Opinion Editorial
Erdogan Exploits Rivalry Between Kurdish Leaders
By Augin Haninke

(AINA) -- Massoud Barzani, the president of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Iraq, recently made a historic visit to Diyarbakir in south-eastern Turkey. It was Barzani's first visits to a city which may well become the capital of a future Kurdish state in Turkey. Diyarbakir is a stronghold of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (Partiya Karkerên Kurdistan, PKK), headed by Abdullah Öcalan. There is a bitter power struggle between Barzani and Öcalan, in a time when both are trying to form unholy alliances in the Middle East. The Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), headed by Barzani, is allied with Turkey, Israel, the U.S. and other key players in the West, while the PKK is seeking support from Shiite regimes like Iran, Bashar al-Assad of Syria and Nouri al-Maliki, the Prime Minister of Iraq. Maliki's army recently helped the PKK's sister party in Syria (PYD) expel Islamist groups from the Tel Kochar, which borders Iraq. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is also said to be collaborating with PYD.

Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan wishes to exploit the rivalry between Barzani and Öcalan, in classic Ottoman style, to widen the rift between the two leading Kurdish leaders. The visit to Diyarbakir should therefore be considered in light of this power struggle, where Barzani and his host Erdogan wanted to kill two birds with one stone: delegitimize the Kurdish parties in Turkey, both the outlawed PKK and the legal Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), by presenting Barzani as the sole leader of the Kurdish community, while promoting trade between Turkey and the KRG, which now exceeds that between Turkey and Germany.

Erdogan and Barzani have a common opponent in the PKK and want to break its strong dominance among the Kurds in Turkey. It is likely that such a policy is sanctioned by the U.S. and other Western countries, where oil plays a central role. Erdogan and Barzani stated during their visit to Diyarbakir that oil from the Kurdish dominated areas of Iraq will soon flow out via Turkey, which Baghdad has long tried to prevent but with no success.

Erdogan also seems to be applying the old Turkish proverb "the hand that you cannot bite you must kiss." Turkey tried to stop Kurdish autonomy in Iraq but failed. When Erdogan came to power, he turned things around and started to cooperate, resulting in unlimited access for Turkish companies to the market in the Kurdish region in north Iraq. Erdogan also opened a Turkish consulate in Arbel, giving implicit recognition to the KRG.

The Kurds in Syria, represented by the Kurdish Democratic Party (PYD), recently declared autonomy (AINA 8-20-2013). The autonomous region has the same structure as the KRG, dividing up the area under Kurdish control into three "cantons" in northern Syria, including the al-Jazeera region. It has been said this autonomy is temporary, but how can autonomy be temporary when the Kurds ultimately seek independence?

Most Assyrians in Syria did not endorse this Kurdish autonomy; they continue to flee the country, since they are experiencing greater insecurity every day. A small group of Assyrians are involved in the Kurdish autonomy region. They are the remains of the Assyrian Freedom Party (Dawronoye), which was formerly part of the PKK. But this is a marginal group of Assyrians which lacks credibility with the Assyrians in the al-Jazeera region, according to Middle East expert Sleiman Yousef.

From the Turkish side, President Abdullah Gül said that Turkey cannot accept any Kurdish autonomy in Syria, the same position as held by Barzani, as the country may not be divided. Turkey is also erecting a high wall along certain stretches of the border with Syria in order to complicate relations between the Kurds on both sides. But it all may end up in the same way as in Iraq. If Erdogan and Gül realize that protests and walls do not help, then they can begin to cooperate even with the Syrian Kurds.

Another possibility is to let the Kurds in Iraq and Syria rule themselves and perhaps form a future state, but where Turkey is not affected. Turkish Kurds would not be allowed to form any autonomous area, only given cultural rights. Such an agreement is not far-fetched. During the visit in Diyarbakir Erdogan for the first used the word "Kurdistan." Probably he means areas outside the current Turkish borders. But he did not say it outright because he wants the Kurdish vote in the elections in March, 2014. The majority of the Kurds in the Middle East live in Turkey (about 20 million), with the vast majority of them preferring the PKK and its legal parties as their representatives, not Barzani.

If Erdogan really wants to pursue the peace process that began in March 2013, when a statement from the jailed PKK leader Öcalan was read to an audience of one million Kurds in Diyarbakir, he would not have side-lined both the PKK and the BDP by allowing Barzani to portray himself, in the heart of PKK territory in Diyarbakir, as the leader of the Kurds. If Erdogan is looking for true peace with the Kurds, he has no need to cross the river when seeking water.

Augin Kurt Haninke is an Assyrian journalist and author in Sweden.


Views and opinions expressed in guest editorials do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of AINA.
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