The Kurdish Question Witnesses Possible Transformation in Turkey and Iraq

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 132

Turkish President Abdullah Gul has taken positive steps towards resolving the Kurdish question. Gul recently invited the Kurdish nationalist Democratic Society Party (DTP) parliamentarian, Selahattin Demirtas to accompany him on his visit to China (NTV, June 24). In addition, eight DTP mayors from Kurdish cities, including Osman Baydemir, the mayor of Diyarbakir (the largest Kurdish populated city), requested a meeting with Gul to present a report outlining how they wanted the Kurdish question to be addressed. Turkish press reports indicated that Gul might meet with these mayors next week (Zaman, July 8). If Gul agrees to meet the DTP mayors it will represent another historic development and highlight the importance Ankara attaches to resolving the issue.

The DTP mayors outlined seven key steps that are required in order to solve the Kurdish question. These included transforming the Unitarian Turkish system into a semi-federal system by reinforcing the provincial authorities. In this case, natural resources would be distributed to the federal entities. In addition, the mayors want to see their native language used within education recognized as a constitutional right, while Turkish remains the official language of the state. In their view, Ankara should also start negotiating with Abdullah Ocalan, the imprisoned leader of the PKK (Cihan News Agency, July 8).

Despite these positive developments, the PKK has set July 15 as a deadline for ending its unilateral ceasefire. Although there is a widespread expectation that the PKK will extend its ceasefire for an additional month, since Abdullah Ocalan is working on a draft proposal to address the Kurdish question, the PKK leadership has not signaled its willingness to prolong the ceasefire. Meanwhile, the DTP has launched a new initiative to organize peaceful protests. The first of these was a march for "democracy, peace and a solution" held in Istanbul on July 9 (, July 9).

PKK sources claim that the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) are currently preparing a possible cross border operation (Frat News Agency, July 4). At this stage, it is unlikely that the TSK would conduct such a controversial operation. These preparations might be linked to the TSK’s contingency planning to prevent a new wave of PKK terrorist attacks.

Moreover, these developments on the Turkish side of the Kurdish question were eclipsed by more important events in Iraq. The Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) in Iraq will hold an election for the Kurdish parliament on July 25. As the election draws closer, political tension is increasing. In this election 2,518 million Kurds will go to the polls and choose their parliamentarians. Political observers believe that the two dominant political parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) led by Mesut Barzani and the Patriotic Union Party (YNK) might fail to repeat their success in the last election. In the 2005 election, the KDP-YNK bloc won 80 of the 111 seats within the Kurdish parliament. However, the YNK’s former deputy Norsirwan Mustafa’s newly formed Goran (Chance) party is likely to win at least 15 seats in this election. In addition, new Islamist groups might also win as many as 15 seats (ANF News Agency, July 9).

Furthermore, after the election the post of KRG prime minister will be transferred from the KDP’s Necirvan Barzani to the YNK’s Berham Salih (ANF News Agency, June 30). Salih is currently serving as deputy prime minister of the Iraqi central government. Salih is also known as a leader who seeks closer cooperation with Turkey. It appears that the Kurdish political parties have abandoned using anti-Turkish rhetoric in their election strategies. On the contrary, the Kurdish leaders suggest that the Kurds prefer to be part of Turkey rather than having relations with Sunni or Shiite Arabs in Iraq (Hurriyet, July 10). It seems that domestic issues, such as corruption and a lack of progress on democracy, dominate the election rhetoric.

Political observers also believe, however, that if the KDP-YNK bloc perceives that their electoral popularity is under threat, then their rhetoric might still degenerate. Naturally, the KDP and YNK present themselves as the true representatives of the Kurdish struggle, and accuse the opposition of endangering their cause. Opposition parties fear that the KDP and YNK might use the security forces against them (ANF News Agency, June 30).

Nonetheless, it appears that the PKK wants to use this ambiguous political environment to promote its own interests, and to present itself as the only unified Kurdish organization that advocates unifying the Kurds in Iraq, Iran, Turkey and Syria, on the basis of a pan-Kurdish vision. Interviewed on the Russian Voice radio’s Kurdish broadcasting program, Murat Karayilan stated that the PKK does not want to change the state’s borders, while promoting Kurdish unification on a more strategic basis (, July 3). It is too early to predict the future direction of the Kurdish question. However, it is safe to say that a critical point has been reached, which might witness its fundamental transformation.