Time to face up to Kobane

Time to face up to Kobane

The resistance in Kobane and the following protests on Oct. 6-7 in Turkey have confronted us with the weaknesses of the peace process in Turkey, as well as the new reality in the region.

Ankara had been approaching the Kurdish question from a traditional, nation-state perspective, differentiating between the Kurds “inside and outside.” This attitude first changed during the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government, which eventually made the Kurds in northern Iraq its closest ally in the region. Today, Kobane urges Turkey to form a similar bond with the Kurds in Rojava (northern Syria). The fact that Deputy Prime Minister Yalçın Akdoğan said “Syrian Kurds are our natural ally,” implies this awareness.

The Oct. 6-7 incidents have also revealed the disunity in the approach and rhetoric toward the peace process. There have been on one hand constructive, revisionist, calming statements and on the other hand, status-quo oriented, destructive statements coming from the government and the Kurdish party.

 This disunity has harmed the emerging confidence between the two sides, which at the end have most benefited the ones who aimed at sabotaging the peace process.

Another weakness exposed is the government’s approach toward the Kurdish side. Government officials underlined the discrepancy between Abdullah Öcalan, the imprisoned leader of PKK, and Kandil, the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party’s (PKK) main base in northern Iraq, by attributing positive adjectives to Öcalan, while demonizing Kandil. This attitude, however, enormously harms the peace process since different statements coming from different actors slow down the negotiations. Hence the government should not emphasize the existing discrepancy and instead address only one center.

Kobane also revealed that the Peoples’ Democratic Party’s (HDP) call for street protests was a mistake, as the HDP itself also later acknowledged. Yet, it was equally wrong to attribute the provocations completely to one entity. There may be fractions from both the state and the Kurdish party that oppose the peace process. However, such destructive fractions need to be marginalized just as similar groups inside the Irish Republican Army (IRA) had split and formed the “real IRA” in due course of the Irish peace process.

Kobane has also exposed that the peace process fell behind the regional developments. If the peace negotiations had progressed faster, today the PKK would be demilitarized. This in turn would ease the hand of the government and as Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said in his meeting with the so-called “Wise Men Committee,” the government’s attitude toward the Democratic Union Party (PYD) would be different.

And here is the new reality in the region that Kobane brought to the surface: The transit of the Kurdish Peshmerga from northern Iraq through Turkey to Syria revealed that the borders between northern Iraq, Turkey and Syria have become meaningless. The relations between Masoud Barzani and the PYD are an important dimension of this. Just as Barzani and his ex-rival Jalal Talabani had solved their disagreements in the past under U.S. leadership, it looks like the same scenario will be played by Barzani and the PYD. This is another factor urging Turkey to change its attitude toward Rojava.

The perception of the PYD, and hence also the PKK, is changing in the international arena as well. Today, the strongest fighting powers on the ground against ISIL are the Peshmerga forces, along with the PKK and PYD. Hence the PYD and PKK have become the natural and strongest ally of the U.S. in Syria. This is why Washington has supplied the PYD with arms “despite Turkey’s objections,” in President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s words.

This, in turn, has changed the status of PKK and PYD in the international arena. In the last edition of Der Spiegel magazine, it is written that it is a necessary step for Europe and the U.S. to remove PKK from their list of terrorist organizations. PKK is certainly aware of this change and could therefore raise its demands which urges the government to accelerate the peace process.

The incidents on October 6-7 have brought Turkey to a critical breaking point with the Kurds and the peace process. We owe the quick recovery to the fact that both sides embraced the process stronger than ever before. If we want to prevent future fractures, we need to face up to the weaknesses and new realities revealed by Kobane.