Kurdish people wave flags depicting Ocalan at a rally in the Hague in the Netherlands on January 11, 2013.
© AFP
Kurdish people wave flags depicting Ocalan at a rally in the Hague in the Netherlands on January 11, 2013.
Last updated: May 17, 2013
Wladimir van Wilgenburg: Barzani and Öcalan

“It is in the interests of the KDP, PKK and Turkey to come to an agreement over the Kurdish issue”

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There are claims that the KDP-leader Massoud Barzani isn’t happy with the new role of the imprisoned PKK-leader Abdullah Öcalan. The two would allegedly compete for the leadership of the Kurds, and the new role of Öcalan in the peace process could endanger the status of Barzani. Especially due to the fact that most PKK insurgents would head back to Qandil, in the Kurdish areas of Iraq.

I, however, doubt this is the case.

In the past, the KDP and PKK have fought against each other and Öcalan called Barzani and Iraqi President Jalal Talabani feudal leaders that could threaten Turkey and advised Turkey not to work with them. For the PKK, Barzani is a feudal, reactionary and primitive nationalist. Barzani and the KDP on the other hand consider the PKK a violent Marxist group, and Barzani one time compared Öcalan to the murderous communist ex-dictator Pol Pot. Barzani aspires to independence of the Iraqi Kurds, while the PKK is fighting for con-federalism, which would not threaten the borders of the four states the Kurds live in (Iraq, Syria, Turkey and Iran).

These tensions between the KDP and PKK are more visible in the Kurdish areas of Syria and not so much in Iraq. In Syria’s Kurdish areas there is clear competition between the KDP-backed Kurdish parties and the PKK-backed parties. From time to time, the militia of the PKK-affiliated Democratic Union Party captures Syrian Kurds who support Barzani, while the KDP-supported parties complain. Nevertheless, Barzani wants to avoid a civil war and unwillingly accepts the domination of the PKK-backed parties. In recent meetings of the Syrian Kurds, chaired by Barzani, the PKK-affiliated Democratic Union Party (PYD) initially boycotted the meetings.

But despite the developments in Syria, a successful peace process could benefit Barzani greatly. The end to the armed struggle would remove a major impediment of full cooperation between Turkey and the Iraqi Kurds since Turkish politicians often accused Barzani of supporting the PKK (since he did not attack Qandil) and the border regions of the Kurdistan region were frequently bombed by Turkish army.

Moreover, the KDP was always worried PKK could be used by other countries (mostly Iran) against the cooperation between Turkey and the KDP. Currently, it seems Iran is not that happy with the process. And currently, the PKK and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) headed by Iraqi President Jalal Talabani have good relations in order to compete with KDP in Syria and in Iraq.

The armed PKK insurgency was always a threat to the economical cooperation between Turkey and Barzani and the goal of Nechirvan Barzani, the KRG Prime Minister, is to use the energy cooperation to encourage Turkey to back the Iraqi Kurds to get more autonomy and independence from Baghdad. The PKK rebels could possibly threaten pipelines between Turkey and the KRG and there are claims that some oil fields where Turkish companies operate in the KRG are close to PKK positions.

Without a PKK insurgency, both Turkey and the KRG could achieve its regional ambitions and greater security in the Middle East. The opening of a new border gate between Turkey and KRG is a sign of this.

A possible peace could also benefit relations between the Syrian opposition and the PKK-backed parties. FSA and Kurdish rivals of the PKK often accuse them of working with Turkey, while PKK-backed parties accused the Syrian armed opposition and rival Kurdish factions of being backed by Turkey (in cooperation with Barzani). Therefore, a peace deal could improve intra-Kurdish relations and also relations between the Syrian Kurds and the opposition.
 
It is therefore in the interests of the KDP, PKK and Turkey to come to an agreement over the Kurdish issue. But I doubt that the PKK and the Turkish government could come to an agreement due to their different interests with the PKK aiming for strong decentralization, while the Justice and Development Party (AKP) wants a strong presidential system.

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