June 19, 2013

The Situation of The Kurds In Syria, Turkey, And Iraq

Things are looking grim, but, then again, what else is new? 

Everybody expects a major war to break out between the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and the central government in Baghdad. Iraqi officials are excluding Erbil from its new oil plans, taking away a key economic lifeline between the two centers, and thus removing the last incentive to stay in a federal partnership. The KRG has a customer in Turkey, but with the recent uprising there, how reliable is it? The Turkish economy will slide down if there is serious unrest, plus it does not look like that the peace between the Erdogan-led AKP and the PKK will survive this new political storm.

Read the three articles below.


An excerpt from, "Kurds Advance, Into the Unknown," by Karlos Zurutuza (IPS, June 18):
“From the very beginning, the Kurds in Syria have been committed to their own peaceful revolution meant to bring peace and democracy to the country,” Salih Muslim told IPS in Qamishli, 680 kilometres northeast of Damascus. This former chemical engineer is the leader of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), the dominant party among the Kurds of Syria which has an ideology akin to the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK), an armed movement seeking rights and recognition for Kurds within Turkey.
Kurds are still in control of their areas in north-eastern Syria in precarious balance between the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and Assad’s army.

One of the major hurdles in a dialogue between the warring parties is the increasingly fragmented Arab opposition. The involvement of groups linked to Al-Qaeda like Jabat al-Nusra, has even led to former FSA fighters joining the Kurdish militia in Aleppo, where the Kurdish controlled neighbourhoods Sheikh Maqsood and Ashrafieh in the north-west of the city have been repeatedly bombed by Assad’s jets.

One of the Syrian Kurds’ greatest achievements since the beginning of the uprising was the union of all their factions in July 2012 under the auspices of Massoud Barzani, president of the Kurdish Autonomous Region of Iraq. Harmony among them is still far from complete but a common enemy seems to work as an effective unifying force.

Moreover, many PKK fighters are reportedly heading for Syrian Kurdistan after Abdullah Ocalan – the PKK’s imprisoned founder and leader – declared a ceasefire and a pull out from Turkey in March. Such a move would add to the logistical support funnelled by the Iraqi Kurds which has proved vital for those in Syria.

But uncertainty has overshadowed the region since the very beginning of the war. Syrian Kurds are already familiar with Assad’s policies, but could an opposition-led government in Damascus be any better?

Muslim claims that the Kurds “will fight for their rights no matter who wins the war” but senior political and military opposition leaders have repeatedly and publicly declared that they are far from eager to recognise the rights of the Kurds in Syria.

This came as no surprise to the PYD leader: “Not happy with us just being Muslims, these people also want us to be Arabs,” said Muslim, pointing to a mentality “deeply rooted in the region for centuries and perpetuated by both the Assads as well as the core of the Syrian insurgents.”
An excerpt from, "Turkey: Dilemma of the Kurds," by Immanuel Wallerstein (June 15):
In recent years, the position of the AKP in power and of the PKK (still considering Öcalan their leader) has evolved. In particular, the PKK is no longer a Marxist-Leninist party, and wishes the guns to be silent and allow diplomacy to work. As a result there have been some ongoing discussions between the two parties as to a possible compromise that would end the conflict. The PKK has said that it is ready to abandon military action and participate in “normal” political life in Turkey, provided that Öcalan is released, and there is some recognition of autonomy and linguistic rights. The AKP government seems to have been receptive to the arrangement, apparently realizing that a purely military victory is impossible.

The major obstacle has been deep mutual suspicion. Neither side wants to lay down its arms before the other. How to work out a transition to the new arrangements is precisely the matter under discussion. The big problem for each of the two parties is to ensure that their followers accept it. Erdogan was having trouble with one wing of the AKP, and Öcalan was having trouble (perhaps less than Erdogan) with some elements in the PKK.

In the middle of these delicate discussions came the uprising in Taksim Square. And here is the Kurdish dilemma. There seem to be only two groups that are sympathetic to this proposed “solution” to the Kurdish demands. One is Erdogan and his supporters, and the other is some segments of the secular left who are a mainstay of the anti-Erdogan uprising. The other groups in Taksim Square are precisely opposed to the possible new arrangements with the Kurds.

What then should the Kurdish movement do politically? There are some Kurdish militants, particularly in Istanbul and other large cities, who have joined the rebellion, as individuals. But the PKK has carefully avoided any statement on the uprising. And in Diyabarkir, the largest Kurdish city, the number of protesters has been very few. It could well be that a major victim of the anti-authoritarian uprising in Turkey will be the Kurds.

An excerpt from, "Iraq excludes Kurds from ambitious 2014 oil output target," (Reuters, June 18):
Iraq aims to ramp up oil production by nearly 45 percent by the end of next year - without any input from its autonomous Kurdistan region - which suggests a lasting compromise in their long-running oil feud may be a way off.

Baghdad's ambitious 4.5 million barrels per day (bpd) target specifically excludes output from the northern Kurdish region, senior Iraqi officials said, and relies on new oil pumped from southern oilfields and higher flows from ones already producing.

Thamir Ghadhban, energy adviser to Iraq's prime minister, said Baghdad had lost confidence in Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) after it stopped exporting oil through the federal pipeline system.

"The 4.5 million barrels a day is based on the development of the resources within the 15 governorates excluding Kurdistan because of this issue," Ghadhban, a former oil minister of Iraq, said at an energy conference in London on June 18.

KRG says it is owed more than 4 trillion Iraqi dinars, or $3.5 billion, by Baghdad to cover the costs accumulated by oil companies operating there, while the central government rejects those contracts as illegal.

The northern region used to ship crude through a pipeline network controlled by Baghdad, but exports via that channel stopped last December due to the payments row.

"We are not going to start again and make the same mistakes," said Ashti Hawrami, natural resources minister of the KRG.

He confirmed that Kurdish oil is excluded from the 4.5 million bpd target, part of Iraq's blueprint for long-term energy development - launched last week in Baghdad.
Hawrami said the strategy document - first seen by him on June 18 - was "for the rest of Iraq, not northern Iraq".

"I'm afraid we have never been consulted and we do not have any input into this document," he said. "It excludes the Kurdistan region's potential completely."