Iran Has Reasons to Spoil PKK-Turkey Peace Process

On April 25, rebels of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) announced during a  media conference in the Kandil Mountains of northern Iraq that they  would start to withdraw from Turkey on May 8. There are indications that this process could isolate Iran and possibly end a cease-fire between the  PKK’s Iranian offshoot and Iranian forces.

While the media conference was being held, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard  was holding a two-day drill called “Toward Jerusalem” in the province of West Azerbaijan (April  25-26). Two weeks before, there was a clash in the same province between Kurdish rebels and the  Iranian Revolutionary Guard in city of Maku, near the Turkish border. The  Kurdish news agency Firat claimed that more than 176 Kurds were arrested in large campaigns.

According to Kurdish websites, seven members of the Iranian Revolutionary  Guard were killed, but this cannot be confirmed by independent sources. It is a  sign that the September 2011 cease-fire between Kurdish rebels and Iran is under  pressure, although Murat Karayilan, acting commander of the PKK, told the  Kurdish TV channel Newroz that a cease-fire in Iran should continue, in an attempt to ease  Iranian suspicions.

It is clear that Iran could spoil the peace process. Duran Kalkan, a member  of the executive council of the Union of Communities of Kurdistan, an umbrella  organization which includes the PKK, told the Turkish newspaper Vatan that  there are many indications that Iran is trying to “oppose the process  strategically and to sabotage it,” adding, “We have to take precautions against  this.”

The Turkish daily Milliyet quoted an Iranian diplomat as saying that Iran would not allow PKK insurgents of  Iranian origin to return to their country. Moreover, Milliyet reported  that Iran offered the PKK military aid for not withdrawing, although the Iranian  Embassy in Ankara denied the claim.

The Syrian crisis in 2011 ended the counter-terrorism cooperation between  Iran, Syria and Turkey against the PKK and isolated Turkey in its fight against  the PKK, with the PKK-affiliated Democratic Union Party taking over control of  large chunks of northern Syria as a result of the Syrian revolution. But the new  cease-fire process could change this power balance to the advantage of both  Turkey and the PKK.

Shamal Bishir, a soft-spoken insurgent and head of foreign relations of the  Party of Free Life of Kurdistan (PJAK), spoke to Al-Monitor on the  sidelines of the PKK media conference in Kandil. He said that Iran has not  yet made any official statements, but the military authorities are not satisfied  with this process, and he fears that will lead to more clashes.

“The reason is, that Iran believes that they will be more isolated in the  region,” he said, adding that if Turkey solves the Kurdish question, “Iran will  be alone in the future in their struggle against the Kurdish movement and their  denial policy of the Kurdish question. “

“The Iranian government knows that this process in Turkey is based on the  situation the Kurds have reached in Syria, and at the same time, this process in  Turkey will have an impact on relations between Kurds and Turks in Syria and the  future stance of the Kurds in Syria. Iran knows that the stance against the  Assad regime will lead to the recognition of the Kurdish question by Syria, and  this will open ways to the fall of the Assad regime, the most important ally of  the Iranian government in the region.”

According to Bishir, the process will also lead to a legalization of the  Kurdish political arm of the PKK, which is blacklisted as a terrorist  organization internationally, and that it could lead the PKK and its affiliates  to develop relations with the international community.

“They will be able to establish relations with NATO, the US and EU member  states,” he said. “The last statements of EU countries to the Syrian opposition,  to buy oil from the Syrian opposition, is one of those signals. The Kurds will  come to the economic sphere.”

The Kurdish spokesman thinks the process could also influence relations  between the Turkish-speaking minority of Azeris in Iran and the Kurds, saying,  “If there is Kurdish and Turkish brotherhood, there could be brotherhood of  Azeris and Kurds.”

Each of them had their own governments between 1945 and 1946, until the  Iranian government reasserted control over both Azeri and Kurdish areas in  Iran.

The Iranian state media has been critical of the process and emphasizes that  Kurds do not trust the Turkish government.

The Iranian semi-official Fars News Agency claimed in January that “Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has started  implementing a US and Israeli plan to provoke Iran’s Kurdish population against  the government in Tehran through the Kurdistan Workers’ Party.”

The conservative Iranian newspaper Jomhuri-ye Eslami published  a piece by Ali Rezakaram on April 28, suggesting that Turkey wants to make the  Kurdistan region of Iraq its new ally in the region and “create tension in the  Iranian Kurdish regions through the Iraqi Kurdistan” and “align the Syrian Kurds  with itself against [Syria’s] government.”

Kamil Meresene, PJAK’s foreign-relations officer in Sweden, told  Al-Monitor that PJAK believes that this process will affect the Kurds  in Iran, Syria, Turkey and Iraq.

“Peace between the Turkish and the Kurdish people will lead to improved  relations between Turkey and the Kurds of Western Kurdistan [northern Syria] and  the Kurds of Southern Kurdistan [Northern Iraq], which in turn will strengthen  PJAK’s struggle in Iran.”

But despite this, PJAK still offers Iran an olive branch. Meresene said, “We  have suggested a peaceful solution and dialogue to Iran. If Iran continues with  the current cease-fire, ends the repression of political prisoners and of the  people and shows readiness to solve the Kurdish issue and the issues of other  peoples in Iran as well as the issue of democracy, then Iran will democratize  and take part in a future new Middle East.”

But, Meresene warned, “If Iran continues with its oppressive policies, then  Iran will not be able to withstand the democratic struggle of the Kurdish  people.”

Wladimir van Wilgenburg/Al Monitor