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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.

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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/

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