Tuesday,17 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1308, (18 -24 August 2016)
Tuesday,17 October, 2017
Issue 1308, (18 -24 August 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Turkey and the Kurds

Recent events in Turkey are likely to lead to growing tensions between Turkey and the Kurds, according to this assessment by the Cairo Regional Centre for Strategic Studies

Al-Ahram Weekly

The recent failed coup attempt in Turkey could create consequences for the relationship between the Turkish Justice and Development Party (AKP) government and the Kurds.

Even though the Kurds refused to support the military coup, they have called on the Turkish government to commit to the democratic process. This stems from Kurdish fears that Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan could take advantage of the coup attempt to reinforce his authority on the domestic political scene and increase pressure on his opponents.

The fear is that Erdogan could abuse the domestic situation and that this could limit the chances of a political settlement between the two parties. It shows that tensions between the Turkish government and the Kurds could rise during the coming period.

There are at least three indicators that highlight the fact that there could be increased tensions:

TAKING ADVANTAGE OF THE FAILED COUP: The Kurdistan Peoples Party (PKK) quickly moved to condemn the coup. This is one of the strongest opposition parties in Turkey’s parliament, and it stressed the importance of democracy and the need to reach a democratic agreement for peace on the Kurdish cause. But there are fears that the Turkish government could reconsider its relationship with the Kurds, causing the PKK to avoid supporting the position of the government and its purge policies after the coup. This has irked the Turkish government to the point that it has criticised the position of the Kurdish parties towards recent domestic developments.

EXCHANGE OF ACCUSATIONS AND WAR OF INFORMATION: There have been growing accusations between the two sides, and some Kurdish civil society groups have accused Erdogan of orchestrating the coup to get rid of his opponents. This has pushed the office of Turkish prime minister Bin Ali Yildrim to accuse some members of the PKK of taking part of the coup and siding with the Gulenists group that it says was behind it. The AKP has alleged that the halting of activities by the PKK a day before the coup was a sign that it knew when it was to start. 

CLASH BETWEEN POLITICS AND THE MILITARY: Erdogan has given out a number of signs that he will adopt a stricter stance towards the Kurdish cause, and this became more evident when he moved against the head of the PKK, Salah El-Din Demretash, when he convened his first meeting after the coup with the heads of the country’s political parties. He also moved against the heads of both the Republican Party and the National Workers Party on the 25 July only a week after the failed coup. All of this came in tandem with the quick strikes carried out by the army on PKK positions in northern Iraq that killed 20 of its fighters. This was in response to operations carried out by the PKK when it targeted a police station in south-eastern Turkey.  

There are also a number of variables that could indicate the path of the relationship between the parties during the coming period:

RESTRUCTURING THE ARMED FORCES: It is likely that Erdogan will depend more on both the Turkish military and security forces in dealing with the Kurds, especially after the recent spate of moves to reorganise both after arresting many in their leaderships after the failed coup.

Joining up the opposition: These actions are likely to lead to a strengthening of the opposition, as recent events have shown that there are strong links between the Gulenists, the Kurdish movements and the coup plotters. It is likely that there will be an escalation in clashes as a result.

REGIONAL EVENTS AFFECTING TURKEY: Recent events in Iraq and Syria have had direct consequences on relations between the parties involved, as the near completion of the liberation of Mosul in Iraq and Manbag in Syria from the Islamic State (IS) group draws ever closer. However, it seems that Turkey will not have a role to play in these operations, or it will play only a ceremonial role. Turkey’s Incirlik Airbase is not the main base being used in the operation against Mosul, and there is a base to the south of Mosul, Al-Qeyara, that is to be used for all main combat operations.

There is also another new development that could widen the scope of confrontation for Turkey, which is the increased signs of tension between the Kurdish Peshmergas forces that have played a main role against IS in Iraq and the Iraqi government. The Kurds have put forward conditions that the Iraqi government will not accept, and these could widen the scope of confrontation to include Turkey due to its influence in the Iraqi Kurdistan Region.

The battle for Manbag will depend on the position of Erdogan and his government, since an undeclared deal with the Kurds would allow the PKK to work from behind enemy lines. The support of democratic forces in Syria could lead to the formation of an Arab council that would rule the city and keep the lines between the PKK in Syria and Turkey apart, as it has been agreed that the Euphrates is a no go area for it. In the light of recent developments, this deal could come under fire and complicate the relationship between Washington and Ankara.

The recent developments in Turkey will most likely lead to an increase in the clashes between Turkey and the Kurds, in such a way that they could do away with the previous agreements reached on the Kurdish issue.

The conflict will most likely take one of the following paths: either a military confrontation that could widen in scope in the coming period or a political confrontation in the form of early elections called by Erdogan in an attempt to weaken the hold of the Kurds in the Turkish parliament and prevent them from forming a strong bloc.

The second possibility faces a number of obstacles, specifically the refusal to cooperate of the opposition parties as they will realise that this is just another attempt to solidify Erdogan’s hold on power.

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