Kurdish War: The Threat From Syria And Iran


May 19, 2013: Turkish Kurds and the Turkish business community have both praised the ceasefire and peace process between the Turkish government and the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) as a chance to end the bloodshed and pursue economic development.  For Turkish Kurds ending the war opens the predominantly Kurdish areas in southeastern Turkey to more investment and development. The business community saw the peace process as a boon for the entire country. This month a major credit rating agency upgraded its rating for Turkish bonds, from Ba1 to Baa3.  The upgrade came because international lenders said the peace process is reducing political uncertainty in Turkey.  The upgrade was expected. Shortly after PKK senior commander Abdullah Ocalan announced on March 21 that the PKK would implement a ceasefire with the Turkish government the Turkish business community speculated that Turkey’s credit rating would go up because ending the war would reduce worries about Turkish stability.

The economics of peace make sense. However, the war began in August 1984. Long wars leave many political, diplomatic, economic and security problems in their wake, and the Kurdish War is no exception. The comprehensive settlement must address a tangled thicket of problems.  Here are a couple of the diplomatic and security pretzels. When U.S. President Barack Obama met with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Obama commended the Turkish government for seeking a peaceful end to the PKK insurgency.  Well and good. The U.S., however, regards the PKK as a terrorist organization –because Turkey, a U.S. ally, insisted that the U.S. declare the PKK a terrorist organization. The PKK has not yet disarmed. It is in the process of retreating into its base area in Iraq. Iraq regards the retreat of PKK fighters into Iraq as a breach of its national sovereignty, especially for non-Iraqi PKK fighters. Iraq is right. Iraq is also a U.S. ally.

Several Middle Eastern sources have quoted PKK commanders who say they intend to keep their units together.  That could threaten a peace agreement with Turkey but several senior PKK leaders have said Turkish PKK fighters will disarm once the peace agreement is reached and affirmed. The emerging peace deal will likely include programs for reintegrating them into civilian life (training, education, etc.) for Turkish and possibly Iraqi Kurds who fought for the PKK.  The outlook for Syrian and Iranian PKK fighters, however, is anything but clear. Syria is embroiled in a huge civil war. Iran is a dictatorship. In a statement issued in early May, PKK field commander Murat Karanliyan said that he hoped the peace deal would ultimately include members of the Iranian Kurd Party of Free Life of Kurdistan (PJAK) and the Syrian Kurd Democratic Union Party (PYD). The PKK has confirmed that both Iranian and Syrian Kurd fighters have been operating inside Turkey. The Iranian government is reportedly concerned that PKK militants who have been fighting in Turkey will now join PJAK units and launch attacks in Iran. At the moment PJAK and the Iranian government are observing a ceasefire. (Austin Bay)

May 14, 2013: The PKK reported that its first group of fighters has withdrawn from Turkey. Nine men and six women entered Iraq through the border town of Harur (Dohuk province, Iraq).

May 8, 2013: Kurdish members of parliament in the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) announced that the PKK withdrawal from southeastern Turkey has begun. From 200 to 500 PKK fighters have begun moving toward the Turkey-Iraq border. The fighters will cross the border in the Semdinli and Sirnak  areas. Turkish media reported that PKK fighters have told them they have seen an increase in Turkish aerial surveillance flights and that Turkish security units have been reinforced along the border. The PKK rebels appear to be worried that they will be ambushed.

May 7, 2013: Iraq’s national government reiterated its support for the peace process between the PKK and Turkey. However, the Iraqi government also stated that the withdrawal of PKK militants into Iraq from Turkey is a violation of Iraqi sovereignty.  The Iraqi government has made this objection several times since details of the ceasefire agreement were made public in late March. Iraq’s Kurdish Regional Government immediately said that only Iraqi Kurds fighting with the PKK should withdraw into Iraq.

April 25, 2013: PKK field commander Murat Karayilan announced (from a base camp in Iraq’s Qandil Mountains) that PKK fighters will begin withdrawing from Turkey sometime in early May. The withdrawal will be conducted in phases.

April 17, 2013: The Iraqi national government is objecting to an oil and gas deal signed by the government of Turkey and Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) that arranged for the KRG to sell oil and gas directly to Turkey. The Iraqi national government said that the deal is illegal because only the national government can approve oil and gas contracts. It’s believed that KRG could export one million barrels a day by 2015 or 2016. The region currently exports about 250,000 barrels a day.

April 16, 2013:  PKK senior commander Abdullah Ocalan has released a document which outlines his priorities for gaining support for the peace process and organizing a PKK withdrawal from Turkey.  It amounts to a political field order.  Oclana is calling for four political conferences which will be held to solidify support for the ceasefire and peace process. The conferences will be held in Dykarbakir and Ankara, Turkey, Irbil, Iraqi Kurdistan and one somewhere in Western Europe (possibly Brussels). Ocalan wants all Turkish ethnic minorities to participate in the Ankara conference. The Diyarbakir conference will be held primarily for Turkish Kurds. The meeting in Iraq will be for Iranian, Syrian and Iraqi Kurds. According to a Kurdish politician who is familiar with Ocalan’s order, the Iranian Party for Free Life in Kurdistan (PJAK) and the Syrian Kurd Democratic Union Party (PYD) will also participate in the Iraqi conference.

April 13, 2013: The Turkish business community throughout the country is reportedly delighted with the PKK ceasefire. Turkish businesses think a peace agreement improves the political prospects for establishing new trade partnerships in the Middle East. Ending the war will demonstrate that Turkey is politically stable. The investment community expects a peace agreement will lead to a upgrade in Turkey’s credit rating.

April 2, 2013:  Turkish Kurds living in predominantly Kurdish regions of Turkey are hopeful that the PKK ceasefire will continue and lead to a comprehensive peace settlement. Turkish media report that Turkish Kurds hope the end of the war will lead to economic development in their region. Over 40,000 people have been killed in the long war. Kurdish members of parliament in pro-Kurd Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) claim that they are positioned to help reach a durable peace settlement. 

March 26, 2013: The Turkish military said that it has not suspended operations against PKK militants. The military will defend Turkey and Turkish citizens against PKK attacks and threats from PKK militants. The military is prepared to observe the ceasefire as the peace process advances.

Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) said that it supported the peace process between the PKK and the Turkish government.  However, it would prefer that members of the PKK who withdraw from Turkey withdraw to their own home country. Syrian and Iraqi Kurds fighting with the PKK should withdraw to their respective countries. The KRG indicated that Turkish militants fighting with the PKK should remain in Turkey. The KRG said that it knows that there are Iranian Kurds who are members of the PKK and some of the Iranians are in the PKK base camps in the Qandil Mountains.

March 25, 2013: Turkish F-16 fighter bombers overflew several PKK base camps in northern Iraq.  The Turkish military said the over flights are for reconnaissance only. The jets will only attack PKK camps if PKK militants attack Turkish forces or targets in Turkey.

March 23, 2013:  PKK field commander Murat Karayilan declared a ceasefire with the Turkish government. The ceasefire is to be observed by all PKK members. On March 21 PKK senior commander Abdullah Ocalan told his organization that it was time to observe a permanent ceasefire and reach a peace agreement with the Turkish government. Ocalan is imprisoned in Turkey.


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