If one of Turkey’s most important problems carried into 2004 is the Cyprus problem, the other is the Kurdish problem, which, together with the US occupation in Iraq, has now become a Northern Iraq-centred problem. Political conflict stemming from the Kurdish question – which indeed has a crosscut influence on various phenomena in Turkey- will constitute one of the main issues of the political agenda of the dominant forces this year. The Kurdish question has become an issue linked mainly to the outcomes of the US colonial plans in the Middle East, as the nationalist-liberal Kurdish political leadership started to base itself onto the US policies. Such questions as to which direction the Kurdish formation in Northern Iraq will evolve from now on and what will be its status etc. have historical importance in terms of their outcomes, which may deeply influence the balance of power among the dominant forces both in the region and in Turkey.
From Mahabat Kurdish Republic to voluntary colonization
During the 2nd World War, the eastern and northern parts of Iran were occupied according to the Soviet Union-Britain alliance under the pretext of security. In 22 January 1946 the first Kurdish state in history, Mahabat Kurdish Republic, was founded with Soviet support in Eastern Kurdistan under Soviet occupation. Kadi Muhammad was the President of the new state. Mahabat Kurdish Republic collapsed in December of the same year, as Soviet Union withdrew its support because of the Soviet oil agreement with Iran at the end of war. Father of Massoud Barzani, Molla Mustafa Barzani had passed to Iran with his thousands of armed peshmergas escaping from the Iraqi army and had participated in the establishment of Mahabat Kurdish Republic. Molla Mustafa Barzani who had been given the status of an army general started armed struggle vis a vis the attempts of Iran to destroy the young Kurdish state at the end of the war, after accusing Kadi Muhammad administration with submission. While Kadi Muhammad and his friends were executed by Iranian state, the Peshmerga resistance led by Barzani was crashed by the Iranian, Iraqi and Turkish troops supported by British Air Forces. Barzani and his 500 Peshmergas had to escape to Soviet Union, passing the Aras river.
Collapse of the independent Mahabat Kurdish Republic started a process which meant the loss of political independence of Kurdish political leadership. During the second half of the 20th century the Kurds followed a political strategy of power relations either relying on the regional states or on the imperialist states.
Kurds established their own administration for 12 years after the first Gulf War in 1991 over the forbidden territory to Saddam regime’s military operations. The two major military-political authorities of the region were the two major Kurdish parties, namely the Kurdistan Patriotic Union of Talabani and Kurdistan Democratic Party of Barzani. UN’s transfer of a part of the Iraqi oil incomes to Kurdistan was very important for the renovation of the economic life and the construction facilities in the region. A Kurdish state was established on de facto basis. Iraqi Kurdistan was a state with its Parliament, deputies, ministries and peshmerga army, only not yet officially recognized at the international level.
US attack of 20 March 2003 on Iraq and occupation started a new period for the Kurds. They were protected for 12 years by US aircrafts of the Hammer Force using the Incirlik Air Base in Turkey. Iraqi Kurdish leaders who had become masters of political balances after their 50 years of evolution gave clear support to US. Some strange games of history also helped Barzani-Talabani couple. Most important of them was the refusal of 1 March resolution (for sending Turkish troops to Iraq) in Turkey by the Turkish parliament. Kurds became the major regional supporters of US in Iraq occupation.
Troubles in US “affection” for Kurds?
A federal Iraq, as a US project, is now an all-approved method of administration for Iraq, including Turkey. But the problem starts immediately. What kind of a federation? The answer of Kurds is a national and a geographic federation; Kirkuk together with its oil reserves being the capital of federal Kurdish state. The Shiite Arabs demand a federation not based on national but on geographical criteria and one that is based on a provincial system. US still did not declare a clear answer. US tries to gain time in Iraq for creating the balance of forces of a formulation that may disturb neither Kurds nor Arabs.
As US could find only Kurds behind itself in Iraq war and as it could not still find strong supporters among Shiite Arabs who are indeed the major demographic power in this country, it becomes vulnerable to the “extremities” of Kurds. However the Shiite opposition puts US to a hesitating position in satisfying Kurdish demands.
Shia leader, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim met Erdoğan in Turkey on his way back from Iran and declared that they are against any ethnic federations. Recent demonstrations by ten thousands of people linked to one of the most powerful Iraqi Shiite leaders Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani in Basra, demanding that the provincial government that will be established in this June should be determined by elections, had already paralysed US. What is interesting is that, the situation is evaluated in Turkey as a one “in favour of Turkey”. However such kind of circumstances that may turn into an anti-American atmosphere among the Shiite community has no face that can be used by the Turkish rulers. As US cannot find collaborators among Shiite Arabs, it will be linked to Kurdish with greater “affection”. US will prefer Kurds to have an efficient role in the central administration as it continues to rely solely on them in Iraq. On the other hand US should be expected to spoil some demands of its Kurdish friends in the coming days such as the ones about the status of Kirkuk.
Bremer declared in US, just after he went in these hot circumstances that “everything will be solved in 6-7 weeks.” What he had meant were the “laws of the provincial administration” that are planned to be prepared until the end of February. It seems that such a short time span, hardly 2 months, will be a period of great tensions.
Turkish rulers are in panic
The problem of how the de facto Kurdish state in Southern Kurdistan can be stopped means a great problem for Turkish rulers. The possibility that Kurds who already have a constitution, a parliament, a government and an army do actually legalize their de facto status and also capture the oil reserves by declaring Kirkuk as their capital, frustrates all of the Turkish rulers. It is obvious that even small shares of Kirkuk oil incomes that are left by US will create an important development in the Kurdish region with a population of 5 millions. It is again obvious that if such a Kurdistan is established, Turkish Kurdistan, the poorest region of Turkey will be influenced by it and the north will be attracted by the social, cultural, national and economic developments in the south. Demands for uniting with the south in Northern Kurdistan will grow and another nationalist Kurdish movement other than PKK may develop.
During December this issue came to the agenda in Turkey after the Iraqi Kurdish leaders clearly declared their demands for federation. The AKP government started a rapid diplomatic traffic for preventing a federal Kurdistan together with Iran and Syria. After the Cyprus issue, the issue of federal Kurdistan became one of the axes of the inter-rulers conflict. Now it seems that a common state policy has been formulated also over this issue.
Abdullah Gül and Erdoğan at every instance make declarations such as “we are against an ethnic federation, let the Kurds be careful, Turkey can intervene”. AKP government is the political institution that can most easily submit to US in federal Kurdistan issue, but they do not want to be on the forefront. They try to throw the iss
ue onto the hands of the army and try to play on the inter-army balances and on the new balances that may appear between the army and US.
Chief of General Staff General Hilmi Özkök declared in an interview in a Turkish daily, Radikal to Mehmet Ali Kıülalı (11 November 2003) his perspective on the issues of Cyprus, Kurdish question, federal Kurdistan etc. In this declaration he stated that although the idea of federal Kurdistan is approved there are some hesitations on its form. It seems that a federal Kurdistan established according to national criteria, with its own army and Kirkuk oil is identified with an independent Kurdistan. What they want is a federal administration established according to geographical criteria, in which the Turkomans have rights, and whose army as well as oil is controlled by the central government. The statement of the 2nd chief of the general staff, Ýlker Baübuğ, as “an ethnic federation will be very bloody” implied the bloody conflicts in Kirkuk during December and that Turkey may have some military interventions in the process in various forms.
While the federal Kurdistan issue became hot, after the statement about Cyprus by the chief commander of land forces, another one came from the sub-commander of the army in the Aegean region about federal Kurdistan. He summarized the perspective of the traditional sects of the army on 17th January in the opening ceremony of an elementary school building as the following, after declaring that “traitors started to grow up in this country”, implying the AKP government. “What Turkey is interested is the fact that Iraq is divided without its territorial integrity being saved. This division will be at the start a federation based on ethnic criteria, i.e. under the name of Kurdish federation. It will be a federation in Iraq at the beginning, later who knows it may transform into an independent state, they have such an objective since 1908’s. Behind it stays Britain, the West. If we know this, it is written in books, why we should not declare it? ” The main difference of this perspective which is highly parallel to the declarations of the General Staff is the inherent demand for following a more hard-line politics towards AKP and US.
PKK- KADEK- KONGRA-GEL
The Kurdish movement in Turkey remains in silence as a non-influential force that has linked its faith to US and the regional states. The front line of the movement has been withdrawn to such issues as the health of Abdullah Öcalan and to more human rights issues as the development of Kurdish language, culture and arts.
The position of thousands of armed PKK militants in Iraq Kurdistan is the most important material during the bargaining of a federal Kurdistan between the Turkish state and the US. Both the current statements of the 2nd chief commander of the general staff and AKP emphasising on the PKK question imply that this issue will be an important point of the diplomatic efforts by the ministry of foreign affairs about Iraq Kurdistan. AKP demands the head of PKK from its boss in order to make its hand stronger. In this case it will gain strength in domestic politics and will find some force for resisting the attacks coming from the army. Is one of the final cards of US, armed forces of PKK in Iraq, on the table? Will the US tell Turkey to take PKK in exchange of a Federal Kurdistan project, will Turkey be satisfied with this concession and leave the future to the future; will the military existence of PKK in Iraq Kurdistan come to an end? The answers to such questions will be clearer in March. Whatever direction will be the answers, the balance of forces within the Turkish state power will seriously change. The current movements on the top of the state may be preparations for a more violent conflict of power.