The International Dimensions of Turkey's Kurdish Peace Process

This situation’s disturbance of Iran is reflected by the Iranian media’s evaluation of the peace process as part of the goal of the United States and imperialist Western powers to break apart the Middle East.

The International Dimensions of Turkey's Kurdish Peace Process

Levent Basturk* & Saliha Ziya** - DÜBAM

The Kurdish issue has not only occupied Turkey as an internal problem, but it has also gained importance through its relatively destabilizing impact on a global and regional scale. The most crucial reasons for the transition process which we are currently in are related to internal dynamics. However, in order to see the whole picture, we need also look at the global and regional dynamics of this development. In a period when the situation in Syria has turned into a global arm-wrestle and has heated tensions between the countries of the region, it became necessary that one of the tense elements be cooled so as to create a potential positive effect over the other  tense elements. For this reason, it was required that a step be taken to enhance the environment of security and stability in a way that would have an impact on the international arena.

When the global and regional implications of the step taken by Turkey to improve internal peace are examined, the first question that comes to mind is regarding where the U.S. stands on the path leading to the peace process. U.S. President Barack congratulating Prime Minister Erdogan for taking a step toward a peaceful solution is not merely a dry political gesture. However much the Asia-Pacific region may have become the new priority of the Obama administration, it is obvious that the U.S. has not withdrawn from the Middle East. The U.S. has merely ceased to be a force which considerably dictates, as it did in prior times, the developments in the region. The new conjunctures, which emerged after the Arab uprisings and the audacious post-September 11 foreign policy which resulted in frustration, deprived the United States of this possibility. Under these conditions, the United States began to seek the establishment of a balance between its own interests and those of actors which serve as a constructive element in the region. This inevitably pushes the U.S. government, so long as there is no serious conflict of interest, to take a favorable position regarding the steps to strengthen Turkey’s stability.

Following the murders of three prominent female PKK members in Paris after the initiation of the search for a solution, the strong response of Prime Minister Erdogan and the statement of Murat Karayilan, a PKK leader in the Qandil Mountains, that "Europe must not be trusted” aroused the question regarding the EU’s stance toward the issue. Actually it is impossible to speak of an “EU view” on any subject. What is meant by this is the stance of the dominant countries in the union. Based on the responses to the Paris incident, it was felt that the steps taken to solve the Kurdish problem in Turkey had created discomfort on the European front. Three main sources for this discomfort can be discussed: the European front was left out of the solution talks. There was the possibility of its losing an important trump card which it had used in the past as a means of political maneuvering. It became understood that Turkey would once again force the doors of Europe, though not as fiercely as before, and that Turkey had gained a trump card. However, the assumption of discomfort on the European front does not necessarily entail the idea that the process will be sabotaged. It would not be incorrect to argue that, in spite of everything, the peace process will be based as much as possible on the criteria for EU membership. Furthermore, under the existing conditions, stability and security are just as necessary for European allies as they are for the U.S. In fact, the statements made by official authorities are supportive of the process.

Another important issue that stands out in the context of stability and security is energy. While this is pivotal in terms of Turkey, this issue also has regional and global dimensions.

First of all Turkey, which under current conditions is dependent on Russia and Iran for energy, must ensure its own energy safety. Despite the multi-faceted relations undertaken with Russia, such a degree of energy dependence on a country which is a candidate to become a global actor is not desirable. In spite of the positive relations in the recent past, the dependence on regional rival Iran, with whom relations have tensed due to the Syrian crisis, for energy increases Turkey’s worries. The relations being developed with the Iraqi Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) are of utmost importance in terms of Turkey diversifying its energy resources and rendering them more secure. It is meaningful that the relationship between the KRG and Turkey is based on a more stable mutual dependence than that with the other two countries. In terms of Turkey’s energy security, it is critical that its relationship with its own Kurds be secured in a stable manner.


The U.S. and E.U. do not look unfavorably on Turkey's desire to become a crossroads and distribution center in the flow of energy. However a secure environment and stability are required for this. The transfer of the gas obtained from the Eastern Mediterranean via Turkey, in the event of positive steps in the direction of resolving the Cyprus and Palestinian problems, is also being discussed. In this context, it is essential that regional tensions and the risk of energy infrastructure arriving at an attack be decreased.  Therefore, the success of the process has emerged as a necessity in terms of energy geopolitics.

But can Turkey’s efforts to reduce its energy dependency on Russia result in a potential threat to the peace process from this country? When the complex structure of Turkey-Russia relations and Russia’s relationship with Kurds in its Middle East policy are taken into account, this question cannot possibly be answered in the affirmative. The importance of energy imports from Russia to Turkey in the economic and strategic relationship between the two countries is apparent. As the volume of the economic cooperation between the two countries increases with each day, and as a result of the search for multidimensionality in Turkish foreign policy, it must be kept in mind that Turkey attaches special significance to relations with Russia.

When the regional balance is evaluated regarding the peace process, it is evident that the KRG plays a substantial role in the process.

In order to understand the regional balance in Turkey’s last initiative to find a solution to the Kurdish issue, it is worth looking at the shifting balances in the Middle East. It is apparent that the tension which has continued to increase between the Bagdad government and the KRG since 2010, and the crystallization of blocs in the countries of the region over the Syrian issue, has had an impact on both Turkey and the Kurdish regions in Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria.  From these dynamics, the KRG has approached Turkey as it became distanced from Baghdad due to KRG-Baghdad tensions, and the Syrian crisis has resulted in tension for Turkey as the PYD, an extension of the PKK, progressed towards becoming an autonomous power in northern Syria.

The KRG, which has sought to reinforce through its energy sources the political power it gained after the invasion of Iraq, has experienced problems with the Baghdad government over the control of disputed territories, the sharing of oil revenue, and its recent energy deals with international companies without recourse to the approval of Baghdad, and the tension between the two sides has grown into conflict from time to time. By ignoring the ethnic diversity of Iraq, the Maliki-led Baghdad administration has persisted in centralization, and as a reflection of this, has digressed from recognizing the autonomy of the Kurdish region. The need to transport its energy resources to international markets has brought the landlocked KRG closer to Turkey since 2008. The economic cooperation which developed over a short period of time between the two neighbor powers, who formerly perceived threats from one another, began to be formed around mutual political interest. The KRG, whose political vision is prosperity and peace for the Kurds in the region, believes that the solution of the Kurdish question in Turkey will bring new opportunities for all Kurds in the region. In this context, the KRG has come forth as an actor playing a key role in the peace process.

 One of the most important factors in the formation of the conjuncture triggering the solution process has been the crisis in Syria. Not wanting to weaken its domain of influence in the region, Iran has protected the regime in Damascus and, in connection with this, has increased its support for Maliki. The Tehran-Damascus-Baghdad axis has both used the “Kurdish card” against Turkey, which is supportive of the Syrian opposition, and has also severely warned the KRG which approached Turkey as it broke off from Baghdad. The stance of Kurds on the Syrian issue has been an important external dynamic of Turkey’s quest for a solution to the Kurdish issue. While some of Syria's Kurds participated in the opposition movement, the PYD—the most organized power among the Kurds—tried to gain autonomy in the country’s north by establishing close ties with the regime in Damascus. With the progressive strengthening of the PKK in the north, the Syrian crisis—which had been the greatest deadlock in the “opening” of the Turkish foreign policy—constituted a new threat for Turkey. Through the involvement of the KRG, which has positive relations with Turkey, in the peace process in which it played an instrumental role, the PYD was neutralized toward both Turkey and the Syrian opposition supported by Turkey.

In the context of the relationship developed with the KRG Turkey attained the possibility of turning into an opportunity its Kurdish geopolitics, which intensified following its start after the 1991 Gulf War and reached a significant dimension with the changing balances in the region.

In addition, Turkey has taken an important step regarding both its own security and stability and that of the region through its democratization efforts and developments in the recognition of Kurdish identity and rights.  Turkey’s development of an inclusive politics toward the Kurdish region following the settlement process will have an impact on Iran, Syria and Iraq. First of all, a Turkey with positive relations with the Kurds will increase its power against Iran’s domain of influence. In this case, the Tehran-Damascus-Baghdad axis cannot use the “Kurdish card” which they resort to when they find themselves in a tight position, and furthermore this structure recognizing the Kurds will be attractive to the Kurdish population in Iran and will have an impact on pushing Iran to change. This situation’s disturbance of Iran is reflected by the Iranian media’s evaluation of the peace process as part of the goal of the United States and imperialist Western powers to break apart the Middle East.

On the other hand, Syrian Kurds gaining autonomy after the establishment of a new regime Post-Assad is inevitable. When the influence of Masoud Barzani over Syrian Kurds, or that of Ocalan over the PYD, is taken into consideration, it becomes apparent that the Syrian Kurds cannot remain indifferent to the initiative of solution supported by Barzani and Ocalan. In fact, after Ocalan's message to the PYD, the tensions between Kurds from the organization and those from the opposition decreased. Trapped between opponents, unable to receive enough support from Damascus, and excluded from the international arena, the PYD—in order to show its presence in an autonomous Kurdish region— will be one of the external dynamics supporting the new conjuncture that will be created by the peace  process.

The PKK, which received support from Tehran-Damascus-Baghdad axis prior to the settlement process, currently seems to have preferred to become an element contributing to stability through the redefinition of its vital interests under the new circumstances. Meanwhile with the provision of security and stability, Turkey— which has captured the opportunity to restore peace in the country through the peace process— will obtain the possibility of turning the foreign policy risks it experienced following the Syrian crisis into opportunities.


* Researcher, Foreign Policy Dept., Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research, in Ankara, Turkey

**Ankara Un., Faculty of Political Science, PhD Student

Güncelleme Tarihi: 06 Haziran 2013, 10:28
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