30 Million Kurds Are Looking Beyond Their Own Borders Towards Indepe


The Economist – 18 August – On August 12, rebels from the Kurdistan
Workers’ Party (PKK) kidnapped Huseyin Aygun, a prominent opposition
MP, as he toured the mainly Kurdish eastern province of Tunceli. He
was released 48 hours later, but the rebels got their desired
publicity by abducting an MP right under the authorities’ noses. `They
did it for propaganda purpose, they did me no harm,’ declared Mr Aygun
before passing on his captors’ `desire for peace’.

Yet peace does not seem to be on the PKK agenda. Over the past month
the group has increased its violence. It tied down the army for two
weeks in a mountain enclave near Semdinli. It killed two soldiers in
the Aegean resort of Foca. Hardly a day now passes without news of
another PKK attack.

The spike in terrorist activity may be linked to the August 15th
anniversary of its 28-year-old armed campaign for Kurdish independence
(the PKK says it would now settle for autonomy). Yet Turkey’s prime
minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, puts the blame on Syria’s president,
Bashar Assad. Mr Erdogan says Mr Assad has resumed the support for the
PKK that ended when Turkey threatened to go to war against his father
in 1998. Mr Erdogan’s critics retort that he is himself to blame.
Turkey’s firm support for Syria’s rebels has won Mr Assad’s enmity
along with that of Iran, home to several PKK camps.

Last month Mr Assad ceded control of a string of mainly Kurdish towns,
prompting Turkey to send more troops to the border. Whether he acted
out of spite or necessity, the effect has been the same. The
Democratic Union Party (PYD), a PKK offshoot, promptly established
control, hoisting the Kurdish flag over Syrian government buildings
along with large posters of the imprisoned PKK leader, Abdullah
Ocalan. Perhaps a third of the PKK’s fighters are Syrian Kurds, whose
hawkish commander, code-named Bahoz Erdal, is thought to have
masterminded the recent attacks.

Yet fears of a semi-independent PKK-administered Kurdish state in
Syria, which could gobble up chunks of Turkey, are overblown. Syria’s
estimated 3m Kurds are scattered across the country. The majority
Sunni Arabs are unlikely to concede to demands for regional autonomy.
Turkey is also leaning on the Iraqi Kurdish leader, Masoud Barzani,
who has brokered a deal between the PYD and its rivals, united under
the banner of the Kurdish National Council. Although the deal calls
for power-sharing, the PYD calls the shots. Mr Barzani is keen to
maintain his new-found alliance with the Turks not least because
Turkey is the sole outlet for the Iraqi Kurds’ substantial oil wealth.
Last month Turkish trucks began carrying the oil, prompting a furious
response from Iraq’s Shiite prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, who
accused Turkey of encouraging Kurdish separatism.

The irony of this outburst was not lost on the Iraqi Kurds, who were
long shunned by Turkey because their experiment with self-rule seemed
a threat to Turkish unity. Amid booming trade ties, there is growing
talk of an informal confederation between Turkey and the Iraqi Kurds.
Mr Erdogan is even said to have given Mr Barzani personal guarantees
of defence against aggression by Baghdad.
If Turkey would only grant its 14m Kurds some of the rights enjoyed by
their cousins in Iraq, the PKK’s terrorist tactics and antediluvian
Marxist doctrine would surely lose its appeal. The trouble is that,
buoyed by the Arab spring, the region’s 30m Kurds are increasingly
looking beyond their own borders towards an independent state uniting
them all.


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