October 19, 2015

Could autonomy be achieved in Bakuri Kurdistan? - By Ahmed Saleh


This assignment will highlight the question of whether autonomy can be achieved in Bakuri Kurdistan. To demonstrate this question, it is significant to identify what autonomy is and argue whether autonomy is achievable under the Turkish Government in Bakuri Kurdistan (or Northern Kurdistan).  Autonomy can be described as Marc Weller and Stefan Wolff stated that: ‘‘autonomy is a mechanism for enhancing democracy; it is about shared and thus de-concentrated powers’’ .  To obtain a clear answer and demonstrate whether autonomy is achievable, autonomy’s historical background will be explained briefly.  Another significant point to consider is the reason behind the notion of the autonomy and identifies these facts. However, according to many scholars autonomy can be extremely controversial and complex to identify precisely, as the notion of autonomy is not well-defined. Despite its controversy and complexity, some commentators have still interpreted autonomy. Autonomy could be understood in terms of one group accommodating another, and not as a device of good governance. There is no doubt that autonomy can be an instrument of minority participation in other ways .

It could be stated that autonomy both in international practice and in the literature, most of the autonomy dispute is still netted within the nation-state discourse, endeavouring to weaken the deficits of minority participation by duplicating the nation state on a smaller scale . It is argued that in its direct dimension, autonomy makes it feasible for territorially compact minorities to govern their own affairs by simply regulating (or having a greater influence on) the devolved institutions.  While such a definition of autonomy described or viewed too narrow, one could dispute that it is the primary sense why fragile democracies dismiss it and even secessionist minorities invoke it . It is equally significant to emphasise that a strong democracy is not suspicious of autonomy, and a democratic minority generally does not identify as the first step towards independence.  Weller and Wolff also believed that autonomy was also not given a great deal of scrutiny because the approach was, rightly or wrongly, connected with self-determination struggles.

Prior to the Cold War, outside of the colonial context, any self-determination discourse was considered with great distrust by governments, seeing it as a first step onto that slippery slope that inevitably leads towards irredentist or secessionist claims. Thus, autonomy was widely regarded as a somewhat dangerous concept that a state would only employ at its own peril.

Moreover, Michael Keating believes that the demand for autonomy is connected to, but not reducible to the attainment of important policy goals across a range of domains. One of these facts could be culture, which can be a matter of language, of shared values or traditional ways of life. Another factor could be economic where there is awareness that a community is disadvantaged or exploited. Identically this could be an impoverished community that is deprecated within existing state and market structures, or a well-off one that is denied from doing even better . Unquestionably another significant factor is welfare and social policy, where the predominant forces in one community share a more collectivist vision of society while another inclines more to individualism and neo-liberalism .
Interestingly Scott L. Greer believes that while it could be wrong to think of unified nation-states as the world’s basic political units or even as a feasible goal, but as a myth and an ambition they are alive and well. He also believes that the concept of a connection between nation and state, that nations have states and states have nations, has been exceptionally little lessened by the experiences of recent decades. It might only apply to several places, for example, Iceland and Portugal, but it still has great power over thought and legitimizes frightening politics . Greer further noted that if we assume each state has a nation, and each nation a state, then the world will be much more likely to put aside liberal democratic ideas in order to excuse both homogenizing programs of states and separatist programs of stateless nations. Moreover, it could be completely wrong to view nationalism as a wave of primordial passion that, once unleashed, cannot be blocked, but, like the notion of the nation-state, it also seems to bear on reality . Additionally, Greer believes that while nations and nationalism have been explained and displaying the contingency of national identity over time, twenty years of work have done much to strip away the idea that national identity is “tribal,” fixed and ahistorical. But theories stressing the contingency and political uses of nationalism only go so far— deconstructing national identities might conceivably help to inoculate populations over time but seems unlikely to dampen conflict in Kosovo, Chechnya, or the Basque Country. Any social institution, after all, is ultimately contingent and historical but can still be a strong and very tangible reality in people’s lives .
On the positive side, Greer suggest that if nationalist notions, national identities and nationalist organisation all respond at least in part to constitutional conditions and the political opportunity structures facing national leaders, then practical politics and good institutional design might contain or channel nationalism in a liberal direction, avoiding the problems that come with state-seeking nationalism and nation-creating states. This will give us at least opportunity to do something when we face potential dangerous conflicts between nations.  It is evident that the United Kingdom and Spain has played a significant role in these areas as Greer stated that:
  ‘‘Scotland and Catalonia, Spain and the United Kingdom, play a special role in these debates, as exemplars first of the resurgence of stateless nationalisms and then of the use of territorial autonomy to resolve conflicts between state, majority and minority. Both the UK and Spain, faced with nationalist challenges, have created autonomous governments for their minority nations in Scotland, Wales, Catalonia, Galicia, and the Basque Country. They have both increased the political autonomy and representation of the smaller nations while preserving the state as a whole. Internally, meanwhile, the politics and public discourses of Scotland and Catalonia are a world away from their neighbours in, for example, Northern Ireland; in both countries, most intellectuals and leaders take great care to be “civic” and tolerant, eschewing ethnic or sectarian politics in public’’
In addition, in relation to the Kurdish people demand in Bakuri Kurdistan, it is equally important to demonstrate that In 2007 Abdullah Ocalan defined democratic autonomy as ‘‘a means to express the situation of the Kurdish people in their approach to those outside their community and to enable internal democratisation as a force against internal backwardness within Kurdish society. Autonomy was ‘not seeking to form a state, respecting present borders and state structures, being a means of enabling local interests to be represented within the state’, and, finally, was ‘being a structure that would enable the Kurds to meet their own demands that would be operated in conjunction with existing state institutions’. In 2010 he further refined this vision of democratic autonomy as ‘not being based on ethnicity’ and ‘not being limited to Kurdistan, being a system which substitutes centralized administration with local administration, being a system which intends to fuse participatory democracy with representative democracy’ and lastly, as ‘being a form of self-governance’’

Furthermore, as Jonathan Spyer noted the Kurdish population considered to be the world’s largest stateless nation . Post-World War, Western powers were promised Kurdish people autonomy in the 1920 Treaty of Sevres. Consequent refusal to the Treaty by the Turkish nationalist movement forced by Mustafa Kemal (Atatürk) managed to its renegotiation at Lausanne in 1923, where the west accepted the borders of the new Turkish republic. Consequently, the Kurdish people found themselves divided between the post-Ottoman states of Turkey, Iraq, and Syria, with a small population in Iran . Since then under the Republican Turkey’s policy Kurdish people have been denied their identity and they have attempted to assimilate their respective Kurdish minorities. This obviously included forbidding the use of Kurdish language (in schools, government, media and public venues in general) and went so far as to refer to Kurds as “mountain Turks” . Spyer further illustrated that the major nationalist movement began with a 1984 uprising led by the Partiya Karkerên Kurdistan (the Kurdish Workers Party or PKK) in southeast Turkey, (Bakuri Kurdistan) with the goal of founding a Kurdish state. The rebellion and the Turkish response to it went on to claim more than 40,000 lives . It is equally significant to highlight that the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) has been viewed by both Turkey and the United States as a terrorist organization fighting the Turkish government for Kurdish autonomy . 

According to Dr. Jacques Neriah article on the Jerusalem Centre for Public Affairs, the first modern Kurdish nationalist operation appeared in 1880 with an uprising led by a Kurdish landowner and head of the powerful Shemdinan family, Sheikh Ubeydullah. He requested political autonomy for Kurds and the recognition of a Kurdistan state without interference from Turkish or Persian authorities. As a result, the revolution against Qajar Persia and the Ottoman Empire was finally prevented by the Ottomans, and Ubeydullah, along with other notables, was exiled to Istanbul .

Moreover, after Abdullah Öcalan the PKK leader was ultimately captured in Kenya in 1999, brought to Turkey to face trial, and sentenced to death.  His sentence, however, was later commuted to life imprisonment at the request of the European Union. However, since the peace process has taken place between the Turkish government and PKK in December 2012 the situation has been considered as a positive goals as Michael Werz and Max Hoffman highlighted that while it is been late, but recently Turkish society has begun to recognise these issue. To retain power in the region, it must recognise diversity as the strength instead of a weakness.  This peace process is a critical component of moving Turkey toward a more inclusive society and a more confident regional role .  The cost of the conflict between the PKK and Turkish government was massive, according to the Department of Peace and Conflict Research at Uppsala University in Sweden there have been between 25,000 and 30,000 Kurdish fatalities, with the destruction of more than 2,000 villages. Other estimates put the total at as high as 40,000 or 44,000 dead.

According to the International Crisis Group the economic cost at an estimated $300 billion to $450 billion.20 Nearly 7,000 members of Turkish security forces—military, police, and gendarmerie—are estimated to have been killed in the conflict .  As stated by the Global Security. Org  and Kongreya Neteweyî ya Kurdistanê - Kurdistan National Congress, since the Democratic Union Party [PYD - Partiya Yekitiya Democrat] have declared Democratic Autonomy in January 2014 in West Kurdistan (Rojava Kurdistan), Turkey has been significantly aggravated by these developments, as it believes the gains of the Kurds in neighbouring Syria will spark similar desires and actions among its very own strong Kurdish population . The Turkish government recognised the Democratic Union Party (PYD) as a terrorist organisation and see no differences between PKK and PYD. Surprisingly, when the Turkish foreign ministry hosted PYD leader Salih Muslim for a series of high-level meetings in Istanbul, both sides described the meetings as a positive stage.

Additionally, the Turkey’s constitution was written when Turkey was under military rule, therefore Turkey’s constitution leaves no room for the linguistic and cultural differences of minority communities, expressing that, “The Turkish State, with its territory and nation, is an indivisible entity. Its language is Turkish. The constitution also stated that, “No protection shall be accorded to an activity contrary to … [the] historical and moral values of Turkishness. ”. For many years the hegemonic powers such as Turkey, Iran, Syria and Iraq, have denied Kurdish identity and Kurdish people existence as an ethnic group. Therefore, Kurdish people were afraid to identify them as a Kurd. For this reason, many Kurdish denied their own identity or kept quiet about their own identity . As, Abdullah Ocalan noted that ‘‘For the Arab regime the Kurdish question did not exist. It had been resolved by enforced Islamization, they were sure. Islam was the only nation. And this nation was Arab. Mr Ocalan further illustrated that: ‘‘The Turkish regime derived its claim for supremacy over the Kurds from alleged campaigns of conquest in Anatolia a thousand years ago. There had not been other peoples there. Therefore, Kurd and Kurdistan are non-words, non-existent and not allowed to exist according to the official ideology. The use of these words equals an act of terrorism and is punished correspondingly ’. Contrary to the above argument, most of the scholars and academic who constantly mention that, there is a Kurdish issue in Turkey and PKK along with other Kurdish political party (i.e. Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) endeavoured to resolve the issue through a peace process with the Turkish government as they have on their agenda, but very recently, President Erdogan stated that:

“My brothers, there has never been any problem called the Kurdish issue in this country. Yet, there are intentional efforts to keep this on the agenda. … We ended it [the problem] in a speech I made in Diyarbakır in 2005 and that is it. My Kurdish citizens could have problems. They could have problems just like the problems of Turkish citizens. Thirty-six ethnic groups in the country have their own problems. There is constant talk about the Kurdish problem. Turkey has been kept busy with this for years -- 40,000 people have been killed in this country for this reason’’ . 

According to the Today’s Zaman newspaper President Erdogan in 2005 in the south-eastern province of Diyarbakır, for the first time made a historical speech and acknowledged the existence of a Kurdish problem in Turkey, but he has now said Turkey never had a Kurdish problem, noting that Kurds enjoy all the rights and everything else enjoyed by Turks . While President Erdogan announced that there has never been any problem called the Kurdish issue in Turkey, this could be illustrated with the case of Leyla Zana along with four other Democracy Party Members of Parliament (Hatip Dicle, Selim Sadak and Orhan Dogan) in December 1994 she was arrested and jailed for fifteen years, because she was speaking Kurdish in the Turkish Parliament after taking her parliamentary oath, and her activity was treated as against the unitary of Turkey .

Additionally, a Turkish writer Cumali Onal believes that as the public agenda controlled by discussions over bribery, judicial scandals, corruption, tape recordings, Turkey has declined to address steps the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) is taking towards autonomy .  Mr Onal further noted up-to-date political crises in Turkey, declaration of autonomy by Kurdish in the Rojova region in Syria, as well as the Turkish government's exploitative moves of the settlement process can be cited as the primary reasons for the escalation of the Kurdish issue . Notwithstanding, Iran play a key role in this game and do endeavour to exert greater pressure on Turkey through an alliance with the PKK, PUK and the PYD. As Mahmut Akpınar, an Iran expert from Turgut Özal University in Ankara, notes that

    ‘‘The armed wing of the KCK (Group of Communities in Kurdistan) in Turkey will become more active, given Cemil Bayık's replacement of Murat Karayılan as the new head of the KCK Executive Council, and that the Iran-PKK alliance will become stronger. Akpınar believes that the recent PYD developments are related to Iranian ambitions to create a new threat to Turkey, as well as Western countries' eagerness to include a new player in Middle Eastern affairs. Noting that the settlement process caused dramatic changes in PKK strategies, Akpınar says that the PKK is now more of an organization seeking to create an independent state rather than favouring a peace deal with Turkey. The KCK, which represents a global confederation of Kurdish organizations including the PKK, the BDP and the PYD, is also referred to as a parallel state organization, possessing all the organs of a potential unified Kurdistan’’.

In addition, the rise of ISIS has also helped the Kurdish issue to gain more power as Michael Werz and Max Hoffman noted that the rise of ISIS along Turkey’s southern border may also push Ankara to acquiesce on the PYD’s movement toward autonomy in Syria and increase the urgency of the PKK peace process. One could argue that, former Turkish Prime Minister and current President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan may have used the peace process between the Turkish authority and PKK for their own advantages during the election; this can be seen in the Hürriyet Daily News as he stated that: “A new Constitution means a new future,” he said in a speech where he offered a distinction between what he calls the “old Turkey” and the “new Turkey” in terms of economic development, civil rights and judiciary’’ . There is no doubt that improvement has taken place and some reforms carried out for example allowing Kurdish-language education in private schools, electoral campaigns and the repeal of the law that required Turkish students to recite a nationalist vow each week in school, which begins with the words: "I am a Turk" .  The reform which president declared did not commit to lowering the 10 percent threshold for admission to parliament—a key limit on Kurdish representation in Ankara—or provide for Kurdish-language education in state schools . In response to President Erdogan, Mr Öcalan made extraordinary public comments reacting to the package, highlighted that while the process had lessened social tensions, “mountainous problems” remained . Mr Ocalan further illustrated that: "I am waiting for the state to respond with meaningful, deep negotiations," Öcalan said in a written statement released by the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP). "It is necessary to put into practice deep negotiations without delay because of the sensitivity of the process." .
Furthermore, William Gourlay believes that Turkey could have adopted a better conciliatory stance towards the PKK and PYD, and had in some way come to the assistance of Kobane. In contrast, Erdoğan declared that there was no difference between the PKK and ISIS. This surely puzzled western observers, but, Erdoğan opined, both were terrorist groups, thus they could both be categorised as undesirable and dangerous . Gourlay further emphasised that PKK operatives and affiliated Kurdish YPG units from Syria attracted international attention and won plaudits for the prominent role they played in rescuing stranded Yezidi refugees on Mount Sinjar in August. Many western observers see them as the most effective bulwarks against ISIS encroachment. Meanwhile, across Europe calls are being made to remove the PKK’s ‘terrorist’ classification.  . The above argument and discussion could show that the autonomy in Bakuri Kurdistan in Turkey could be achievable, but it takes time and also need a lot of tolerance because Turkish government are not willing to provide such a procedure at present time. Furthermore, Sinan Ekim is a research assistant at the Institute Affair International in Rome believes that should the Kurds win at Kobane, it would be extra difficult to complete the disarming of the PKK. Ekim argued that the Turkish president is motivated by opportunism, treating the peace process as a bargaining chip for his other political goals. Perhaps his support will arrive, when the Kurds have realised that quasi-independence is not a viable option

The final and significant point to highlight is that Jonathan Spyer went further and illustrated that while the road to sovereignty for the Kurdish remains strewn with obstacles. There are two main forces in Kurdish politics today. One of them derives from the Iraqi Kurdish experience, the other from that of Turkey. In recent years, each of these factions has made considerable progress toward forming rival “pan-Kurdish” movements .

In conclusion

The above argument and facts could obviously show that the Turkish government is still fearful of autonomy as Francesco Palermo emphasised that a strong democracy is not afraid of autonomy and democratic minority mostly does not regard as the first step towards independence . By considering Michael Keating concern as he outlined several demands for autonomy, it becomes clear why Kurdish people demand autonomy and they have fought for autonomy for many years. For example, as Keating highlighted culture, language and traditional ways of life. And another important element he mentioned was economic, which again is a critical point regarding Kurdish issue in Turkey.  In support of Keating’s procedure for autonomy, the case of former Member of Parliaments Leyla Zana along with four other Democracy Party Members of Parliament can effortlessly display that autonomy for Kurdish minority is essential and it could be achievable in a long term.

Autonomy in Bakuri Kurdistan would be more achievable if PKK were removed as a terrorist organisation in the Europe as well as USA, as William Gourlay illustrated that many western observers see PKK and its sister party PYD as the most effective bulwarks against ISIS encroachment. Meanwhile, across Europe calls are being made to remove the PKK’s ‘terrorist’ classification.  Unquestionably European Union’s role is important on the Kurdish issue in Turkey as mentioned above, it is evident that when Abdullah Öcalan announce ceasefire in February 2013, the EU Parliament devoted a plenary debate to Turkey-PKK negotiations. The Parliament also noted that the result to the Kurdish question has critical implications for EU enlargement. “As a candidate country, Turkey has to meet the Copenhagen political criteria, including the stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities”, declared the Irish Minister of European Affairs, Lucinda Creighton, speaking on behalf of the Council Presidency when opening the European Parliament debate, “the Kurdish issue has implications in all of these areas .

  A, Gagnon., M, Keating., (ed), Political Autonomy and Divided Societies Imagining Democratic Alternatives in Complex Settings, ( New York & Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmilan. 2012) p.93
  Ibid., p.92
  M, Weller.,  and S, Wolff, (ed) Autonomy, Self-governance and Conflict Resolution.  Innovative approaches to institutional design in divided societies (London & New York: Routledge. 2005) p. 1
  Gagnon., & Keating, Op. Cit. p. 13
  S, L, Greer., Nationalism and Self-Government The Politics of Autonomy in Scotland and Catalonia (Albany, New York: State University of New York Press. 2007) pp. 1-4
  M, Charountaki., ‘Kurdish policies in Syria under the Arab Uprisings: a revisiting of IR in the new Middle Eastern order’, Third World Quarterly, Vol, 36, No, 2, (2015), pp. 344-345. Available at: (accessed on April. 2015)
  J, Spyer., ‘Say It Again. Kurdish Independence Now’, The Tower Magazine, Issue 6. September 2013. Available at: (Accessed April. 2015)
  D, Romano., ‘Kurdish Politics in the Middle East (review)’, The Middle East Journal, Vol, 64, No. 2, p. 311 available at:  (Accessed on April. 2015)
  J, Neriah., ‘Kurdistan: The Next Flashpoint Between Turkey, Iraq, and the Syrian Revolt’, Jerusalem centre for public affairs, 5th August  2012. Available at:  (accessed on April. 2015)
  M, Werz., and M, Hoffman., ‘The United States, Turkey, and the Kurdish Regions’, Centre for American Progress, July 2014. p. 10. Available at:
  Global Security. Org., ‘‘Democratic Union Party [PYD]’’, Global Secuirty.Org. Available at: (Accessed on April. 2015)
  Kurdistan National Congress (KNK), ‘‘Canton Based Democratic Autonomy of Rojava (Western Kurdistan – Northern Syria)’’, Peace in Kurdistan Campaign, p. 7. Available at: (Acceessed on April. 2015)
  The Grand National Assembly of Turkey, “Constitution of the Republic of Turkey’’, p.9. Available at: (Accessed on April. 2015)
  Abdullah, O., War and Peace in Kurdistan, (Cologne: International Initiative, 2009), p. 19. Available at:  (Accessed on April.2015)
  Today’s Zaman. ‘‘President Erdoğan says Turkey never had a Kurdish problem’’, 15th March, 2015. Available at: (Accessed on April. 2015)
  EU Turkey Civic Commission (EUTCC), Fourth International Conference on EU Turkey and the Kurds, European Parliament, Brussels, December (2007)
  C, Onal., ‘‘Autonomous Kurdistan evolving amid graft crisis’’, Today’s Zaman, 2nd March 2014. Available at:  (Accessed on April 2015)
  Hürriyet Daily News, “Erdoğan unveils ‘strong’ presidency vision, promises new Constitution,” July 11, 2014,
  J, Burch., and G, Solaker.,  “Turkey presents reforms aimed at pressing Kurdish peace process,” Reuters, 30th September, 2013, Available at: (Accesssed on April. 2015)
  Today’s Zaman, “PKK chief urges ‘meaningful’ peace talks,” 13th October, 2013, available at  (Accessed on April2015)
  W, Gourlay., ‘‘Turkey: seeing Kurdish politics through a narrow prism’’, Open Democracy, 2nd December 2014. Available at:  (Accessed on April 2015)
  S, Ekim., ‘‘Turkey, Kobane and the Kurdish question’’, Open Democracy, 10th November 2014. Available at: (Accessed on April.2015)
  Spyer., Op. Cit.
  Gangnon, and Keating. Op. Cit. pp.92-93
  E, Pergolizzi., ‘‘An Uncertain Road to Peace: Domestic and Regional Challenges in the Turkish-Kurdish Process’’, Istituto Affari Internazionali, 18th June 2013. P. 10
Aviable at: (Accessed on April 2015)



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