KRG PM Nechirvan Barzani attended Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's inauguration in Ankara this week. File photo: KRG
In early July, Nechirvan Barzani, prime minister of the Kurdistan Region, paid his first official visit
to Turkey since the Kurdistan independence referendum last September ruptured ties between Erbil and Ankara. The success of the visit has renewed hopes the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) can once again broker peace talks between Ankara and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
The KRG helped facilitate attempts at a peace deal in 2013. Although the détente broke down two-and-a-half years later, it did bring about the first comprehensive ceasefire between the two sides in the 34-year-old conflict.
“The KRG has always stated that it would support peaceful resolution of Kurdish issues in all parts of (Greater) Kurdistan whether in Turkey, Iran or Syria,” Yerevan Saeed, a Kurdish Research Fellow at the Middle East Research Institute (MERI) told Rudaw English. “In the past, the KRG played a positive and constructive role in helping the peace process between the PKK and Turkey, started in 2010 and earlier.”
“The KRG paved the way for facilitators of the peace process, especially the BDP/HDP MPs to conduct shuttle diplomacy between Ankara and Qandil, provided protection and full access to Qandil to help the peace process,” he elaborated.
Saeed further believes the recent rapprochement between the KRG and Turkey “will certainly be helpful for the Kurdish peace process if Ankara would resume it. At the moment, the Turkish president is in a stronger position following last month’s presidential and parliamentary elections”.
He also points out that the “political cost of resuming the much needed peace process with the Kurds will be very minimal as almost every kind of power has consolidated in Erdogan’s hands”.
“In addition, he will not have to be worried about elections for another five years with the exception of the local elections in 2019,” he added. “If he is sincere about ending the Kurdish conflict in Turkey once for all … the KRG would be an indispensable partner not just for Turkey but for the PKK, too.”
Lawk Ghafuri, an independent Kurdish analyst, also believes the KRG is key to making any successful negotiations a reality.
“Turkey is now trying its best to normalize its relations with the KRG as it knows the only way to bring peace to Turkey is through a peaceful solution that only the KRG can bring about, just as Masoud Barzani’s visit to Turkey back in 2013 brought peace to the Kurds of Bakur, Turkish Kurdistan,” Ghafuri told Rudaw English.
On the surface, the KRG is certainly not a neutral mediator. Prime Minister Barzani openly deplores the PKK’s presence in the Kurdistan Region and blames it for Turkey’s actions within the Region’s borders, even when it occasionally results in civilian deaths. Earlier this month he blamed what he called the PKK’s “occupation”
of swathes of Kurdistan and attacks from these territories against Turkey for the current Turkish military operation, which began last March.
Despite this position, the KRG does have its own interests in seeing the conflict resolved peacefully, as this will lessen the prospect of further military actions and confrontations within its borders.
In the meantime Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has called on the PKK to disarm. However, there is little to nothing he can do to enforce this demand, which indicates he is simply making such statements to placate Turkey.
Saeed believes Abadi’s statements on the PKK are “some sort of appeasement of Ankara.”
“It’s obvious with the current state of affairs, Baghdad is not in a position to force the PKK to be disarmed,” he said. “And even if Iraq becomes an effective strong state, it remained unclear whether it will be able to stop the PKK from launching attacks into Turkey.”
“The history of the last three decades, from Saddam’s strong Iraq to now, has proven that the end of the PKK insurgency was not a matter of military force, rather finding a peaceful resolution between Kurds and Ankara inside Turkey,” he added. “For years, the KRG has tightened security measures, imposed some kind of embargo on the PKK-controlled areas in Qandil, but these measures have proven ineffective in weakening or dissuading the PKK to change its behavior.”
Joel Wing, author of the Musings on Iraq blog, concurs with Saeed, pointing out that Abadi has occasionally made such statements to this effect in an attempt to affirm that “the [central] government has full control of its borders”.
“These are all aimed at appeasing Turkey, and is just rhetoric,” Wing told Rudaw English. “Abadi is trying to say that the border region is under control and there is no reason for Turkey to continue its incursions into Iraq.”
“In fact, the central government has no forces in northern Kurdistan along the Turkish border and can do nothing about the PKK,” he elaborated. “Even the KRG has no Peshmerga there. Besides the PKK the only security forces in that region are the Turks that have a few thousand forces committed to the ongoing security campaign as well as several military bases, including new ones that have just been built over the last three months.”
For the first time Turkey has built military outposts in Erbil Province for use against the PKK. It remains yet to be seen whether these will be temporary outposts or become more permanent facilities.