The Kurdish Question: Domestic and Regional Dynamics

27/05/2013, Rome

After almost thirty years of armed struggles, the Turkish government has entered into negotiations with the jailed leader of the Kurdistan Worker’s Party, Abdullah Öcalan, to put an end to a conflict which has cost up to 40,000 lives until now. But what has triggered and is now determining this process? What are its domestic and regional dynamics? This was the topic of a seminar sponsored by the Turkish Embassy to Italy and held at Istituto Affari Internazionali (IAI) on 27 May 2013 with Cengiz Çandar, Turkish Journalist (Radikal) and Alberto Negri, Italian Journalist (Il Sole 24 Ore).

Cengiz Çandar started his assessment with the observation that the Sykes-Picot era and the nation-state order which it had imposed on the region after World War I is coming to an end with the Arab uprisings. Superficial borders and states such as Syria or Iraq are disintegrating, while for the Kurds the end of the Sykes-Picot order which had made them stateless means their re-entering of history. Turkey has taken these regional forces of fragmentation as an opportunity to engage with the Kurds, not least since it has already succeeded to establish good relations with the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) in Iraq to satisfy its growing energy needs. Syrian Kurds which are gaining autonomy in Northern Syria are aware of this and take the KRG as a potential example - an evolvement which in the unforeseeable future could lead to a Kurdish integration process across borders. Öcalan on his part, in face of the Arab uprisings has announced that the Kurdish struggle has to be pursued through democratic means from now on. The peace process has three stages, namely the cessation of violence, a new constitution which acknowledges Kurdish rights, and normalization, meaning the dismantling of the PKK and its integration into the Turkish body politic. In the longer term, this process could lead to a larger Turkey in terms of functions – and geography, through a confederation with an eventually emerging Kurdistan.

Alberto Negri agreed with Çandar’s assessment of a regional fragmentation, but argued that it remains unpredictable which future realities this might bring about. As Syrian violence threatens to spill over into the whole region and with sectarianism being on the rise, the resolution of the Kurdish question gains in importance for Turkey’s security concerns and regional standing. Turkey’s rise as a more democratic country and as a regional integrating force depend on the success of the peace process. He also highlighted the differences in the US’s and Turkey’s stances on the 2003 Iraq war as compared to the current Syrian civil war. While Ankara rejected the deployment of US forces during the Iraqi war, today it pressures for the imposition of a no-fly zone which the Obama administration is not supporting so far.


Press clips

Türkiye ve Kürdistan, Avusturya-Macaristan gibi olabilir mi?, Radikal, (Turkish; translation in English)

Türkiye ve Kürdistan, Avusturya-Macaristan gibi olabilir mi?, Hürriyet, (Tukish)


Research area