Turkey, IS and the Kurdish conflict

"Kobani is now everywhere"

The deputy chairman of the PKK, Cemil Bayik, accuses Turkey of supporting IS and consciously ending the peace process. He views the recent Turkish parliamentary motion authorising the use of force in Syria and Iraq as a preparation for war – albeit a war against the PKK rather than against IS. Difficult weeks now lie ahead for Turkey and the Kurds. By Ekrem Guzeldere in Erbil

When Recep Tayyip Erdogan was elected president on 10 August, he flew to Ankara to address the people from the balcony of the AKP's headquarters. During the first few minutes of his speech, he said: "Today, not only did Turkey win, but also Damascus, Aleppo, Hama, Homs, Ramallah, Nablus, Gaza and Jerusalem."

But by 11 October there was not much left of this international solidarity: "Kobani? What does Kobani have to do with Istanbul, Ankara and Diyarbakir?" said Erdogan, speaking from the city of Rize on the shores of the Black Sea.

Two days previously in the northern Iraqi Qandil mountains, some 1,000 kilometres south of Rize, the deputy chairman of the banned Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) Cemil Bayik, did not see things quite like the Turkish president. Speaking from a small village controlled by the PKK, Bayik, who is one of the organisation's founding members, explained that events in Kobani and Turkey cannot be considered independently of one other. "For us, Kobani is now everywhere!" said Bayik.

He used the term "events" as a euphemism for the serious unrest occurring across Turkey in connection with the IS advance on Kobani. Almost 40 people have been killed in the clashes, including two Turkish police officers and two foreigners.

Tensions running high

Tensions in the Turkish and Kurdish cities are running high because the Kurds accuse the AKP government of actively supporting IS and of only wanting to fight the PKK, the YPG (its Syrian offshoot in Syria) and the Assad regime.

As far as Bayik is concerned, Turkey is pursuing two goals with its support of IS: firstly, to destroy Kurdish autonomy in the northern Syrian Kurdish region of Rojava and secondly, to thereby become a dominant player in Syria and Iraq that could then utilise IS as a bargaining chip.

These accusations cannot, of course, be proved. Perhaps this is why many people feel that the parliamentary authorisation carried in Turkey's parliament with the votes of the AKP majority on 2 October back up these accusations. The motion allows the Turkish army to intervene militarily in Iraq and Syria.

Peace process on the verge of collapse?

Cemil Bayik (photo: Ekrem Guzeldere)
"We don't want our guerrillas to take up arms again," says Cemil Bayik, deputy chairman of the PKK (pictured here). "Despite the dead and injured, we haven't mobilised them yet. But that could change if things continue as they are. Then we'll wage a defensive war for the people."

"What does this authorisation envisage?" Bayik poses the critical question. "It envisages war. IS is barely touched upon, but the PKK is. The passing of this motion by parliament is being perceived by many Kurds as the termination of the peace process," he says.

The Turkish-Kurdish peace process initially began in the year 2009 following secret negotiations in Oslo between the Turkish intelligence agency MIT and the PKK. Above all, however, it was substantiated during Nowruz celebrations to mark the Kurdish new year in Diyarbakir on 21 March 2013, when a declaration was read out from detained PKK founder Abdullah Ocalan. In his statement, he spoke of a ceasefire and the withdrawal of PKK units from Turkey into northern Iraq. This was meant to be the first step in a negotiation process that was to be accompanied by political reforms in Turkey and a reintegration of the PKK and its fighters into society.

According to the deputy head of the PKK, this target is yet again a distant prospect because there have apparently been no political reforms in Turkey. But this is an exaggeration on Bayik's part, because the Turkish government did indeed undertake a number of quite courageous steps since 2009, such as the introduction of the Kurdish-language television channel TRT6 as well as academic faculties teaching the Kurdish language and Kurdish Studies.

Backslide to the bloody 1990s?

But the little trust that may have remained between the two sides has been further shattered by the events of the past few weeks. Now things have regressed to where they were before the Nowruz celebrations of 2013. There is even the danger that we could quite possibly experience a repeat of the conflict-riddled 1990s – a period that, against the backdrop of Turkey's ambitions to join the EU at the time, many thought had been well and truly consigned to the past.

"We don't want our guerrillas to take up arms again," insists Bayik. "Despite the dead and injured, we haven't mobilised them yet. But that could change if things continue as they are. Then we'll wage a defensive war for the people."

Yet another euphemism. The "defensive war" Bayik is inferring would in all likelihood result in yet more deaths, attacks, car bombs and military action. It would not bring Turkey and the PKK a step closer at all, but would further alienate both sides, the Kurds and the Turks.

Moreover, Kobani will also have a lasting influence on relations between the Kurds in the various regions of Turkey and the Kurds of Syria and Iraq. For days now, all the Kurdish television channels – Rudaw, Gali Kurdistan, Rohani and Kurdsat – have been headlining their news bulletins with updates on the situation in Kobani and have their own reporters on the ground there.

A Kobani solidarity demonstration took place in the centre of Erbil on 8 October, supported by 35 parties and attended by some 5,000 people. Waving PKK flags, the protesters, most of whom were Iraqi Kurds, marched on the UN compound in Erbil chanting "Kobani, resist!" If Erdogan is not showing any solidarity with the Kurds fighting in Kobani, he has at least managed to bolster solidarity among the Kurds themselves.

Ekrem Guzeldere

© Qantara.de 2014

Translated from the German by Nina Coon

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