MERI Forum 2014 | S2: War on ISIS (Part 2)


Session 2: The War on ISIS
Date: 05/11/2014

Part 1: Intervention of Anwar Muslim (Kobane Canton)
Part 2: Intervention of Galip Dalay (SETA)
Part 3: Intervention of Max Hoffman (CPA)
Part 4: Questions & Answers Session


Transcription of Galip Dalay (Researcher, SETA)

Thank you very much first and foremost for convening such an insightful and such high quality forum and for that I would like to especially thank Professor Dlawer Ala’Aldeen and thank you also for inviting me. I will be speaking mostly about ISIS and especially recent events over Kobane. I will also talk briefly on some very general topics on the Kurds in the regional setting but my main focus will be, what the immediate effect of it is on the Kurdish peace process in Turkey, and how does the future look while going forward from the situation that we are currently in.

Let me start first by talking briefly about what ISIS is, and then moving on to some emerging general trends from the fight against ISIS vis-a-vis the Kurds in a regional setting. ISIS has served both as a menace and as an opportunity for the Kurds. As a menace because on the one hand, in President Barzani’s words, especially since ISIS first started its attacks on Mosul, an independent Kurdistan has become an issue of immediate urgency. But once the ISIS turned against the Kurds as well, it has at least for some time, been delayed. And the other thing, the Kurdish gains in Syria, or in Rojava, the Kurdish enclaves were also seen for the moment as endangered. So from this moment it was a menace but, on the other hand, I think ISIS or the threat of ISIS has been a significant boost to Kurdish calculation in the regional setting.

I mean for the first time we are witness to the emerging of a Kurdish public sphere. Because historically the Kurds were divided into different nation states and their agenda, their political disputes were mostly shaped by different nation states political agenda, rather than there being a common Kurdish political agenda. For the first time the Kurdish leadership in all parts of Kurdistan are talking about the same danger, are talking about the same menace, the Kurdish media are talking about the same dangers. The Kurdish people bought this in respective countries, and even the diaspora. They are all talking about the same danger which is ISIS and this created the emergence of a common Kurdish public sphere which I think will have a significant impact in going forward with the Kurdish issue in the regional setting. As a corollary to that, which I would not like to stretch too much, I think we can also talk about a fledgling common Kurdish policy in the region as well. YPG coming to the aid of Peshmerga in Sinjar, Makhmour, and Kirkuk and the Peshmerga going to the aid of PYD in Kobane, and the Dohuk agreement. I think this creates a foundation for some kind of common Kurdish policy in the regional setting. And I think the psychological foundation for the long delayed Kurdish National Congress has been laid down. But again I would not like to stretch this too far because also there still are some very significant problems, and some significant challenges on this front as well.

Another trend that I see is that Kurdish politics in all different countries is distinguished by the secular nature of their policies which also provided large international legitimacy to their cause. But at the same time, I think this is especially true at the moment in the Kurdish movement in Turkey, while facing a menace such as Daesh, no matter whether we agree with their ideology or we disagree with their ideology, but they still propagate a so called Islamic inspiration that also leads the Kurdish movement not to be oblivious to the language of Islam. So while being secular in their disposition, while being secular in their politics but also to some extent they are adopting the language of Islam. As we see with the democratic Islamic Congress which I think is an example of this.

Also, Turkey has come more and more close to the Kurdish Regional Governments and is its most important regional partner. This was especially the perception in Turkey and also I think this was the perception when we were attending meetings and conferences in Europe and the US as well. But with recent events, especially we saw this in the language of the officials in KRG but also other Kurds, as Turkey did not come to the aid of the KRG to the extent that they would have which created a disturbed image compared with the help of the US and the West in regards to the fight against ISIS. Once again the US is replacing Turkey and is becoming the Kurds most significant and reliable external partner. And lastly if army building, in a sense, if army building is nation building, I think with the recent attacks of ISIS, with the fight against ISIS the Kurdish nation building received a significant boost. If this training of the Peshmerga and also the weaponisation of the Peshmerga paved the way for the Peshmerga to turn into a full flung army, that will be a significant boost to the Kurdish nation building in region.

So these are some general trends, but what was the immediate impact of this fight against ISIS on Kurdish peace-process. I think the most immediate and the most important fact was the belief that we have come too far with the Kurdish peace process therefore it is not reversible. Its irreversibility has withered away. Right now people, as we saw with the demonstration over Kobane on October 6th and 7th which culminated in the death of over 40 people that created a significant public backlash, a significant public debate resulted in Turkey. So this belief is gone, so the Kurdish peace process is not being seen as it’s not irreversible as it was, let’s say a month or so ago. Secondly, what led to the initiation of the Kurdish peace process was not the agreement on the content of the process but was the agreement on the method of the process? So how did Turkey and the Kurds decide to arrive at this stage? Well, because simply Turkey tried and exhausted all bad options when it came to settling the Kurdish option and the same was for the Kurdish side.

I mean let’s not forget that 2012 was the deadliest year in the Turkish and Kurdish strife since the capture of Abdullah Öcalan in 1999. So, in 2012 they tried and once again failed in solving this issue with arms and after this the process for a negotiated settlement started. This was also disturbed to a great extent. Right now with the fight with ISIS, and especially with the debate in Turkey which indicates that there is a growing disparity between the Kurds and Turkey, vis-a-vis, what should be the content of the final settlement. And, on the one hand, I think Turkey prefers a gradual approach whereas the Kurdish side prefers a fast paced approach. The 2015 elections are approaching and the Kurds fear that once these elections are over, our barging position will be weakened. The second thing, I think the Kurdish side does not want to only settle this issue through not only the individual level right but also group rights and the debate, at present over their status seems to be more focused on their individual level rights. And this definitely creates a big disparity between the two sides.

Thirdly, we can say, at least at the discursive level, the Turkish side somehow wants to isolate the Kurdish peace process from their development in the regional setting specially developments in Syria and Iraq. Well I think this was a little bit illogical because to a great extent, one of the reasons the Kurdish peace process started was of the development in the region. For the Kurdish side its not only that they don’t want to isolate the peace process from the regional developments, to a great extent they believe the evolution of the peace process will be contingent on what is happening in the neighbouring countries.

So from this picture, where are we going then? What does the future of the peace process look like? Well I think despite this bleak picture, the causes for a peaceful settlement of the Kurdish issue are more powerful than the causes for the derailment of the process. It is not only for one side but for both.

Lets first talk about partners to this negotiation, Öcalan and Erdogan, and all politics are not only local. All politics are personal. The political future of these two actors is very much dependent on the successful settlement of the Kurdish peace process. When it comes to Erdogan, the changing of the constitution and introduction of a more Presidential centric system is, to a great extent dependent on the successful settlement of the Kurdish issue. And when it comes to Öcalan, coming out of jail, being hailed as one of the most significant actors who brought Turkey’s peace, will be dashed, if the process is derailed. Again, if the process is derailed Turkey will be devoid of any significant narrative that it can task, both internationally as well as domestically.

If the Kurdish peace process is gone, what will be the most significant narrative that Turkey will be telling international and domestically? Because in recent years, as we all know, the struggle in Turkey, between the secularists and the government, or the liberals versus the government, is quite tense and amongst all of these tense situations the Kurdish peace process is the most significant democratisation story, or is the most significant legal reform story that Turkey has been stating internationally and domestically. If this is gone, peace will be gone and Turkey will be devoid of any significant narrative.

In recent years, the government does not fear, to a great extent, the conventional opposition. I always used to make these jokes, as long as your opposition is JHP you’re going to stay in power for a long time to come. But what worries the government the most is the opposition that is coming from the street.

The Gezi Park protests were like that, the recent protests over Kobane showed that. So, if the process is derailed, the belief is that, an anti-government coalition will be given a significant boost by the joining of the Kurds.

Second, the streets will be too busy and too chaotic for the government to lead the country in a normal manner. So, from this point, I feel the motivation for the government, and whenever a government official appears in front of the TV they repeat the same mantra like, the peace process for us is strategic not tactical, so no matter what happens we will not run away from it. And lets come to the Kurdish side, as I said, to a great extent the most significant actor of Kurdish politics, Öcalan’s future political calculation is very much dependent on the successful settlement of this process. And the second one, in recent years, the Kurdish movement in Turkey, has devised two strategies. One of them we can describe as enlarging, the other one we can describe as deepening. Enlarging is, let’s go beyond our conventional Kurdish consistency, more or less located in the Kurdish region of Turkey and the Kurdish diaspora in the Western part of Turkey, but also reaching Turkey’s left liberals and creating a bigger front which is located on Turkey’s left. And Demirtaş’s nomination in the presidential election shows, there is some way to go on this line. Because Demirtas’s votes came from some of Turkey’s left and liberals. So this process of enlarging to reach beyond the core Kurdish constituency will be dashed if the armed aspect of this issue again dominates the scene.

Let’s come to the deepening, and by deepening I mean the Kurdish side in recent years said, lets also reach the Kurdish consistency, the religious and conservative Kurdish constituency and deepen its roots in the Kurdish parts of Turkey. And I think especially, once again, this debate over ISIS once again created this Islamist versus Secularist debate and the clashes between HDP and BDP. I think to some extent this will be disturbed if the peace process disappears because this debate over secularist versus Islamists will be quite significant and the Kurdish movement strategy to deepen in the Kurdish part of Turkey will be significantly gone.

Another factor is that in recent years that the PKK wants to be removed from the terrorist list of the Western countries and I think if the peace process is terminated that will also be very hard to sell to the West. The last one, and this is also true of Turkey, as Turkey has already complicated the regional policy, we will take a further blow with the termination of the peace process but the PKK’s regional calculation, the Rojava calculation, to some extent will be disturbed by Turkey’s more open and active engagement to derail the process in Rojava. So I think that the factors favouring a peaceful settlement are stronger than the one that is set against it. So from this aspect, I think that despite all these pitfall and challenges the argument for a peaceful settlement still seems stronger.

Thank you!

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