|KDP and PKK’s Syrian Dilemma|
The crisis in Syria presents another challenge for the relationship between the rebel Kurdistan
Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP).
While the KDP supports Turkish policies in Syria and has welcomed the Syrian National Council (SNC) leader and Lebanese politicians, the PKK and the Democratic Union Party (PYD) are opposed to Turkish interference in Syria. This explains the recent clashes in Efrin, Aleppo and the harsh words the Kurdish Communities Union (KCK) had for the recent Syrian Kurdish conference in Erbil.
The PYD is part of the National Coordination Committee (NCC), which supports a dialogue with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and has held meetings with the Russians, the Iranians and even the Chinese. All of these countries support the Baathist government, oppose foreign intervention and prefer that Assad remains in power regardless of whether the opposition’s demands are considered.
PYD officials claim they want the regime to fall -- but are opposed to foreign intervention, especially by Turkey. PKK generals said they would fight any Turkish intervention in Syria. Meanwhile, the PKK is trying to use the power vacuum and unrest to build parallel state institutions, which is what they tried to do in Turkey.
The NCC is not less nationalistic than the SNC. The only reason the PKK opposes the SNC is that it is supported by Turkey -- not because it is less supportive of Kurdish rights than the SNC. In some ways, the NCC is more opposed to Kurdish rights than the SNC. The NCC is made up of secular Arab nationalists, similar to the Syrian Baath party.
On the other hand, the Kurdish parties in the KDP-supported conference explicitly called for foreign intervention and support for the fall of the regime. While the KDP officially states that it is not interfering in Syrian affairs, in reality it is working with other countries, especially Turkey, to implement regime change.
This falls in line with the efforts of the Gulf Cooperation Council, the Arab league, Turkey, the US and Western countries. (Iranian government media claimed they were working with “Zionists” to implement regime change in Syria and that Russia and China’s opposition to the plan in the UN Security Council defeated the effort.)
KDP leaders are also in regular contact with Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP)-led government. For instance, KDP’s foreign relations chief Hemin Hawrami recently visited Turkey.
Although the KDP and PKK had plans to organize a united Kurdish conference, the split between the PKK and the KDP over Turkey have quashed the event for now. While the KDP looks to Turkey to become more independent from Baghdad, the PKK’s main aim is to isolate Turkey and to seek an autonomous space to support their insurgency against Turkey.
Therefore, some claim that the PKK might work with Iran or Syria, pointing out, for example, the PKK ally Party of Free Life of Kurdistan’s (PJAK) ceasefire agreement with Iran and Syria tolerating PYD activities. But the PKK denies this. They do not have camps in Iran and Syria as they did in the past and often criticize these countries in the media.
But the Kurdish conference in January was heavily criticized by the PKK’s leadership for creating divisions among the Kurds. At the same time, they claimed AKP officials visiting Kurdistan asked the KRG to carry out joint PKK operations.
The PYD claimed it was not invited to the conference, and PYD supporters on February 3 attacked Kurdish demonstrators saying, “Supporters of Erdoğan and Barzani have no business here.” This indicates that tensions between the KDP and PKK might grow in the future given their disparate goals.
Despite this, it is unlikely that there will be armed clashes between the KDP and PKK (though Turkey would enjoy it.) The Kurdish parties learned that this would hurt their own credibility among Kurds and also weaken them, which would only benefit their rivals.
Therefore, low-level tensions like statements, harassment of each other’s supporters and clashes could occur – but it won’t be a full-blown war. The KDP and PKK for the moment are forced to tolerate each other’s policies to a certain extent
By WLADIMIR van WILGENBURG