THEWORLDTODAY.ORG DECEMBER 2007
FRIENDS IN NEED By early November, as a result of intense diplomatic efforts, the height of the crisis appeared to have passed. The US and Iraqi Kurds called for restraint and opposed any Turkish incursion into Iraq as a violation of sovereignty. Washington fears instability in the only secure part of Iraq and the loss of the use of Turkish air bases on which much of its logistical support for Iraq depends. America sees the other influential neighbours, Iran and Syria, as unhelpful meddlers in Iraq and needs Turkey to remain friendly. The US seems to have applied pressure on the Iraqi Kurds who in turn persuaded the PKK to release eight captured Turkish soldiers early in November. The Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, was welcomed at the White House and the US described the PKK as a ‘common enemy’. Despite these diplomatic niceties, the underlying causes of the friction have not altered. The PKK retains considerable popular support and sympathy but has no political representation in the manner of Sinn Fein’s relationship to the Irish Republican Army. Moderate Kurdish parties in Turkey have failed to make much headway, in part because of the ten percent threshold of voting share required for any parliamentary seats. Justice and Development Party gains in the south-east in this year’s elections were impressive and reflect tactical voting by Kurds. The proKurdish Democratic Social Party ran candidates as independents to circumvent the threshold, before regrouping its 22 MPs in parliament. Where the choice was between a Justice and Development candidate and the right-wing Turkish Nationalist Action Party, it is entirely logical that Kurds would vote for the government. Turkey has recently implemented some cultural and linguistic reforms to improve the lives of its Kurdish population and satisfy the EU on the path to membership. These seem to point the way ahead, but have not gone far enough. The current stumble in the relationship with the EU means that further change is less imminent. Were the prospect of EU accession to vanish, Turkey would be likely to expose its powerfully nationalist face. This does not smile on ethnic minorities, especially Kurds.
ANYONE FOR FUDGE?
The US is in a dilemma. What should be done if two of its most important allies in the region, Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan, are preparing to fight? Washington will almost certainly have to fudge it. While the US would be likely to side with Turkey because the relationship is of greater value, it cannot risk seeing the Kurdistan region of
Chatham House will host a conference on The Kurdsin International Affairs on December 19. All are welcome. Email lcooper@ chathamhouse. org.uk for details and registration.
Iraq, nor the power structures of Barzani and Talabani, collapse. The Kurdish questions in Iran and Syria are also relevant, particularly as the PKK has traditionally recruited very strongly in Syria. There have been a number of recent violent incidents between the Iranian state and Kurdish groups. The Freedom and Life Party (PJAK), an
offshot of the PKK, is also holed up in the mountains of Iraqi Kurdistan and carries out operations over the border into Iran. The link between it and the PKK is close, and it is very possible that guerrillas may be with one party on one day and the other the next. This possibility is especially interesting given that the US identifies the PKK as a terrorist organisation, but not its anti-Iranian cousin. In Syria, some two million Kurds are more dispersed and less organised, but suffer discrimination and repression none the less. The government has promised to ease the restrictions, not least by providing citizenship to some of the three hundred thousand denied this right. However, these promises appear insincere and the problems remain unaddressed and could cause instability. The governments in Damascus, Ankara and Tehran are acutely sensitive of their Kurdish populations, exposing the various insecurities of these states. While the insecurities persist, it is unlikely that relationships with Kurdish populations will become happier. Baghdad can no longer control Iraq’s Kurds – indeed, some may say that Iraq’s Kurds control Baghdad – and the probability that Iraqi Kurdistan will increase its autonomy has deep implications for the region and its international relations. The Kurdish question may have changed a little in nuance since the establishment of Iraqi Kurdistan but it remains unanswered. Regional states have declined to engage properly on these issues while international powers have largely avoided them because of diplomatic senstivities. Kurdish people continue to suffer gross denials of human rights and many live in poverty. It is an irritating and uncomfortable issue; there is little to suggest that this will change but it should not be avoided.
International Events December
DECEMBER2 Parliamentary Election in Russia
DECEMBER8 EU-Africa summit in Lisbon
DECEMBER10 European Union reports to UN on Kosovo
DECEMBER19 Presidential Election in South Korea
INFORMATION FROM FENS, THE FUTURE EVENTS NEWS SERVICE: WWW.FENS.COM
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