What is the US role in Kurdish peace process?

What is the US role in Kurdish peace process?

The ongoing Kurdish peace process is certainly Turkey’s most important issue and deserves in-depth analysis, particularly after the Oct. 6-7 uprising of Kurds that left more than 30 people dead. Those events showed how a collapse of the negotiations could affect peace and comfort across the country.

Efforts to soothe the tension yielded results after both the government and the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) recently reiterated their commitment to the process, emphasizing the need to accelerate the pace of talks. An important meeting took place on Nov. 17 between Deputy Prime Minister Yalçın Akdoğan and three HDP lawmakers, who later announced an agreement to add two more Kurdish figures to the team visiting Abdullah Öcalan, the imprisoned leader of the Kurdistan People’s Party (PKK), to establish a 16-member monitoring group, and to form a “secretariat” for Öcalan to better manage his side of the process. 

With Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu’s return from his week-long trip to Australia and the Philippines late on Nov. 18, the government is expected to hold a meeting over the resumption of meetings between Öcalan and the HDP team. There are suggestions that the government will speed up the process in order to get a clear announcement from Öcalan in early 2015 for the disarmament of PKK terrorists in Turkey.

An interesting development, however, has been observed over the last two or three weeks, with both the government and some senior PKK officials frequently talking about the United States’ role in the process. While the government indirectly accuses the U.S. of meddling with the process, some PKK officials voice the need for the U.S. to be involved in the process as a third party. 

First, it was Cemil Bayık, the current military leader of the PKK, who suggested that the Americans should sit around the same table as an honest broker for the reconciliation. Bayık’s words did not cause much of a stir at first, until a number of pro-government columnists began to cite the call as an obvious U.S. attempt to become part of the process.

However, it was a senior ruling party official who went on-the-record on this issue making an important claim. Justice and Development Party (AKP) Deputy Head Mehmet Ali Şahin suggested that a meeting between U.S. officials and the PKK may have taken place in the Kandil Mountains of northern Iraq where the PKK has it headquarters. Şahin went further, saying the U.S. might have given assurances to the PKK in order to convince it to join the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Between the lines, he was hinting that the U.S. was not in favor of resolving the Kurdish question in Turkey.

For many in Ankara, diplomats and bureaucrats, Cemil Bayık’s statements represent nothing but an effort to reduce the role of Öcalan as the main interlocutor in the process. Efforts to include the U.S. or any other foreign country as a mediator are just made to distract attention from Öcalan so that the PKK does not lose its influence over the process.

Şahin’s statements, however, are seen an effort to introduce a new scapegoat for the derailment of the process over the last two months. Şahin’s words were similar to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s frequent mentioning of a “superior mind” trying to nix the process, and therefore Turkey’s well-being.

From Washington’s perspective, however, there is no intention to become a part of the process or a third party. In our interview last week with the new U.S. Ambassador to Turkey John Bass, he made it clear that the resolution process was a “domestic one” and a matter to be resolved internally, denying such press reports.

Despite the many claims, my observation is that the U.S. vision of the Middle East envisages Turkey resolving its Kurdish question by designating Kurds inside and outside the country as its best allies. It still thinks that Öcalan remains the best option to reach this peace.