The PKK, foreign fighters and diaspora

Published 13.11.2014 02:16

In the early days of the reconciliation process, which was initiated to disarm the terrorist PKK organization and for a return to normalcy, foreign countries demanded several things from Turkey. Some countries in the region came to Ankara and wanted to get involved in the process, saying that the Kurdish question was also of particular concern for them. They wanted to get information from Turkey about the process and negotiations that were being conducted. There were also some Western countries with similar demands, wanting international organizations to take part in the process.

These countries aimed to closely monitor how Ankara would carry out the project that would deeply affect the regional equation and wanted to take part in the negotiations. Thus, they would take the opportunity to influence the course of the process and control it.

However, Ankara has so far rejected these demands and not allowed any foreign country – with the exception of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) – or international organization to be stakeholders in the reconciliation process. Irbil, which developed strategic partnerships with Turkey, was a part of the process due to its influence on the PKK, its geopolitical position and peaceful vision in the region. Apart from the KRG, the process was carried out under the control of Turkey with "domestic elements." The negotiations were held with the PKK's jailed leader Abdullah Öcalan and representatives of the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP). Politicians from the HDP went to İmralı Island at regular intervals to meet Öcalan and conveyed Öcalan's messages and the course of the process to the PKK leadership in the Qandil Mountains in Iraq.

There are two reasons why the government was unwilling to include a third party in the process. The first is to isolate the process from external effects, exercising full control over it and solving the problem within Turkey. The second is that the involvement of a third party would cause "uncontrollable road accidents." Previously, the negotiations, which were conducted in Oslo, were leaked as they were hosted by a third country. Thus, the negotiations came to a deadlock and efforts to disarm the PKK took a serious blow. Ankara does not want to encounter similar road accidents once again.

Previously, Turkey took sound steps to make the PKK a domestic question. However, the incidents that broke out due to the recent developments in Kobani, Syria soured the process in an effort to open it up to external influences.

There are two important points that were outside of Turkey's sphere of influence and have remained unspoken in negotiations. One of them is "foreign fighters" within the PKK. PKK militants are mainly citizens of the Republic of Turkey and around 30 percent of them are not from Turkey. This section consists of PKK members with Iranian or Syrian citizenship. When Iran reached a deal with the Party of Free Life of Kurdistan (PJAK), the number of Iranian militants declined in the PKK, which no longer recruits militants from Iran. However, the number of Syrians in the organization is increasing. This is one of the main reasons why developments in Syria affect the PKK's preferences. Syrian PKK militants are known as the most unwilling section in the process, as they will become "unemployed" if the reconciliation process succeeds.

The other unspoken point is the PKK diaspora in Europe. Prominent Kurdish politicians, who migrated to Europe years ago due to restrictive policies applied to all sections of society, are returning to Turkey in the atmosphere of reconciliation. However, the same thing does not go for the PKK diaspora in Europe. Duran Kalkan, a senior commander of the PKK, described the diaspora's strategy as "effective, active and radical, however, very well organized and controlled." This "radical and well-organized" structure is seen especially in Germany. According to Germany's 2012 report on the Protection of the Constitution, there are 13,000 PKK supporters in Germany. This is a small figure when one considers the hundreds of thousands of Kurds living in Germany. However, they can dominate the streets and masses with harsh rhetoric that could sabotage the reconciliation process in Turkey.

It is possible to say that what has determined the PKK leadership's discourse recently is the diaspora in Europe rather than Öcalan. The PKK is leaving the framework of Öcalan's letter that was read during the 2013 Nevruz celebrations in Diyarbakır.

It is possible to see the signs of this in a new proposal that has been raised recently. Cemil Bayık, co-chair of the Kurdish Communities Union (KCK), demanded international observers to monitor the reconciliation process, suggesting that it could be either the U.S. or an international delegation. This demand, which found immediate support from the HDP, was also reflected in the International Crisis Group's report titled "Saving the Peace Process." The crisis group advised the parties that they should consider involving a third country or an international group of observers as a guarantor in the process.

With this proposal, the PKK offers a golden opportunity to those who want to meddle in the process by preventing Turkey from dealing with the process on its own. Or, those who were rejected by Turkey previously, are taking their chance once again by appealing to the PKK this time. This is a discussion of who will control the reconciliation process. The involvement of a third party in the process will lead to new "road accidents," or perhaps the derailment of the process altogether.

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