GÖKHAN BACIK

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GÖKHAN BACIK
July 28, 2013, Sunday

The Kurds’ golden age

Most probably it is now that the Kurds have a historic chance to determine their political status in the Middle East for the first time since the early 20th century, i.e., the years of the Ottoman Empire's disintegration. Thus, it would not be an exaggeration to say that the Kurds are now in a golden age of political opportunity. The global Kurdish community recognizes this. From the Kurds in the streets of Sarikani to those in Berlin, all believe that they are at a historic juncture that can be reached only once a century. Every actor, particularly Turkey, should be conscious of this public psychology that rules the global Kurdish political orientation.

Why is this a golden age for Kurds? Firstly, nearly all actors now afford them a de facto recognition. Many global and regional actors recognize the Kurds not only as a social group but they acknowledge their organizations too -- truly a unique development. Even the most demonized Kurdish personality, Abdullah Öcalan, the leader of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), is in dialogue with the Turkish government. Similarly, Salih Muslim, the leader of the Syrian Kurdish organization, can visit Istanbul and meet senior Turkish officials. Recognition is a historic turning point. After that, no status quo of yore will satisfy the Kurds.

Secondly, the Middle Eastern state system, the framework that has so far prevented the rise of Kurdish political autonomy, has failed. There is no longer an Iraq or a Syria. Turkey has failed to overcome its Kurdish problem. Recently, the Turkish deputy prime minister confirmed that Turkey has begun its peace process with the PKK because there is no other option. In short, there is no state that can stop the “one step further” of the Kurds' historic march. Nor is there a regional order that could impede the Kurds. The so-called the spirit of the times is with the Kurds.

However, the process is not risk free. Kurdish nationalism is not generating a serious Arab reaction. Many Arabs would think that the Kurds are weakening the Arab states. The Arab public is likely to explain the rise of the Kurds as a result of a complex global conspiracy. In this vein, the most critical dynamic is between the Kurds and the Turks. Since the failure of Iraq and Syria, Turkey is the actor most capable of intervening seriously in Kurdish affairs. The future of the Turks and Kurds is the most important issue in the whole region. Somehow, Turkey will retain a kind of veto card on any Kurdish issue. Similarly, Turkey stands as the most important legitimizer of any Kurdish strategy.

Kurds and Turks know one another. Culturally, there is a shared millennium. But, the critical factor in this equilibrium is the PKK. The PKK clearly demands an elevated political hand over the Kurdish population. There is no sign that it will relinquish this demand. Even a very successful peace process will not stop the PKK's expectation of being the number one authority in its constituency. It is not clear how Ankara and the PKK will find a clear line of consensus. We have heard all the good intentions and declarations about the peace process from Ankara and the PKK. But information about the legal nature of any possible deal is absent.

The Kurds of northern Syria need close watching. The Syrian-Turkish border has failed. No matter how the Syrian crisis ends up, that border will become transnational in practice. The Kurds who live on its southern and northern flanks will not reinstate it. So, how will Ankara rule its Kurdish people who are in a transnational relationship with other groups in another country? There is now one simple fact: Turkey should be seeking harmony in its policy towards its own Kurds and Syrian Kurds under the control of the Democratic Union Party (PYD). Discord will draw backfire from both quarters.