Turkey adopts new rules for the Kurdish equation

Turkey adopts new rules for the Kurdish equation

As the Kurdish equation gets more and more complex, Turkey seems like it’s coming to terms with the new facts on the ground.

Last week, Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) President Masoud Barzani threatened to intervene in northern Syria to defend Kurds from al-Qaeda-linked fighters. This came to many as a surprise, since he had long been at odds with the Democratic Union Party (PYD), the main Kurdish group in Syria. It is not only the KRG and PYD who appear to have overcome their problems. Senior Iraqi Kurdish officials, including the leader of the Kurdish Communities Union (KCK), the urban wing of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), met in the Kandil Mountains last week to discuss a common approach vis-à-vis Syria. Similarly, the Syrian Kurds have put their differences aside and united after clashes erupted between the PYD and jihadist militias in northern Syria.

Kurds in the region are flexing their muscles. The Kurdish National Conference to take place in Arbil in the following weeks may sow the seeds of the creation of a Kurdish federation. PYD leader Salih Muslim said during his second visit to Istanbul last week that Kurds in the region could form an organization such as the European Union. This followed his statement during his previous visit that the Syrian Kurds will seek a “new status” and that the PYD is just about declaring local autonomy by forming a “transitional authority.” Against the warnings of the Turkish officials about a “de facto” autonomy, he could only assure that such an administration would be an interim one.

Turkey has recognized that it cannot play a new game with the old rules. The most remarkable result from Muslim’s visit has been Turkey’s declaration that it is not categorically against the formation of an autonomous Kurdish entity inside Syria as long as this decision is taken by a Parliament. Turkey’s contacts with the Syrian Kurdish groups are also wide-ranging, including the Kurdish National Council and the Kurdish Freedom (Azadi) Party, both of which are critical of the PYD policies. Not to mention that Ankara has given its consent to the formation of an autonomous Kurdish entity in northern Iraq, embracing the region as a source of oil and trade. Turkey considers the Kurdish region also as a stable ally against Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and other rivals in the region and a collaborator in containing the PKK.

This regional context requires the urgent settlement of Turkey’s Kurdish question. The domestic pressure is also mounting. Both Cemil Bayık, the co-chair of the KCK, and Selahattin Demirtaş, the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) co-chair, warned last week that the peace process would end if Ankara does not finalize its “Kurdish reform package” by Sept. 1. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan looks to be forming his policies in accordance with these facts, since he reportedly has a comprehensive reform package on his desk which will probably be submitted to Parliament in the upcoming weeks. The “democratization package” is expected to include fundamental changes ranging from wider Kurdish-language education to anti-terror laws.

The elephant in the room is so big that no one can afford to ignore it anymore.