Bashdar Pusho Ismaeel – Interview with Shargh Newspaper (Printed in Tehran, Iran)
Please note: the interview was conducted in English but translated to Farsi (Persian) for the print edition of Shargh newspaper. The links to the Farsi version are listed below:
http://www.sharghdaily.ir/1394/05/18/Main/PDF/13940518-2367-11-24.pdf (Newspaper Print Edition)
http://tinyurl.com/nmnst2z (Website Edition)
1-Recently, some newspapers near AKP have expressed dissatisfaction about the recent winning of Kurd against ISIS. They believed that Kurds (particularly PYD and PKK) are bigger danger than isis for turkey. What do you think about the arguments? Do you think the argument is the main cause of little support of turkey government of Kurds struggle against Isis? Do you think we can expect change in turkey’s policy toward Kurds struggle against Isis in the next government of the country?
Erdogan and the AKP have been clear that they do not differentiate between the PKK and IS – they see them both as terrorist organisations. But such a labelling does not only affect a party, it is an unfair label on a whole population. The Syrian Kurds have the right to self-defence and PYD has been one of the most affective forces against IS. Who would protect the Kurds if not the YPG?
I don’t expect Turkey to accept PYD with open arms but the people deserve to be protected and should not suffer due to outdated nationalist principles. PYD have not committed massacres or terrorist acts in the same way as IS. Furthermore, how can one say that all Syrian Kurds are PKK affiliated? There are dozens of political parties in Syria, of course, PYD is the main party but Turkish policy on Syrian Kurds is far too narrow.
The fear of PYD\PKK is firmly rooted in Turkish nationalist anxiety. This same fear saw decades of repressive policies against Kurds in Turkey to no benefit but social upheaval and loss of life. You cannot deny 15 million Kurds in Turkey and neither can you deny the 2 million in Syria.
Turkey will not support the Kurds against IS. If they didn’t support at bleak hour of need when Kobane was days from falling when a grave massacre was certain likelihood then I don’t say Turkey bolstering Syrian Kurds now. But PYD and more importantly the Syrian Kurds are not about to vanish.
After such historic gains in Syria after decades of been side-lines, PYD or the Syrian Kurds will not accept a rollback of their gains, in spite of any sabre rattling from Turkey.
2-Recently, President Erdogan said that turkey don’t let to Kurds establish Kurdish government in northern Syria. Do you think the Erdogan warn is serious? Do you think the military intervention of turkey army in Syria in next month will be possible? What would be the reaction of international community on the issue in your opinion?
Erdogan has referred to such red lines since 2012. It didn’t stop PYD from declaring autonomous administrative rule in the 3 cantons or moving relatively unhindered. Turkey has been weary of the raise of the Syrian Kurds since 2011-2012 but in recent months, they have become key actors in the fight against IS and indeed one of the only few trusted groups of the US.
The Kurdish question in Turkey is intertwined by the fate of Kurds in Syria. There are strong connections across the border. This was evident at the mass protests at Turkish inaction over Kobane. The Kurdish struggle in Turkey moved stage to Syria.
Talk of military action has been running since 2012 but has grown in recent weeks; Turkey has a huge amount at stake with any invasion. It will confirm suspicions of sceptics who state that Turkey tolerates IS on its border but will now finally reinforce its border because the more moderate Kurds are making gains?
Any Turkish invasion will be far from plain sailing – Kurds, on both sides of the border, will not stay idle to any Turkish transgression. It will widen the already complicated Syrian war and will all but end the elusive Kurdish peace process in Turkey. PKK will certainly resume armed struggle in Turkey and in case Turkey attacks IS, this will bring great threat and instability to mainland Turkey. There are many permutations but they all end in more bloodshed and disaster.
International community will hardly welcome such a move when the Syrian landscape is already messy and complicated enough and indeed there will be strong jockeying in the background to ensure Turkey does not take such hasty steps.
Syrian Kurds too have their own red lines, they will not declare independence but they will certainly not give up their autonomous rule or allow any Turkish meddling or control of Syrian Kurdistan.
3-We know some Turks voted to HDP too as well as Kurds, How the Turks convinced vote to HDP? Do you think this is a sign of decrease Turkish nationalism sense or this is a sign of increasing pluralism in turkey? What is your assessment about the recent victory of HDP In turkey election?
HDP was successfully in attracting growing number of people who were disenchanted with AKP and who didn’t have the right national forum. A lot of these disillusioned liberals saw in HDP an opportunity to block Erdogan’s attempts to implement a strong presidential system, dilute what they saw as growing power and monopolisation of AKP and at the same time have a voice on the political stage. The HDP electorate also included large sections of minorities and of course large sections of Kurds who turned to HDP after previously voting for the AKP.
Although HDP won a respectable 13% of the vote, this is far from a statement that nationalism is decreasing. Nationalist parties continued to do well. Nationalists continue to be a thorn in the peace process and still dominate the political system in Turkey.
The fact this was the first time that a Kurds entered parliament as a party says it all. It is a significant historical milestone for the Kurds and provides a bridge between the long-time disaffected east and west of Turkey. 13% of the vote is not a meagre figure to be ignored in parliament and Kurds will have a direct influence on political and government affairs.
HDP’s gains can only be good for the Kurds but can also bring a sense of legality and national perspective to the Kurdish question. 80 MPs in parliament cannot be merely branded by the PKK brush – Turkish politics needs to mature beyond the age old narrow nationalist perspective i.e. any Kurdish PM is quickly labelled as a separatist or a PKK sympathiser.
HDP can serve as vital and legally enshrined interlocutors between the PKK and Ankara.
4-What is your assessment about the relation recent HDP victory in turkey’s election with PKK activities in the region? Can we expect the recent victory in turkey will be impact on power of PKK?
As mentioned earlier, the rise of HDP and their entry in parliament can give the peace process the right nation platform. Ocalan and most of the PKK have stated their readiness to convene a party congress with view to the giving up of arms. However, this will not happen without concrete steps been taken by the government – PKK will need to see firm actions and unfortunately, bowing to nationalist pressure, the future government will not easily cave in to demands from what they see as terrorists. HDP position in the political fold may help ensure that a more appealing reform package can be initiated – most Turks are in favour of ending bloodshed and the government must capitalise on a historic opening.
PKK will naturally see the HDP’s electoral success in a positive light but it doesn’t mean that PKK will drop their arms tomorrow just because HDP have broken the 10% threshold in parliament. HDP leadership has in turned made clear the real power to end the armed struggle and give up arms is in Imrali and not with them.
No doubt that HDP success brings a unique opportunity to further the peace process and should not be wasted. HDP can double the number of MPs in parliament, but if the PKK is not satisfied then the HDP influence can only stretch so far. Peace is not achieved by numbers in parliament but concrete actions.
5-What is the effect of HDP victory on Kurdish separatist sentiments in turkey and region? Will be weakened or strengthened?
This depends on the next steps. After breaking the age old constraints of the electoral threshold, the Kurds have a unique position in Turkish politics; especially that HDP now includes many Turkish voters within their ranks.
If the Kurdish region finally believes they have a voice in parliament, they are no longer side-lined, have better integration and can influence Ankara as national partners, then this can be a good sign for unity. Ultimately, the goal of local autonomy will not disappear especially if Kurds in south east increasingly speak with one voice.
If the HDP is somewhat side-lined or broken up under terrorism label as with previous party manifestations or the peace process unravels, as a result of the increased electoral power and not forgetting what events may take place in Syrian Kurdistan, then south east will drop further and further from Ankara’s grasp.
6-Do you think the increasing conflict between HDP and turkey hizbollah will be possible? What will be the relation between HDP and conservatives and religious Kurds in the future?
As the recent deadly shootings have shown in Diyarbakir, historic tension between PKK and Hezbollah supporters is in danger of escalating. The shootings were clear provocations designed to stir tension. The ramp up in tensions depends on how much restraint the parties can show and if they rise to the bait but I doubt it will reach a critical stage. No side will really benefit from such direct confrontation and no side really wants bloodshed to ensure.
HDP has already won significant votes from conservative and religions Kurds in the elections who traditionally voted for AKP. However, this is likely to continue as a key focus if HDP wants to grow in strength and represent a broader spectrum of the Kurdish voter base. AKP has used the religious card to successfully divide the Kurds in the past away from ethnic affiliations.
7-Some report showed that PYD have cooperation with Assad regime in Syria against isis. Don’t you think the US support Kurds in Syria is contradicting with the will of US for Assad falls? What will be impact of the support on the viewpoint of Syria government?
Such allegations of collaboration between PYD and Assad regime have been common place since the PYD took control of the Kurdish zones. But PYD and Assad regime relations have been more about mutual convenience than any real strategic pact. At a time when Syrian forces were already stretched, Assad wisely did not move to open a costly front with the Kurds. There have been various battles between the two sides but never on a systematic level.
At the same time, Syrian Kurds want control of their land and this is their first priority. They haven’t enjoyed great relations with FSA or Syrian National Coalition and attacking Assad forces to help FSA has not been an objective. Kurds have been weary of provoking Assad when they have already gained control of most Kurdish lands. The SNC has not been ready to commit to Kurdish demands in any post Assad era and Kurds have viewed the group with much suspicion. In many ways, it’s been a case of the devil you know for the Kurds than any real support or affiliation with the Assad regime.
US seeks political transition in Syrian and ultimately the fall of Assad but their bigger focus is on IS and not Assad. PYD goal is also a political transition in Syria and a new plural and inclusive constitution that enshrines their autonomy, and priority is not to prop up Assad. Don’t forget that PYD and Assad forces were in conflict long before Syrian civil war ensued.
PYD focus at the same time is IS and defence of their lands. Syrian Kurds are not tied to Assad regime and they will not fight to keep Assad in power.
8-What is relation between PKK and HDP? Demirtaş and Ocalan both are charismatic figures don’t you think in long time we will see conflict between two groups?
Many HDP members have travelled to Imrali and have previously played key roles in the Kurdish peace process. Of course, HDP have connections with the PKK but to say they are one and the same is too narrow minded.
HDP can be affective and legal interlocutors in the peace process. HDP can influence the PKK but ultimately it is not the HDP that decide PKKs next move on the peace process or whether they will give up arms, this power sits with Imrali.
It’s hard to compare the positons of Demirtaş and Ocalan – one is in parliament and one is an isolated prison. They are both significant leaders for the Kurds but from totally different perspectives and platforms.
There is always the possibility of disagreement between the PKK and HDP but by and large and through different means, they represent the same goal – enshrinement of Kurdish rights and bigger voice for the Kurds as national partners.
9-What do you think about the viewpoint of Kurdish peace negotiation prospect after victory of HDP? Do you think it will have a positive impact on negotiation? What do you think about possibility end Ocalan arrested?
The rise of HDP as a power in Turkish politics can only be a good thing for the peace process. This serves as an opportunity to bring the peace process onto a national and legal platform.
HDP have become the natural and legal interlocutors. 80 MPs in parliament can have a major voice on the direction of the peace process.
HDP can have a positive impact on the peace process but ultimately the real decision lies in Imrali. Under nationalist’s pressure, Erdogan toned down his stance towards the peace process and concessions towards the PKK – he became more hard-line.
PKK expects concrete steps from government and although the HDP can push to achieve these concrete steps, it really lies in the hands of Ankara. I don’t see Ocalan under house arrest let alone free, Turkish nationalist sentiment is far too narrow to allow the onset of such a phenomenon that will bring uproar to large sections of Turkish society.
10-What is your assessment about ROJAVA cantons and the performance? Do you think the Rojava can be a model for Kurds in other parts of the region? What are the strengths and weaknesses of ROJAVA in your opinion?
Rojava cantons and the establishment of a Kurdish Region of Syria was an unprecedented milestone for the Kurds in Syria, where previously hundreds of thousands of Kurds didn’t even have basic citizenship and rights let alone autonomous zones and new strategic importance in the region.
But Rojava autonomy is still in its infancy and hardly in the best surroundings with IS and deadly battles. What made the cantons unique was that it was in 3 geographically separate lands, until recently when Kurds took control of Tel Abyad.
Syrian autonomy needs to be backed by a cross party unity – too often the dozen or so Kurdish parties have been divided into pro KRG and pro PKK camps, with PYD dominating control of the cantons
The cantons have a long way to go but autonomous rule cannot be perfected in just a few years. The Syrian Kurds have much progress to make in their rule of their lands but this is hardly surprising. After decades of been side-lined, the current autonomous structure feels a lifetime away from previous repression and Arabisation of Kurdish lands.
It is the Kurdish Region of Iraq that really set the expectation and model of self-rule and not the Rojava cantons. Local autonomy is fast becoming a minimum expectation for Kurds across the region.
11-What is your assessment about the Assad regime reaction to Kurdish autonomy in Syria? Do you think Syria government will be grant autonomy to Kurds because their struggle against common enemy (isis)?
Assad needs Kurdish support, if not real political or military support, than at least that a new front is not opened. Assad’s forces are already stretched and granting Kurds autonomy is far easier than a suicidal new front against the Kurds. Assad has taken full advantage of the mistrust between Kurds and FSA\SNC.
Autonomy is a red-line for the Kurds and a small price for Assad to pay to maintain stability in the Kurdish areas and indeed his seat in power.
12-What do you think about impact of recent HDP victory in turkey and PYD in Syria on the Barzani –Talibani power in Iraq? Do you think HDP and PKK are threat against Autonomous Region of Kurdistan?
I don’t see the rise of HDP or the influence of PYD in Syria a threat to the Kurdistan Regional Government. The KRG and Kurdistan President Massoud Barzani would see the success of HDP as a historic and welcome milestone – they have encouraged the peace process in Turkey.
Barzani has personally worked hard for more cross-party unity in Syria with power sharing as per the Erbil agreement between the Syrian Kurdish parties. He would not want to see any PYD domination and other political parties, with many pro-KRG, been side-lined.
The red line for KRG is any meddling in Kurdistan Region internal affairs by PYD but especially PKK. As far as the KRG is concerned, it is not their zone of influence.
13-Some people said Kurds could not reach to recent successes without US supports in Iraq. What do you think about the arguments? What do you think about the possibility of establish a Shiite – Kurdish – US coalition against Isis in Iraq? Do you think the cooperation against Isis will be because more close Kurd – Shiite?
US support for the Kurds has been key but it is not so one dimensional. Ironically, the Kurds have often accused Washington of bias towards Baghdad. US have been obsessed with Iraqi unity and have avoided any actions that may be fuel a breakaway of Kurdistan from Iraq. Indeed on many occasions it has sided with Baghdad over the Kurds to promote the idea of a centralist rule in Iraq.
At the same time, the US relies heavily on Kurdish support against IS as it did against al-Qaeda a few years before that.
Iraq has been increasingly fractured as a state since 2003 and Baghdad policies especially under Nouri al-Maliki have not helped. In fact IS merely took full advantage of sectarian tensions and mass Sunni discontent. Many Sunni groups jumped on the IS bandwagon and notion of what is “IS” quickly become a grey area.
The KRG have been insistent that for any real struggle against IS to succeed, especially in Mosul, that local Sunni forces must have a bigger say. Kurds are keen to see an inclusive make up of Iraqi forces against IS.
Successive disputes with Maliki and now with Haider al-Abadi over national budget and oil exports has put a negative sentiment in the relations. The Kurds will not bail out Baghdad when it feels that Baghdad has consistently failed to deliver on its agreements and promises, has not paid its share of national budget and has not provided Kurds with needed weaponry even when the Kurds are at the centre of the war against IS.
Only a large Iraqi inclusive coalition will entice Kurds to fight in areas south of the Kurdistan borders.
14-What is your assessment about the possibility of establish a Kurdish state in Middle East? What is the obstacle in the way of this? Israel supported for Kurdistan state idea do you think the support of US and EU will be possible, too?
Establishing a Kurdish state has hardly been a secret for the Kurds and is also a goal of the Kurdistan leadership but it’s all about timing. A Kurdish state is inevitable and the Kurdistan Region is practically independent in all but name. If Kurds start selling oil directly en mass as retaliation for lack of budget payments from Baghdad than this removes the remaining noose Baghdad has over the region.
There is growing support for Kurdish independence in the EU and from many members of the US Senate and Congress but Washington will not directly support any Kurdish independence bid. It has reinforced the notion of a sovereign and united Iraq at every turn since 2003, when the Iraq state is anything but united or whole. US has spent billions of dollars and thousands of lives on a promoting principles of national reconciliation and unity that has never borne fruit.
Turkey has grown warmer to the idea of independence for the Kurdistan Region but will not support such a notion at a delicate time in the region and indeed at a sensitive juncture for the Kurds of Turkey and Syria.
Self-determination is a right that the Kurds will ultimately exercise and formal independence is only a question of when.
15-What do you think about recent Kurds victories on the regional equations? Do you think strengthen of Kurds can lead to essential changes in geographic and demographic in the region? What are the consequences for the region countries particularly Iran, turkey and Iraq? Do you think we should expect the change of borders in accordance with Sykes – Picot agreement?
The Kurds in Iraq are already major regional actors and the rise and prominence of the Kurdistan region in Iraq has been unprecedented. Kurds have become an important economic partner for Iran and particular Turkey and a stable and largely secular entity serves an important role in the fast unravelling and volatile Middle East.
At the same time, Kurds in Syria are enjoying new found prominence. Too often the Kurds were on the scrapheap of the Middle East thanks to large repressive campaigns and the arbitrary Sykes-Picot borders. Kurds are now a driving force in the new Middle East calculus.
Whilst the Sykes-Picot borders will not change overnight, in many ways the present era witnesses the rise of the Kurds. From the shackles to strategic players across the Middle East. The borders between the Kurdish regions in each country are slowly eroding.
The Kurds are a major factor for any long-term stability and peace in the Middle East – they simply cannot be ignored from Syria to Turkey to Iraq to Iran.
First Published: Shargh (Iran)
Other Publication Sources: Various Misc