Why has a clash between Kurdish political parties become more likely?

Amed Dicle

The conflict between the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) is progressing towards an armed clash. As both sides stoke disagreements on a daily basis, other Kurdish parties, and Kurdish people in general, are quietly concerned about the current situation.

Because both sides will achieve noting in the event of a probable clash, the achievements of Kurdish people generally are at risk. It is even possible to argue that a clash will be in favour of the states which consider Kurdish people as enemies, especially Turkey.

Before examining the main issues between the two parties, it will be helpful to underline the ideological and structural differences. These differences indicate that both parties will continue to be in conflict.

The main concern of Kurdish people is to prevent an ideological struggle from turning into armed conflict. Otherwise, it is will not be possible for the PKK and KDP to come together with a uniting vision.

Differences in vision

The main historical differences between the parties are the following: the KDP is a party established in 1946, the PKK in 1978. The KDP’s programme is based on the struggle in Iraqi Kurdistan, whereas the PKK’s programme relates to the whole of Kurdistan.

The KDP is focussed only on Erbil and Duhok, not the whole of Iraqi Kurdistan, because Celal Talabani’s party, the Kurdistan Patriotic Union (YNK), rules those areas. Aside from Kurdistan, the PKK has organised and established a system almost anywhere Kurdish people live. The KDP’s main administrative organ is the Barzani family. Hence the surname of the Kurdistan Regional Government president is Barzani. In addition, the surname of the KDP chair, Regional Government president, and army forces head is Barzani. The same goes for oil companies. In the PKK positions are not selected based on family relations. Ideological and aim-oriented faithfulness is paramount in the PKK.

While the PKK is a society-oriented organisation, the KDP is a kind of parental organisation. The PKK advocates for women’s freedom, but the KDP is almost unaware of the issue. While PKK organisations implement a co-chair system, even the chair of a KDP commission for women is a man. The PKK says that the KDP does not care about women sufficently; in response, the KDP criticises the PKK with an unclear and quite conservative argument, claiming that “the PKK is not male enough and leaves the work to women”.

At this point, we should consider the current mood. The KDP values the continuation of the status quo established in Iraqi Kurdistan above eveything. It sees agreeing with Ankara as a strategy to preserve this situation. It is not backward in coming forward to act in accordance with Ankara when needed.

For years the Turkish government has not accepted a statue representing the Kurdish people. However, Ankara has considered it more helpful to act together with some Kurdish people against the general Kurdish struggle led by the PKK. That is to say, it has taken a position by pretending to accept a Kurdish statue in Iraqi Kurdistan. That was helpful for the KDP. Thus, the KDP has found a way to weaken the PKK, while agreeing with Turkey. However, Turkey frankly showed its hostility towards the Kurdish people (even Barzani) during the referendum process in October 2017. The Barzani family chose to remain silent though they noticed the situation, because they had developed close relations which they didn’t want to lose.

The KDP ensures areas for Turkish bases

There is the aim of destroying the position of the PKK in Iraqi Kurdistan at the core of this conflict. Handing over Rojava (North and East Syria) to the KDP is part of that plan. PKK has been located in Iraqi Kurdistan for 40 years. However, PKK does not consider it a central area of struggle. There are various bases. An agreement was made after a war broke out between the KDP and the PKK, which ended with peace in 1995. According to that agreement, Heftanin, the Zap region and Xakurke were handed over to the PKK. The agreement was that PKK could continue its operations in that area. Now there are Turkish forces and also PKK guerillas in Zap Heftanin and Xakurke. There is a preparation for an offensive against Zap. The KDP sees no harm in those areas being taken over by the Turkish army instead of the PKK. In addition, the Turkish army has around 25 military bases in Iraqi Kurdistan. Those areas are designated together with the KDP. That situation indicates that the KDP is in cooperation with the Turkish army against the PKK. After all, no one has ever witnessed the KDP reacting to or criticising the Turkish bases in the area.

The KDP took action in the Gare mountains, located in the middle of Akreü Duhok and Amediye, on 25 October. It is not a secret that the PKK bases are located here. The KDP targeted the region to ensure a connection between Gare and Zap. Some say the KDP’s operation is a preliminary preparation for a probable attack by the Turkish state. As mentioned above, Zap is PKK’s area, according to the agreement between the KDP and the PKK in 1995, and it is a region which Turkey aims to occupy. The operation launched against this area with thousands of soldiers failed in February 2008.

The KDP’s mobilisation began in October and led the problems summarised above to be triggered again. The KDP also claimed that they captured a unit of the PKK which had planned to assassinate foreign diplomatic officials. They also made that statement on behalf of the association, ensuring the security of the Federal Kurdistan region. There are three YNK members and two KDP member in the association. The YNK denied the claims of the statement.

Later, it was revealed that some of those captured were journalists, some were YNK members and others were people who criticised the KDP on Facebook. Diplomats did not confirm that claim. The YNK sent the same statement to other diplomatic missions in the region.

Following those incidents, Murat Karayılan directly called KDP chair Mesoud Barzani on behalf of the PKK and demanded a statement. Karayılan said that they did not want a war between the Kurdish people, and they were ready to take all required actions to prevent it, while demanding that Barzani to take a clear position against these nefarious activities.

After that statement everyone waited for Barzani’s response. In his response, Barzani claimed, “they banned a war between Kurds but the PKK neglected that fact” – a statement implying war.

Instant military victories cause exhaustion

Both sides’ arguments against each other continue in that manner. However, all political parties have appealed to prevent the situation turning into an armed clash. It is reported that some executives of the KDP sent message to the PKK by means of the YNK that they do not want a clash, but they cannot express that fact effectively. The Kurdisdan Regional Presidency called for dialogue in a statement. It has been said that the statement was made due to the differences of views between the regional governments’s president Nechirvan Barzani, and Mesrur Barzani, the chair of the government and son of Mesoud Barzani. This differences are the basis of the KDP’s internal issues and may be a topic of a different piece.

Consequently, the coming days contain both the potential for clashes and negotiations. The KDP has does not have the potential to overcome a comprehensive clash. Declaring war by relying on Turkey may lead the KDP into the worst possible position in the eyes of Kurdish people, which means that instant military victories may lead to long-term exhaustion. A Kurdish person cannot approve the attack of another Kurdish person against Kurdish people by agreeing with Ankara. Kurdish public opinion is in favour of taking a stance against the Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s fascism.

It is obvious that the KDP will act against PKK’s positions in Iraqi Kurdistan to realise its goals in Sinjar and Rojava, and use that situation against the PKK during negotiations.

The information shared up until now implies that fact. An examination of the military and political positions in Sinjar and Rojava is a matter for another piece.

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Why has a clash between Kurdish political parties become more likely?

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