January 7, 2016


Is Turkey heading to partition? (Kadri Gursel, January 4, 2016, Al Monitor)

Watching how its red lines -- the product of misguided policies -- lose their meaning in the face of regional realities is certainly not easy for Ankara to stomach.

For the rest of the world, meanwhile, the problem is an Ankara that constantly postpones to do its part in the struggle against IS due to its long-standing Kurdish policy, which has now become a stumbling block for everyone.

One key reason why Ankara saw the PYD as a threat greater than IS was its fear of the geopolitical risks bound to arise if a long stretch of Syrian territory along the border, running westward from Iraq, fell under the control of a Kurdish organization affiliated with the PKK, which is considered a threat to Turkey's unity. The war against the PKK inside Turkey further magnified these risks for Ankara. Second, Ankara worried that the Kurdish cantons the PYD established would strengthen its own Kurds' drive for autonomy. Should the Kurdish cantons win recognition as part of a political settlement in Syria, the Kurdish problem in Turkey -- home to the largest Kurdish population in the Middle East -- will stick out even more prominently as it dies after decades of nonsolution. In short, it was Turkey's own Kurdish problem that forced it to draw a red line along the Euphrates' western bank.

The Euphrates represents a separating line not only in Syria but in Turkey as well, marking the historical and geographical epicenter of the Kurdish problem, which stretches eastward from the river. Beyond the massive destruction and civilian deaths in urban areas, Ankara's war on the PKK since July has also been destroying the emotional bridges over the Euphrates connecting the Kurdish-majority east to western Turkey.

One signal of the breaking bonds came from Diyarbakir, whose ancient Sur district has for weeks been the theater of curfews and clashes, with the security forces battling PKK militants with heavy weapons. On Dec. 26, the Democratic Society Congress (DTK), an umbrella organization for Kurdish civic society groups, convened an emergency meeting in Diyarbakir. Speaking at the gathering, Selahattin Demirtas, the co-chair of the Kurdish-dominated Peoples' Democratic Party, said, "This resistance will lead to victory. The Kurds from now on will hold the political will in their lands. The Kurds will perhaps have an independent state, a federal state, cantons or autonomous regions." True to style, the Turkish media highlighted Demirtas' emphasis on an "independent state."

The DTK stirred even more indignation in western Turkey the following day with a final declaration that announced "a decision for autonomy" for the Kurds. The 14-point declaration called for the creation of "democratic autonomous regions" across Turkey, to be governed by elected autonomous organs, running the realm of education among others. The other fields it listed for autonomous governance included health services, the courts and justice affairs, transport, energy, public order and budget management.

Though the DTK decision is hardly applicable today, it is significant for showing that autonomy will be the minimal condition the Kurdish movement will impose on any future negotiations for a settlement.

Posted by at January 7, 2016 5:52 PM