Jan 18, 2012

Eager for new alliances, Assad's opponents look to Iraqi Kurdistan

Samir Geagea received Hero's welcome in Arbil's predominately Christan district of Ankawa. In the picture, Geagea crosses in front of a piece of writing which has written "the people of Ankawa welcomes Kurdistan's beloved guest    Dr. Samir Geagea".
Lately, Iraqi Kurdistan has seen a surge in political activity, from the visit of Burhan Ghalioun, chairman of the Syrian National Council (SNC), to Walid Jumblatt, a prominent Lebanese Druze leader, to Samir Geagea, from the Lebanese opposition bloc, to Turkey's Deputy Foreign Minister Feridun Sinirlioğlu.
For some, the stream of political leaders to Kurdistan might be normal, but lately all political leaders who have visited Kurdistan are in one way or another linked to Syria. Those who have visited Kurdistan are anti-Syria Lebanese leaders, from the Syrian opposition or from Turkey, an important player in the Syrian crisis. According to information I acquired from sources close to Massoud Barzani's ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), in the group's meetings with the above people, Barzani has been discussing Syria
Ghalioun's meeting with Barzani, which took place two weeks ago, was mostly about guarantees from the SNC for Kurds in Syria, which was made in return for an agreement in which the Kurdish National Council, which represents most Kurdish parties in Syria, will join the SNC.
Syrian Kurds have some demands which they tie to membership in the SNC, including the right to study in Kurdish in predominately Kurdish cities and the right to limited regional autonomy. Ghalioun promised to discuss the conditions with other members of the SNC.
Yet some Kurds still haven't joined the demonstrations -- which may suggest they belong to pro-Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) parties. According to some Kurdish journalists who visited senior PKK leader Murat Karayılan last August, the PKK doesn't want Bashar al-Assad to be toppled. The PKK has historical ties with the Syrian regime, and they used to set up camp in Syrian territory prior to the imprisonment of PKK leader and founder Abdullah Öcalan in 1999.
Lebanese Druze leader Jumblatt, who claims to have a neutral stance regarding Syria, met with Barzani in mid-December. Jumblatt used to be a diehard opponent of Assad. Jumblatt, who is of Kurdish origin, discussed with Barzani the idea of withdrawing his party from the Lebanese government if need be.
Prominent Lebanese politician Geagea's meeting with Barzani was also motivated by the Syrian crisis. According to unconfirmed information, Barzani, who himself has strong ties with many Lebanese parties, is trying to convince Jumblatt to negotiate with Geagea's opposition party to topple Lebanon's current government, which is dominated by Hezbollah. Turkey has had a harsh stance on the Syrian regime since the start of the uprising and is believed to have asked Barzani, a strong ally of Turkey, to use his ties with Lebanese parties to topple any pro-Assad government in Lebanon.
Deputy Foreign Minister Sinirlioğlu paid a visit to the Iraqi city of Arbil to discuss the development of closer ties with Barzani.
In addition, the Kurdistan Islamic Union (KIU), which has strong ties with Iran, Turkey and the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, is mediating between Iran and the Syrian Brotherhood, because the Syrian Brotherhood knows if Iran continues to support Assad, there will be little hope of toppling the regime without foreign intervention. Again, Turkey, specifically Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, personally asked Selahaddin Bahaddin, head of the KIU, to use the group's own privileged position to open negotiations between Iran and the Syrian   Brotherhood. For this, Bahaddin paid a visit to İstanbul to see the leaders of the Syrian Brotherhood and then visited Tehran. Moreover, later, Bahaddin flew to Sudan to see Iran's friends, Sudanese president Omar Hassan al-Bashir and Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal, who both have a good relationship with Iran and an Islamist background. What they discussed is not yet known. Furthermore, a week ago, Bahaddin met with a delegation from the Kurdish National Council, according to a source close to the KIU; Bahaddin is trying to mediate between Syrian Kurds and the Brotherhood as well. The Syrian Kurds are striving to get guarantees from the opposition regarding Kurds amid the growing opportunity of toppling Assad's regime.
Iraqi Kurdistan, with its strategic geo-political location between Syria, Turkey and Iran, is becoming a vital place for political activity between different actors playing a role in the Syrian crisis. Kurds are trying to keep up good relations with Middle Eastern giants Iran and Turkey. Barzani, who used to have good ties with Assad's regime, seemingly turned toward the opposition with the growing opportunity of the uprising's success in Syria.

*Abdulla Hawez is a freelance journalist based in Iraqi Kurdistan. Follow him: @abdullahawez

This article has first appeared on Today's Zaman:

This article has re-published under my permission on DIMPOOL, Policy center:

Jan 5, 2012

AKP’s silent revolution has a blemish

While we hear about the achievements of Turkey’s AKP government especially in the Middle East after the Arab Spring, AKP’s government internally is facing a real challenge after the further detonation recently in ties with the minority Kurds that are making around 20% of Turkey’s population.  
            It’s widely believed that since AK Party came to power in 2003, a silent revolution has undertaken.  That revolution has swept all aspects in Turkey’s post-Kemalism era. Similarly, AKP has tried to solve Kurdish question through a process that called Democratization, by giving individuals more freedom. As the government has opened a 24 hours TV channel, TRT6, that airs programs in Kurdish. However, Kurds are accusing AKP for misleading the decades-standing Kurdish question. Kurds in the violence-ridden southeastern Turkey say AKP tries to erase Kurdish culture through TRT6, by airing twisted stories in Kurdish to convince the ordinary Kurds. Moreover, Layla Zana one of the prominent Kurdish leaders said the Kurdish question can’t be solved through giving more individual freedoms, but by giving Kurds their rights as a nation. Recently, the already detonated ties between government and Kurds worsen further after Turkish army jets killed 35 civilian, smuggler Kurds. Kurds say that shows how AKP government is still continuing the same policy of previous governments regarding Kurds in another style, while challenged all others blemishes. The worsening in ties between Kurds and Turkish government may lead to an uprising in the Kurdish cities in the wake of Arab Spring, as the anger of Kurds already turned to daily demonstrations in both Istanbul and southeastern region. PKK, which through his political wing, BDP, got 80% of the votes in latest election in southeastern region called on the Kurds to upraise against the Turkish government, as promised to ascendant attacks against Turkish army. Diyarbakır, the capital of southeastern Turkey, displays its politics. Graffiti throughout the city cheers PKK. Lately, more popular demonstrations has taken place in Diyarbakır, but aggressively quashed by the police. Meanwhile, Pro Kurdish Peace and Freedom Party or BDP lawmakers asked for the referendum in the predominately Kurdish southeast as a test for democracy in Turkey. Worthwhile, Kurds putted autonomy as a minimum demand regarding a solution for Kurdish question before. In respond, AKP strongly refused such demand, and claimed it threats Turkish unity. Turkish president Abdullah Gul many times described Turkey’s diversity as a source for richer Turkey, but never reflected in the real life. One of the local leaders of BDP in Diyarbakır told me Turkish prime minister delegitimizing the Al-Asad’s regime in Syria for Killing civilians and suppressing peaceful demonstrations, but same thing is happening here; last week at least 35 civilians Kurds killed and the peaceful demonstrations similarly suppressed. The local residences in the area believe that situation will continue until the Kurdish problem gets solved.
             The predominately Kurdish cities in southeastern Turkey are vividly ignored compared to the Turkish cities, as the Turkish state has tried to erase Kurds as a nation since the foundation of the republic in 1923. It would be rational to give all provinces in Turkey more power, even if the state doesn’t want to name it autonomy. It firstly takes off the more burdens that are facing the government with the government engaged further in the regional politics. Also it won’t differ Kurds from the rest of the country which government afraid to claim separation and get independence one day.  Moreover, Kurds still doesn’t have the right to study in their native language, as a first step, if government makes Kurdish an optional material in the predominately Kurdish cities, it can gradually solve the language problem as well. That brings peace to the southeastern area and then PKK, as promised, may lay down its weapon which Turkish army annually spending 10 billion dollars in fighting it; it also stops the imprisonment of thousands of Kurdish activists that have arrested in the name of terror recently, that’s in one hand. At the other hand, government needs to take those steps to make the economy’s flourishing continue. Last year, Turkish government unleashed a goal to make Turkey one of the 10 biggest economies in the world, engaging southeastern region is very important to reach this goal because this region makes one third of Turkish land and 20% of Turkish population.  The area is rich with agriculture, as there’s huge cheaper labor force, and with the historical places, it can be turned to a tourism hub. That will also accelerate government’s efforts to make Turkey one of the 10 first economies globally.    
            Turkey is witnessing a radical political standoff between government and Kurds anyways, as the whole region is chaging which that may weaken Turkey’s external ambitions. At the end either AKP government should give Kurds their rights as a nation firstly through the new promised civilian constitution that suppose to be ready by the second part of this year, or inspired by the Arab Spring Kurds will revolute loudly against AKP’s silent revolution, and take their rights by their own.