Turkey should quietly reopen communication with PKK leader Öcalan: International Crisis Group

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Mourners gathered around the coffins of 16 people killed during a Turkish army curfew in the Kurdish town of Cizre. (AFP Photo/Ilyas Akengin)

ARA News 

ERBIL – The United States should use its leverage to turn away the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and the Turkish government from escalation of fighting towards the negotiation table, the International Crisis Group (ICG) said. Moreover, the ICG said the PKK-leader Ocalan should be involved again in a new peace process, and suggested that the US should work for a better relationship between Turkey, the YPG, PKK, and Turkish-backed rebels in northern Aleppo to defeat radical group of the Islamic State (ISIS).

“Washington should shift its priority towards ‘degrading and destroying’ ISIS, preventing further destabilisation (while continuing its fight against ISIS); make clear that PKK actions in Turkey will affect how the U.S. views its relationship with the Kurdish YPG forces in Syria; and signal to Ankara that returning to a program of rights-based reforms and preparing the way for new talks with the PKK would enable the U.S. to strengthen its efforts to address Turkey’s transborder security concerns,” the ICG said on Friday.

“The war’s key protagonists seem to agree on one thing only: that their interests are best served by intensifying rather than de-escalating the fighting. This is true across conflict theatres, as seen in the approaches of Ankara and the PKK in Turkey; Ankara and the YPG in Syria and ISIS in both Syria and Turkey,” the think tank said.  

“Each would be better served by refraining from further escalation and opening space for resuming talks. The U.S., which enjoys unique, significant leverage and working relations with both sides, albeit via the YPG, rather than PKK leaders in [Mount] Qandil, has a clear interest in nudging them toward that path. Doing so could open new avenues for coordination against ISIS and, perhaps more importantly, reduce danger of added destabilization,” the ICG noted.

Ocalan

Moreover, the ICG says Ocalan could play a key role in peace. “Simultaneously, it [Turkey] should quietly reopen communication with Abdullah Öcalan, who despite his imprisonment wields potentially decisive influence within the PKK’s transnational organisation. Once it has initiated contact, Turkey should also enable resumed communication between Öcalan, Qandil and representatives of the HDP (the Kurdish movement’s legal political party in Turkey), which will be necessary if Öcalan is to push the [PKK] organisation back to a political track,” the group said.

The PKK held Ankara responsible for the [20 July 2015] ISIS bombing targeting Kurdish activists in Suruç and retaliated two days later, claiming responsibility for killing two Turkish policemen. The Turkish military responded against PKK facilities in Qandil, resulting in the collapse of the de facto ceasefire, as PKK- linked militants escalated attacks within Turkey in turn. Moreover, there were tensions between Turkish-backed rebel groups and Kurdish forces of the People’s Protection Units (YPG) last February over control of territory in northern Aleppo. 

“Ultimately a durable solution should include an end to hostilities between the PKK and Turkey, constitutional reforms ensuring full democratic rights for Turkey’s Kurdish population and a negotiated settlement of the broader Syrian war, including some sort of decentralised political and security arrangements,” the ICG said.

Ending violence

“At minimum, both should refrain from increasing violence. The PKK should not expand trenches in the southeast, make autonomy declarations or conduct attacks elsewhere, including bombings in western cities,” the ICG said. “Ankara should also refrain from escalating in Syria or areas of Turkey already under curfew and should take additional measures to ensure humanitarian protection of and provision for civilians.”

The ICG also said that the U.S. should emphasise its commitment to the security of Turkey’s border, including the principle that YPG-held territory in northern Syria should not be used in support of PKK insurgent activity within Turkey. “It should also stress to the YPG that it, and its allies within the YPG-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), should avoid further confrontation with Turkey-backed, anti-ISIS rebels in Aleppo and refrain from any further advance west of the Euphrates until a framework for seizing and administering that area is agreed with Turkey and its rebel allies.”

Stabilizing Kurdish-Turkish relationship

Moreover, the ICG suggests that the ultimate necessity of driving ISIS from its territory between Marea (east of Afrin) and the Euphrates River in northern Syria, but at present a cooperative division of labour – among YPG/SDF, Turkey-backed rebels, Turkey and the U.S. So far, it seems there is more a competition between the two groups, and fierce tensions, after Turkish-backed rebel groups killed at least 85 civilians in attacks on the Kurdish neighbourhood of Sheikh Maqsoud in Aleppo, since 16 February.

“An alliance could be consolidated only if each came to believe that its broader interests were likely to be secured in the day-after dispensation. That could include arrangements for a corridor enabling secure YPG transport between Afrin and YPG-held areas east of the Euphrates, while handing control of the surrounding territory to a combination of Turkey-backed rebels (which could control the border with Turkey) and SDF components allied with the YPG (which could secure the YPG’s transport corridor).” 

“Such a deal could deliver a significant blow to ISIS and establish a model for positive-sum arrangements in sensitive, contested parts of northern Syria. But it will not happen unless the YPG, PKK and Turkey, with U.S. help, first adjust course to stabilise their own relation,” the ICG said.

Reporting by: Wladimir van Wilgenburg 

Source: ARA News 

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