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A Geopolitical shift The Kurdish National Liberation Movement Onnik Krikorian The expulsion from Damascus of Abdullah Ocalan - President of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) - and the ensuing migration of Kurdish guerillas based on Syrian soil has changed little in the conflict between the Turkish Republic and its [significant] Kurdish minority. There has long been an understanding in Kurdish circles - particularly in Europe - that confrontation with the Turkish military was becoming far too unrealistic a situation to continue. Despite Turkish demands for an end to Syrian political and logistical support for the movement, it would be a mistake to analyse the circumstances of the PKK's geopolitical and geographical shift as being simply a result of the strong-arm tactics of the Turkish government. For the past year at the very least, the PKK - relegated to hit-and-run tactics in Turkey's south east - has been attempting to shift emphasis away from military operations out of bases in Syria and Iraq to the global political arena. The events in Syria have merely proven to have provided the catalyst. Despite the advantages of security, the question of whether the PKK were to stay in Syria is an irrelevance. Any successful political maneuvering could only take place in the political circles of Europe where the political wing of the PKK - the ERNK [National Liberation Movement of Kurdistan] - has long been building on its political infrastructure - nurturing relationships with left-of-centre politicians already orientated against Turkey's application to join the European Union. The appearance of Ocalan in Italy represents nothing less than the beginning of that shift - capitalising on recent events to follow a new direction sooner rather than later. That is not to say that Syria's relationship with Turkey is of little interest in any analysis of the Kurdish Question. Indeed, another important factor in analysing the origins of the Turkish-Syrian agreement is to understand that support for the PKK has never been out of any sympathy towards the Kurdish movement. Syria itself is not renowned for respecting or tolerating the rights of its own Kurds, and the PKK represents little more than the means by which to destabilise Turkey. Grievances against Turkey are sufficient - the relationship between Turkey and Israel, the dispute over Hatay, and in particular the issue that may yet still prove to the most destabilising factor in the Middle East - the free flow of water from the Euphrates Basin. As much as the threat of Turkish military action, such considerations would have also been part of any decision to move against the PKK, and may yet prove to represent little more than a short-term change in policy. Syria will still face a severe water shortage problem over the next decade if Turkey continues with its massive GAP project [a $32 billion irrigation and hydroelectric project on the Euphrates], and Turkey knows this only too well. It has used the issue as a bargaining chip many times in an attempt to disrupt the tenuous relationship between Syria and the PKK. Buckling under Turkish pressure, Syria must surely expect some concessions in this area now - over eighty per cent of the Euphrates entering into Syria originates from its neighbour. Somewhat ironically, the GAP project was also seen as a means by which to promote economic development in the Kurdish regions - an attempt to dissuade local support for the guerillas. Instead, the PKK was quick to exploit the project by playing on the fears of those Middle Eastern countries concerned by Turkish [and Israeli] control of the Euphrates and Tigris rivers. The level of the political understanding among the PKK is far in advance of any understanding within Turkey as to the geopolitical realities that face not only the republic itself, but that also face the entire region - from Syria through to Azerbaijan. This is perhaps the most worrying development that has been made all the more significant with the appearance of Ocalan in Europe. The Kurds as a nation are not only dispersed across many countries - they are also divided. Turkey's demand for extradition - and the manner in which the western media are reporting on the events - has created the impression that Ocalan and the PKK are representative of the Kurds as a whole. In fact, the PKK represents little more than a political movement originating from marxist-leninist doctrine, with autonomy for the Kurds in Turkey as a primary goal, and with secondary ambitions to extend influence over the Kurds of Syria, Iraq, Iran and the former Soviet Union. With other Kurdish movements in existence - as is evident by the perpetual and constant friction between those rival groups and the PKK in northern Iraq - what Turkey has actually succeeded in doing is to fuel media interest in the movement as led by Ocalan. The perception that the PKK is a widespread movement and fully representative of the Kurdish people throughout not only Turkey but also the Middle East is now one that may become distinct from whatever reality actually exists. This is not to deny that support for the PKK has gained momentum, but instead indicates that refusal to enter into a political dialogue with the PKK does little more than perpetuate and encourage support and sympathy. If the Kurds in Turkey were afforded the most basic of human rights, there would be no popular support for organisations such as the PKK. The problem that Turkey has with its Kurdish population is one of its own making. Even though much of the real support for the PKK originates from outside, responding to even the most moderate of internal voices by decimating entire villages and by censoring any attempt at analysis, the conlict is instead escalated and perpetuated, bringing any potential disintegration of the country one step closer. The agreement between Syria and Turkey has more than succeeded in internationalising the Kurdish Question, and making it more important than ever before to reach a negotiated political settlement in order to avert a crisis that could engulf the entire region. -------------------------------------------------------------------- Onnik Krikorian is a journalist, photojournalist and new media consultant who has spent over three years working on projects surrounding the Kurds in Turkey and the Caucasus. He currently lives and works in Armenia. His work on the Kurds can be seen online at: http://www.freespeech.org/oneworld/photo/