A New Era in Turkish Kurdish ties

Relations between Turkey and northern Iraqi Kurds have come a long way. So much so that the president of the Kurdish Regional Government, Masoud Barzani, has gone on record saying that they no longer fear Turkey; indicating instead that they are looking favorably on the prospect of increased relations with Ankara.

There is a big change on the Turkish side also. The "Kurdish taboo" is seen to be melting away as Ankara increases its ties with the Kurdish leadership and Erbil, the capital of the KRG. The steps being taken within Turkey to address the question of Kurdish rights cannot be overlooked either.

24 hour TV broadcasts in Kurdish may not seem much to an outsider, but for those who know what has been going on in this country over the past decades understand full well the significance of such steps, which are apparently set to increase.

In the meantime President Jalal Talabani of Iraq, who is of Kurdish origin, was in Turkey this week where he held high level contacts, starting with President Gul. While here he said things about the PKK terrorist organization that comes as music to Turkish ears.

The bottom line for President Talabani is that the PKK is an anachronistic group that is incapable of seeing that the way to solve problems does not involve the use of guns. These remarks are a clear indication that the Iraqi Kurds are not going to sit on the fence anymore as far as this group is concerned.

It also seems from media reports that the KRG is preparing to convene a conference of Kurdish parties in northern Iraq, at the end of April or early May, which will issue a call to the PKK to lay down its arms. All of this makes sense from the Iraqi Kurdish perspective, of course.

The PKK has brought them nothing but trouble, starting off with the excuse it has provided the Turkish armed forces, and hard line nationalist politicians in Turkey, to strike at northern Iraq and interfere in its domestic affairs.

Interestingly enough it is the initially tacit, and subsequently overt, acceptance by the Iraqi Kurds of the military’s operations in northern Iraq against the PKK that has disarmed the hardliners in Turkey - for whom even the mention of "Kurds" or "Kurdish rights" has been an anathema.

These hardliners have always used the PKK as an excuse to demean the Iraqi Kurds, who they have claimed are behind this group, and to clamor for military operations against the region.

It is no secret that the military has also promoted this view, ostensibly because of the need to fight terrorists, but in fact to also apply pressure against the Kurds with a view to stifling their political and cultural aspirations.

Once these military operations began, with assistance from the Unite States Ğ which is much hated by the hardliners Ğ and the Iraqi Kurds were seen to be going along even if they were not extremely pleased about them, the hard-line arguments were, as we indicated, "disarmed."

Such operations also strengthened the hand of the Erdogan government, enabling it to take some bold steps in terms of Kurdish rights; given that the military’s overt argument has been that "it is not against Kurds per se, but against Kurdish terrorism." It is noteworthy in this context that the military has in fact endorsed TV broadcasts in Kurdish now, something that was unthinkable only a few years ago.

All of this, of course, leaves the DTP, which is generally considered the political wing of the PKK in something of a relationship similar to the one that existed at the time between the IRA and Sinn Fein in Ireland. It will be interesting, for example, to see if this party will attend the conference that news reports say will be held in Erbil and which will call on the PKK to lay down its arms. Doing so would clearly leave it in a difficult position vis a vis this terrorist group with which it has shared roots, even if it denies these.

It is no surprise that some observers claim that the best thing that could happen to the DTP, which has deputies in the Turkish Parliament, would be to be closed down by the Constitutional Court, where there is an ongoing closure case against it.

This would clearly shroud it with the mantle of martyrdom and help it out of a difficult situation. The bottom of the line appears to be, however, that just as hardliners on the Turkish side are being gradually "tamed" by developments; it is more than likely that the same will eventually happen with the DTP.

At any rate, we are dealing with an ongoing situation in terms of Turkish-Kurdish ties, and even President Abdullah Gul has referred to the prospect of "great things on the way" with respect to this issue.
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