Turkey has adopted a new strategy in its bid to solve its Kurdish “issue.”
Ankara’s outreach initiative has enormous energy implications, as Turkey currently imports 90 percent of its energy supplies and many pipelines run through Turkey’s eastern Kurdish regions, a tempting target which Kurdish militants have attacked in the past.
Under the new plan of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, his government will not attempt negotiations with Abdullah Ocalan, the leader of the outlawed separatist Marxist Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, which Turkey and many other nations have branded a terrorist group.
Captured in Nairobi on 15 February 1999 and extradited to Turkey, Ocalan was sentenced to death under Article 125 of the Turkish Penal Code, which was later commuted to life imprisonment when Turkey abolished the death penalty in support of its bid to join the European Union.
Despite his imprisonment Ocalan remains visible, having published several books from prison, as recently as 2011.
Despite Ocalan’s imprisonment the PKK continues its campaign, with the Turkish military responding in kind. On 24 March Turkish forces killed 15 female PKK fighters
in Bitlis province. High-level government officials believe that the PKK sought to turn Nawruz, a pre-Islamic spring festival primarily celebrated by Kurds in Turkey, into a widespread uprising in order to force the Turkish government into resuming the 2010 talks held with PKK leaders in Norway, which were confirmed by a September 2011 recording that revealed the secret talks in Oslo.
Under Erdogan’s new initiative, rather than attempt negotiations with Ocalan, the Turkish government instead will only hold talks with the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) and will invite the Iraqi autonomous Kurdish region President Massoud Barzani, to act as a negotiator to broker any deals with the PKK. Skeptics state that the policy is likely to fail.
The government is soldiering on nevertheless. In an interview with Today's Zaman, Idris Bal, a terrorism expert and the Justice and Development Party's (AK Party) Kutahya deputy, Erdogan’s party, said that the Turkish government will pursue a “carrot and stick” approach, focusing on fighting PKK militants while expanding the cultural rights of Kurdish citizens as a group to prove its commitment to democratization. "We will not give them (the PKK and its supporters) another chance to exploit the democratic initiatives we have introduced to solve the Kurdish issue. Under the new strategy, we will be primarily working for the security of our people."
Under the new strategy the Kurdish issue will be addressed by Parliament as a whole. Fueling Ankara’s optimism Barzani, seen as a key element in Turkey's new strategy, potentially has the clout to convince the PKK to abandon their armed struggle. The Turkish government intends to ask Barzani to negotiate with the PKK and analysts believe that the Kurdish National Conference, which will be held in Arbil in June, could be an important forum for Barzani to convince the PKK to end their attacks, as Barzani is planning to use the venue to announce his support for the Turkish government's policies to extend more rights to Kurds.
Barzani has a vested interest in peace, as Iraq’s Kurdistan has ever more deepening trade ties with Turkey.
As regards energy, Turkish pipelines are vulnerable to PKK attack. In their most notable success, on 5 August 2008 the PKK attacked the $3.6 billion, one million barrel per day, 1,092-mile Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline, which traverses 669 miles of Turkish territory to ship Azeri Caspian oil to Turkey’s Mediterranean Ceyhan port, nearly all of which contains significant Kurdish populations. An explosion devastated the BTC pipeline segment at Turkey’s Yurtbasi village; after Ankara was notified, valves 29 and 31 were closed as officials waited for the oil contained in the 4-mile segment of No. 30 terminal to burn out. BTC operator BP declared force majeure.
When BTC resumed operations 20 days later, Azerbaijan had been blocked from shipping approximately 17 million barrels of crude and the US Department of Energy estimated that Azerbaijan's final cost for the lost shipments was more than $1 billion. The PKK claimed responsibility for the attack.
So, will Ankara’s new initiative succeed? Like a baklava, the issue is acquiring ever more layers, as even if the Turkish government brings Barzani onboard, Syria also has PKK elements, which up to now have refrained from assault into Turkey, but the hardening attitude of the Turkish government towards Syria might well impel embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to go for broke and unleash them.
The simple political reality is that the Kurds, scattered across not only Turkey, Iraq and Syria, but Iran, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Lebanon and Afghanistan as well, are unlikely to see any of the nations countenance an independent Kurdish state carved out of their territory. Accordingly, the most realistic hope for the Kurds is to seek increased autonomy within existing state structures, and the Kurds of Iraq under Barzani have come the farthest.
Whether or not the men with guns will eventually come around to this point of view is the 64,000 lira question, and in the meantime the Azeri, Iraqi, Iran and Russian oil and natural gas exports transiting Turkish territory remain a tempting PKK target, where attacks have implications for global energy prices far beyond Turkey.
By. John C.K. Daly of Oilprice.com