Erdoğan’s move deepens the disintegration of the Kurds

Erdoğan’s move deepens the disintegration of the Kurds

This weekend’s Diyarbakır visit of the president of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and chairman of the Iraqi Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) Massoud Barzani, is bound to create significant outcomes in many chapters, from Turkish domestic politics to the future of the relations of the Kurds among themselves in the Middle East, and to regional power equilibriums. 

Of course, it would be correct to read this visit as a direct major political initiative of the host, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. With it, Erdoğan has once again demonstrated that he is a politician open to unexpected political moves. 

With this latest maneuver, the prime minister is aiming to kill many birds with one stone. However, these calculations, which are expected to yield political gain, also have very serious risks. 

1. It is a step that can be regarded as a milestone in the history of Kurds that Barzani, after almost 20 years, will come for a high-profile visit to Diyarbakır, which is one of the most important centers of cultural and political attraction of the entire Kurdish geography. Barzani is a leader who has his mark on the historic gains of the Kurds in Iraq in the past 20 years, and it carries major symbolism that a personality who has this identity will be welcomed with the red carpet in Diyarbakır, the leading city of Kurdish identity in Turkey. The visit also shows how warm the relations between the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) and the KDP have become. 

2. In extending this invitation, it is out of the question to think that Erdoğan does not have some tactical expectations before the local elections and the presidential elections to be held in 2014. The AK Party mostly trails behind the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) in geographies where the Kurdish population is the majority. The most important political rival of Erdoğan in this region is the Kurdish political movement led by Abdullah Öcalan’s spiritual guidance and consisting of the BDP-PKK components. However, there are also significant numbers of Kurds who vote for the AK Party. Erdoğan, in cooperation with Barzani, is seeking to strengthen the conservative segments of the Kurdish electorate, as well as aiming to attract the undecided Kurds, and if possible thaw the grassroots of the BDP. By accepting this invitation, Barzani is inevitably accepting his engagement in the domestic political equations in Turkey.

3. The fact that BDP circles are bothered by this visit is an open indication that they are interpreting this move as a move directly against themselves. In this aspect, we can say that Erdoğan is aiming to push the Kurdish political movement to a corner by taking Barzani to his side in a city that is the stronghold of the BDP. He is attempting a major challenge that carries a message for the BDP, “I am not leaving this neighborhood to you.” 

4. We should also note that the visit coincides with a period when the peace process is deadlocked and has created a disappointment in the Kurds because of the inadequacy of the democracy package.
Erdoğan, with this Barzani move, is now in possession of a strong argument to repel those criticisms which say his commitment to the process has retreated. Maybe the prime minister wants to gain time. 

5. Of course, we can also say that this visit has further crystallized - not only in Turkey but also across the region - the separation and disintegration of the Kurds. We are observing today that the Kurdish geography in the Middle East is witnessing an undeclared cutthroat competition between two leaders. These two rivals are Massoud Barzani and Abdullah Öcalan, who resides in his cell at İmralı. The rivalry between the two is also seen today in the power struggle in northern Syria between the KDP and the Democratic Union Party (PYD), which in line with the PKK. It is meaningful that the visit comes right after the PYD declared an interim rule in Syria the other day. In this aspect, Erdoğan has put Turkey’s weight on Barzani’s side in the power struggle in northern Syria. 

6. Barzani’s arrival coincides with the phase when energy agreements between Turkey and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) have finalized. The Diyarbakır summit may help iron out the objections of Baghdad and Washington about the pipeline projects via Turkey. 

7. No matter how you slice it, one of the most noteworthy outcomes of the visit is that the alliance that has been shaping for a while between Erdoğan and Barzani will be elevated to a strategic level in the Middle East power equation. The biggest unknown and risk of this step is the response that Öcalan and Kandil will give, at a time when the inaction of the PKK has matured. The response of Kandil (the mountainous area where PKK units are based) is especially important: Will it opt for a severe retaliation in the event that it sees this move as a siege move against itself, or will it stomach it? Probably the toughest question emerges here at this point. 

Sedat Ergin is a columnist for daily Hürriyet in which this abridged piece was published on Nov. 14. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.