Entertaining the Kurdish card

The Middle East, the southern part of Turkey's neighborhood, is going through tectonic changes. In comparison with a few years ago, the whole regional set-up is almost unrecognizable. The series of events described as the Arab Awakening has precipitated shifts that are likely to change the Levant and Turkey's whole southern neighborhood. Regionally, the Kurdish component is on the rise and has managed to become the clear winner of the upheaval.

The government has decided to take immense risks and initiate a resolution process with the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and is directly dealing with the leader of that group in his prison at Imrali Island. Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu's visit to Diyarbakir came in the midst of the commotion stirred by the resolution process. His remarks in Diyarbakir were extremely noteworthy. Providing examples of the regional demography, Davutoglu referred to the artificiality of Turkey's current borders. He contrasted the free movement of people principle of the EU with that of Turkey's liberal visa regime. His comparison to charges of neo-Ottomanism versus a neo-Roman approach was astute. His articulation in favor of Turkey's continued reintegration into its southern neighborhood was registered by his Kurdish audience.

Yet, there is also reason for caution. I run into many members of the political community who are quietly entertaining a triumphant sort of de facto Turkish-Kurdish federation. Maybe they are not talking about it in a de jure sense but the emphasis on a new Turkish-Kurdish understanding is clear. The idea seems to entertain an Ottoman framework that foresees strategic partnership and a shared destiny with the region's Kurds. I think it makes sense theoretically and the cooperation in recent years with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) somewhat attests to its benefits. While I am fully in support of better relations with the KRG as well as with the Kurds in Syria, I am not fully convinced that the intentions that Ankara have are actually shared by these Kurdish counterparts.

I am also not quite convinced that the resolution process was undertaken by the PKK with the sole intention of bringing an end to the armed struggle. I am afraid that both the current resolution process as well as cooperation with Ankara are seen as tactical interim steps that will eventually lead to a Kurdish state in the region. It is quite normal and even necessary that Ankara thinks carefully about the future of Iraq and Syria. In both cases Ankara has a lot at stake. However, without having a credible history of cooperation, understanding and agreement with the Kurdish component of the region, I think it is too risky to embark on such a strategic reshaping of our southern region. I believe that both the resolution process and cooperation with the KRG are still too new and too fresh to ensure the viability of such a meaningful Turkish-Kurdish understanding. While it is not impossible that it may succeed, it also carries with it enormous risks such as alienating millions of Arabs to the south.

The free movement of people and the intensification of trade and cultural contacts between Turks, Kurds and Arabs are extremely positive and necessary. It certainly enhances Turkey's soft power and influence. Yet, given the fragility of the resolution process, the unpreparedness of Turkish public opinion and the lack of a reliable track record of the Kurds, it would be more prudent to treat this highly sensitive approach with great caution. Incremental steps toward building confidence are key and the behavior of Syria's Kurds will be the first test. Turkey should act very carefully and prepare for the most adverse scenario regardless of whatever assurances or guarantees it will receive in this treacherous geography.

Source http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/asianet/130404/entertaining-the-kurdish-card


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