by Nilüfer Koç
Since the beginning of 2020, the Kurdish people have been concerned by the threat of intra-Kurdish conflict. This began in spring with the deployment of military forces affiliated with the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) to Zini Werte and continued with the deployment of KDP forces to other regions of South Kurdistan where Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) forces had been based since 1981.
This movement of KDP forces occurred after the Turkish Armed Forces initiated a new, large scale campaign of military aggression against Southern Kurdistan. This most recent Turkish military campaign, executed under the name Operation Claw 1, 2, and 3, represents an attempt to broaden the Turkish state’s occupation of Southern Kurdistan in five stages, first targeting the regions of Sheikhan, Atroush, Bergare, and Akre, followed by Zini Werte and Sidekan, and then Bamarni, Amediye, and Barzan, then Behdinan-Qendil, and finally, in the fifth stage, Gare. At the beginning of November, the KDP deployed peshmerga and their Gulan special forces armed with heavy weapons to the Gare region, causing alarm bells to ring throughout Kurdistan.
What happens next in Gare will determine whether there is a regrettable intra-Kurdish military conflict. The KDP’s strong bilateral relationship with Ankara has caused mistrust and conflict between the KDP and the Iraqi central government. Within the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, the KDP has acted to exclude other coalition partners in the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) such as the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and Gorran, from decision making activities. In the recent past, the KDP has claimed to have briefed these parties on statements and actions, though PUK and Gorran have publicly denied such claims.
Over the past two years, the Trump Administration has acted as an important ally for Turkey’s authoritarian President Erdoğan and his government, a coalition of his Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the ultra-nationalist National Movement Party (MHP). This administration’s support has been vital, as Erdogan and the AKP-MHP regime are increasingly isolated diplomatically and face growing international frustration and distrust during a time of dire economic crisis. Military expansionism and occupation have been cornerstones of Erdoğan’s foreign policy and are used to rally support at home.
The Trump Administration has directly fed Erdoğan’s appetite by offering the Kurdish cities of Serekaniye and Gire Spi in Rojava, northern Syria. The AKP-MHP alliance and KDP, all facing serious issues of their own, are seeking to combine their strengths to weaken the PKK so the strongest Kurdish political force can be removed from the regional and global political stage, the Kurdish people can be divided, and Turkey can be strengthened as a member of NATO. Of course, Erdoğan’s Turkey is not only a threat to the Kurdish people, but also a threat to many NATO members (e.g. France, the Netherlands, Austria), and to the members of the Arab League and the entire Middle East and beyond through aggressive and destabilising military expansionism. Of course, if the plans of the AKP-MHP regime are realised, the Kurds will be the biggest victims. Erdogan’s Turkey will be strengthened and will continue to destabilise the Middle East, North Africa, the Caucasus, Europe, etc. Turkish military aggression and the crisis in Gare is not only a Kurdish issue.
Over the past 20 years, the Kurdish people’s national awareness and the PKK’s flexibility and dedication to dialogue, compromise, and national unity have prevented large scale intra-Kurdish conflicts. However, the current situation is dangerous for the Kurds. Following his electoral defeat, Turkey’s dependable international ally, US President Trump, will leave power, and Erdoğan is facing various crises which threaten his continued strong man rule over the country. Erdoğan and his MHP partners have great interest in promoting internecine bloodshed amongst the Kurds and will likely see this as a path to secure power.
It is very important to point out that, in the era of multilateral politics, local conflicts always have regional and global aspects. With regard to Kurdistan specifically, everything local is regional as well as global, because Kurdistan remains an international colony. Kurdistan lies on the strategic borders of the key players in the Middle East – Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Syria. Each of these states are members or close allies of key members in international organizations. For example, Turkey is member of NATO and the Council of Europe; Iraq and Syria are members of the Arab League, and Iran has its own worldwide alliances and is a regional power in its own right, with military or paramilitary presence in various countries throughout the region. Additionally, any development in Kurdistan is irrevocably linked to the interests of global powers, including the US, Russia, and the European Union, with regard to the Middle East. In interactions between regional and global powers, political relations are based on both cooperation and confrontation. Intra-Kurdish matters have strong links to regional and global interests and developments.
One concrete example provides a clear picture of this undeniable reality. The Turkish military is seeking to expand its occupation of Southern Kurdistan and Iraq, and has been targeting Sinjar, the ancestral homeland of the Yazidi (Êzîdî) people who were recently victims of genocide at the hands of ISIS. Under the mediation of the Trump Administration, the Iraqi central government and the KRG signed an agreement on 9 October to share the control of Sinjar, pointedly excluding the political representation of the Yazidi people from this decision. The United Nations acted as an official mediator, and Turkey was briefed on this issue as well. This followed the shocking recommendation from the US State Department’s Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, Joey Hood, in August, who stated that “the Kurdistan Regional Government, the federal government in Baghdad, and Turkey working together with advice and support from the United States and other coalition countries” should work together in Sinjar to put a civilian administration in place and expel “militias, including the PKK” from the region.
There is no legal or moral justification for allowing Turkey to play a role in the future of areas that are part of the sovereign state of Iraq. In 2014, forces affiliated with the Iraqi central government and those of the KDP handed over Sinjar and its Yazidi population to ISIS to be massacred, while Erdoğan tolerated the presence of ISIS on his borders and thousands of people travelled through Turkey to join ISIS. At that time, the PKK and the People’s Protection Units (YPG) and Women’s Protection Units (YPJ) of Rojava intervened to protect the Yazidi people and allowed tens of thousands of them to escape from ISIS.
Nilüfer Koç is the International Relations Spokesperson for the Kurdistan National Congress (KNK).