” (An important detail here is that Erdoğan chose the Turkish equivalent of “negotiation” as a politician using the language very well, bringing a more formal tone to it; unlike his former statements where he used the Turkish equivalent of “talk.”) So, the decision of not talking to the PKK did not mean that there would be no negotiations on the Kurdish issue; it meant that Erdoğan had decided to take the BDP as the legitimate counterpart in the Kurdish issue.

Selahattin Demirtaş, co-chair of the BDP, reacted to this by saying that Öcalan could not be excluded from any solution to the Kurdish problem. But it seems that the silent Kurdish opposition is likely to force the BDP to follow a more legalistic and autonomous line then the PKK.

Surprising enough, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) supported PM Erdoğan’s formulation, on the condition that it should be complemented with popular consensus.

It seems that the Kurdish issue was also mentioned in Erdoğan’s meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama in Seoul on Sunday, besides the other important issues of Syria, Iran and Iraq, all neighbors of Turkey.

Underlining the value he gave to U.S. support in Turkey’s fight against terrorism and thanking Obama for that, Erdoğan said: “I believe these efforts will also help in finding peace in Iraq.”

It is likely that Turkey’s new Kurdish strategy might be mentioned in Kurdistan Regional Government President Masoud Barzani’s visit to Obama in Washington DC soon, along with energy issues and his squeeze between Baghdad in the south, Iran in the East and Syria in the West, leaving Turkey as the sole Western-alliance option in the North.