Aug 23, 2013

Challenges mar grand Kurdish conference

For the first time in modern history, in a significant opportunity to boost their unity, Kurds are planning to draft a strategy with a grand conference, but political rivalry and divisions among the parties as well as concerns of regional powers have largely dashed hopes that it will yield intended results.
The pan-Kurdish conference was initially scheduled to take place in Arbil, capital of Iraq's Kurdistan, and slated for Aug. 20, but it was postponed to September due to what the organizers called “some technical problems.”
The conference will be the first of its kind in the history of Kurds. The first failed attempt to hold a grand Kurdish conference goes back to 1978, when the jailed leader of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) wanted to convene all representatives of Kurds in the Lebanese capital, Beirut.
The efforts to hold this current national conference of all Kurds, mainly organized by three leading Kurdish forces -- the PKK, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) -- have been under way for months. In a meeting on July 22 in Arbil, led by President of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Massoud Barzani, representatives of the Kurdish parties from the four countries, Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria, officially agreed on the initiation of the Kurdish national conference. During the meeting, the participants agreed to establish a committee to handle the preparation of the conference. The committee consisted of 21 members: six from Turkey's Kurds, five each from Iraq and Iran, four from Syria and one representative of the Kurdish diaspora in Europe. Around 600 politicians, NGO activists and guests are expected to attend the three-day conference.
The conference is expected to be led by Barzani because he is the most prominent and powerful leader among the attendees. Some accuse Barzani of deliberately rejecting the conference many times before but accepting it now so that he could lead the Kurdish gathering alone astwo other powerful Kurdish leaders are absent: PKK leader AbdullahÖcalan in jail and Iraqi President Jalal Talabani in bed in a hospital in Germany.
The main aim of the conference is to unite Kurds at a time when they are more divided than ever over controlling Syrian territories predominantly populated by Kurds and the controversial ties of some forces with regional powerhouses: the PKK with Iran and the KDP with Turkey.
Although Kurds have pinned much hope for this conference, expected to gather representatives of all Kurds in the region, there is only little hope that the conference will yield substantial success in terms of achieving its stated goals. It is true that Kurdish political parties for the first time in modern history could agree to hold this conference, but it is also a fact that these forces also stand more divided than ever before.
Only days before the conference, a fresh wrangle started between the PKK and the KDP over Syria's Kurdish areas that are currently controlled by the Democratic Union Party (PYD), a Syrian offshoot of the PKK. Newly elected co-chair of the PKK, Cemil Bayık, accused Barzani's KDP of conspiring against Syrian Kurds by closing the border with Syria and working with the anti-Kurdish forces, namely Turkey, in Syria against the PYD. In return, the KDP accused the PYD of building a dictatorship in Syria by unilaterally controlling Kurdish areas and not cooperating with other Kurdish parties that are mostly affiliated with the KDP and hence destroying all efforts to unite Kurds.
This division between the KDP and the PKK, the two major Kurdish parties, is only part of a bigger picture. The Kurdish parties in Iraq are seriously at odds because of mistrust between each other. The Iraqi Kurdish opposition bloc (the Gorran movement, Kurdistan Islamic Union and Islamic group), for instance, boycotted a gathering that would draft the agenda of the conference at the beginning, only to be convinced to participate later.
In Iran and Syria, internal political debates are eating away at the strong representation of Kurds in these countries at the planned conference. In Iran, the Kurds are in dispute over the representation in the organizing committee. The traditional Kurdish forces excluded their main rival, the Party of Free Life in Kurdistan (PJAK), the Iranian offshoot of the PKK. In Syria, an agreement between the Kurdish political parties to cooperate hasn't begun to have an impact until now. Many Kurdish public figures, including the leaders of the Kurdish political parties in Syria, warned against impending civil war between Kurds in Syria if the PYD doesn't stop its unilateral steps.
While the Kurdish parties are deeply divided, the regional powers are also in contact with the Iraqi Kurdish officials to make sure the conference doesn't threaten the unity of their countries. Turkey, which has the highest Kurdish population, seemed to be relaxed because only days after the announcement of the conference, the KRG prime minister, Nechirvan Barzani, rushed to Ankara to comfort Turkish officials. Only after visiting Ankara, Barzani flew to Tehran to allay Iranian concerns about the conference. His trip to Tehran, however, was portrayed as if he traveled there to participate in the inauguration ceremony of the new president of Iran, Hassan Rouhani. As the two countries and other international players are expected to attend the conference, many activists and political parties refuse foreign participation in the conference because it will further reduce the chance of any serious agreement between the political parties. Iranian Kurdish political parties in particular harshly reject participation of Iranian officials and say itwould jeopardize all efforts to make the conference successful.
Aside from all these political factors, the Kurdish question in each of the four countries that have Kurdish minorities has evolved differently in the last century; this is why a common Kurdish strategy doesn't seem to work.
The negative atmosphere surrounding the pan-Kurdish conference pushed many to consider it as only a symbolic gathering. The conference, however, is significant because it's the first time in modern history that representatives of all Kurds around the world have agreed to gather in one hall.
Even if it fails to set up a national Kurdish strategy, the conference remains an important step forward.

This article first appeared on Today's Zaman - here:

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