“Is the era of the Kurds approaching?”
Here, Nilüfer Koç, Co-chair of the KNK is interviewed for the latest issue of the Kurdistan Report, a bimonthly publication produced in Germany, about the 15th General Assembly Meeting of the Kurdistan National Congress (KNK). This is a translation of the German original.
You held your general assembly meeting at a period favourable for the Kurds in the Middle East. How did this affect your meeting?
The political and social developments of the last year once more have been reflected on our 15th General Assembly Meeting. The countless successes against the Islamic State (IS) in Rojava [kurd.: Western; Western Kurdistan/North Syria] and Başur [kurd.: Southern; Southern Kurdistan/North Iraq], Abdullah Öcalan’s three years long political struggle of negotiations with the Turkish AKP (Justice and Development Party) government, the consolidation of the democratic autonomy in Rojava and the increasing international political interest in Kurdistan were the significant common denominators of the debates. Despite their political differences the 52 speakers of various Kurdish political parties were in agreement on many issues: that it was now indeed the era of the Kurds.
Moreover, the political parties, the representatives of the Yezidi, Alevi, Christian and Islamic communities also agreed upon that during the restructuring of the Middle East the Kurds could be no more ignored like, for example, in 1923 during the debates on the Treaty of Lausanne. Back then the Kurds had been excluded and their future was decided by foreign powers. Kurdistan was condemned to be a regional as well as an international colony. Today, after 92 years, the picture looks totally different: Kurds are organised in all the four parts of Kurdistan. The solidarity between the Kurdish populations in Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Syria and in the diaspora has strengthened itself. The political differences of the Kurdish political parties no longer provide the same opportunities for foreign interventions like they used to. The high level of political consciousness in the Kurdish population puts the political parties under massive pressure that prevents a “fratricidal war”.
In contrast to that it has been noted that the once mighty colonial powers in Kurdistan were stuck in serious troubles, both in domestic and foreign policies. This means, the states, that is the executors of the politics of denial and destruction against the Kurds have never been so weak as they are today. There is international focus and criticism of the foreign policy of Turkey. The Baath regime in Syria is kept on life support. Iran is both in domestic and foreign policy marginalised to such an extent that even little unrests in the country could inflict great damage on the regime. The Arabic part of Iraq, whether Sunni or Shia, is also stuck in an insurmountable chaos.
For decades these colonial states have done everything conceivable in order to suppress the right to self-determination of the Kurdish people. On the international level they were able to sell the struggle of the Kurdish people as a threat to their sovereignty and have always defamed the right to self-determination as separatism. Not that they would have given up fighting against the Kurds otherwise. Even though they have committed collective crimes for decades in Kurdistan at least they cannot come together in an anti-Kurdish alliance, as they are enemies of each other themselves. Internationally they lose credibility, whereas the image of the Kurds is more and more raised as one of the guarantors of stability.
Almost all the speeches referred to the negative and aggressive politics of the current Turkish government. The speakers from Başur as well as from Rojava criticised the anti-Kurdish politics of the Turkish government. The debates at large pointed out that apart from in Rojava and Başur, Turkey was now also a waging a war against the Kurds in Bakur [kurd.: Northern; Northern Kurdistan/Southeast Turkey]. In Rojava Turkey was achieving its anti-Kurdish objectives by supporting the IS; for Başur there has been reference to Turkish participation in the fall of Mûsils (Mossuls). Furthermore, it has been stressed that the AKP government was attempting to create an inter-Kurdish conflict, in particular, to provoke a confrontation between the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (PDK). For this reason, the success of the Kurds in the parliamentary elections in Turkey last June was recognised as an historic victory and the importance of the snap elections to be held on 1 November was again emphasised. The recently proclaimed democratic autonomy in parts of Bakur was welcomed and recognised as a legitimate application of the right to self-determination. At the same time, it was stressed that in the last three years of the “peace process” between the Turkish state, Abdullah Öcalan, the People’s Democratic Party (HDP) and the PKK, the AKP government had not embraced the Kurdish hand extended for peace. In this context, the release of Öcalan was once more underlined as one of the premises of peace.
Also, many of the speeches urged joint actions against the AKP government and they recognised the struggle against the AKP as a Kurdish national necessity as the AKP is currently considered as a danger for the three parts of Kurdistan.
An important issue was the political crisis in Başur. It has been stressed that in the long run it could constitute a risk for the autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) since the internal problems were jeopardising the foreign policy opportunities. A democratisation of the political structures in Başur was demanded. For this end the KNK should include more Kurdish parties and exercise the function of a Pan-Kurdish Congress.
The Revolution of Rojava should continue enjoying the national attention of the Kurds and should be further supported as a national achievement; and the struggle should be made for its international acceptance.
The massacre of Yezidi Kurds in the last year has struck, from a national perspective, an important and sensitive chord. The genocide of the Yezidis has been once again debated as a national trauma and demands were raised that those who were responsible sooner or later had to be brought to account.
The sharp criticism of the Kurdish political parties by the women in this year’s congress was amazing. Again and again the positive experiences of the women in Bakur and Rojava were brought up and the political parties in Başur and Rojhilat [kurd.: Eastern; Eastern Kurdistan/West Iran] were urged to open their internal structures through the emancipatory participation of the women. The successes of the Women’s Protection Units (YPJ; in Rojava) and the Free Women’s Units STAR [YJA Star; in Bakur] as well as the high political participation of women in every sphere of life in both parts of Kurdistan must be seen as the national vanguard of the social revolution.
The Christian Assyrians stated that their “resurrection” had begun together with the struggle of the Kurds in Rojava and that they wanted to experience it in Başur as well. They said that for the first time since the fall of the Assyrian Kingdom they were capable of defending themselves against the attacks of IS. They pointed to the necessity of a solution in Rojava.
The KNK welcomed the fact that now also Arabic political parties and representatives of Mandaeans and the Kaka’i (Yarsani) were its members. So far it was the case for only two Assyrian parties. The large number of women in this year’s meeting was also positively received. However, strong criticism against the KNK was particularly expressed, saying that it was not proactive enough during acute political developments.
The KNK formulates the national unity as one of its main goals. What is the current situation today?
The achievements in the last year such as the victories of Kobanê, Girê Spî (Tell Abyad), Maxmur, Şengal (Sinjar) as well as the successful defence of other towns of the KRG against IS have strengthened the national consciousness of the Kurds. The electoral success of the Kurds on 7 June in Turkey also had a similar effect. The conclusion is that when Kurds fight together then they win. Therefore, the discussion on the development of a national strategy of defence as well as a common strategy in international politics was stressed as something inevitable. Also the fact that more and more international powers consider the Kurdish liberation struggle as a promotion of stability opens up new diplomatic opportunities for the Kurds.
Hence, as the KNK we will put our main focus in the future on developing different ways to proactively tackle the conflicts between the parties. The national unity does exist within the population. The experiences of the last year have shown that for Kobane the Kurds in all four parts of Kurdistan, as well as in the diaspora, responded with empathy and went on to the barricades. For the relationship between the individual separate parts of Kurdistan we can say that the national solidarity has reached the philosophical dimension that is “one for all and all for one”. When the situation became critical for Kobane or when Maxmur in Başur was seriously threatened by IS, the Kurds in Bakur, Rojhilat, Başur and Rojava stood up. This new development also contains new opportunities for the long-desired Kurdish National Congress. For the solidarity between the people in different parts of the land puts the political parties under an immense political pressure.
The problems in regards to national unity are created by the political parties. In Kurdistan the political landscape is shaped by the conservative traditionalists and progressive democrats. From within the KNK we must act to maintain the dialogue between the different political lines and we must be able to reach a kind of a mutual agreement on Kurdish domestic politics. Mutual respect and, when there are internal conflicts, the willingness to keep the Turkish and Iranian colonial states as well as Global Players out of our own matters, will be necessary to achieve this aim.
We must also push through national policies and clarity concerning the alliance politics of the individual Kurdish parties with Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria. It is unacceptable that the Kurdish alliance politics strengthens the colonial states and damages the Kurdish interests. That means we must formulate common policies for our foreign relations. If we succeed in this, then nothing could stand on the path towards the Kurdish National Congress. Because, as it has been expressed many times before, the Kurds believe in practicing the right to self-determination within the existing national state borders. Also they fight for decentralisation. These demands are relatively modest and therefore constitute no danger against the so often emphasised sovereignty of the Turkish, Iranian, Iraqi and Syrian states. Thereby the Kurdish National Congress wouldn’t create a threat to the interests of foreign powers.
Already in 2013 in response to the appeal of Abdullah Öcalan, the chairman of Koma Civakên Kurdistan (KCK) [Group of Communities in Kurdistan], we undertook the first step in order to initiate the birth of the Kurdish National Congress. At that time Mr Mesud Barzani, the president of the KRG and the chairman of the PDK had invited, in his, Abdullah Öcalan’s and Jalal Talabani’s names, 72 Kurdish parties to the first meeting in 19 July 2013. Jalal Talabani is the chairman of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (YNK), the second biggest party in the KRG and back then he was also the President of Iraq. Under the auspices of Mr Barzani we were engaged in discussions for four months. We were, however, unable to establish the Congress. The Kurdish parties had polarised positions on Rojava. Besides we made the mistake of carrying out the preparations for the Congress during the political campaigns for the parliamentary elections in the KRG. Thus some of the parties there have exploited the actual Congress preparation work for their own electoral success.
How did you assess at your Congress the tasks and the risks for the Kurds? What are the current challenges and opportunities for them?
The only risk which was referred to was the problem of the internal division. The division, which is vehemently forced by the AKP and Iran, is raging at the moment in the Autonomous Region of Kurdistan in the form of a serious political leadership crisis. Whilst in Bakur and Rojava historical steps have been taken concerning the inner-societal democracy according to the concept of “Unity of Diversity”, Başur is still divided between the conservative-traditional and progressive-modern politics. One should never disregard the fact that neither Iran nor Turkey nor some Arabic states were happy with the autonomous status of the KRG. Başur as a Kurdish achievement is for them still a thorn in the eye. With different methods they try to colonise and destabilise Başur. The situation in terms of Rojava is the same. The states mentioned above have been fighting for the last four years against the possibility that the Kurds could develop Rojava as an autonomous section within the future democratic Syria. Amongst those states Turkey is the most aggressive one. The Kurdish politics of alliance of the individual political parties creates the conditions for those states, especially for Turkey’s AKP, to intervene.
In my closing speech at the Congress I emphasised many times that the AKP was a national threat for all the Kurds. Their fear that we could profit from the political opportunities has again caused a Kurdophobia (anti-Kurdish sentiment) among them and this time it is also extended to the Kurds living on the other side of the Turkish border. The AKP consider the Kurds as an obstacle, which, in the political vacuum in Syria, in the chaos in Iraq and as the political vanguard of the opposition in Turkey, has prevented the Turkish state from realising its Neo-Ottomanist vision. In Rojava, with the help of the IS, AKP has been waging war for 3 years. In Başur it fuels a conflict between the PKK and PDK. Furthermore, with its double strategy it is aggravating the crisis in the relationship between Baghdad and Hewlêr (Erbil). With the help of the Turkish intelligence agency MIT it meddles in the internal affairs of the KRG. In cooperation with Saudi Arabia and Qatar the AKP tries to develop a joint strategy against Rojava and Başur. It foments conflicts between Kurds and Arabs, between Kurds and the Turkmen. For the AKP the KRG means oil. The oil is being sold by the KRG via Turkey, the only option of transport, under illegal terms and conditions imposed by the AKP. Around 15% of the oil revenues flow directly into the coffers of the AKP and the Erdogan family.
Also on the international level the AKP strives to damage the positive image of the Kurds. Because especially the USA has drawn closer towards some of the Kurdish political parties like the Democratic Union Party (PYD) in Rojava and publicly provided support. This development recently led to a situation where the Turkish Prime Minister threatened the USA: in the event of the continuation of the US-American military support for Rojava, Turkey would directly and militarily attack the PYD controlled areas.
The AKP has also opened the gates to Europe, especially to Germany, for the refugees. This threat and extortion followed when critical voices against the AKP leadership grew louder in Berlin.
All-in-all, Europe, particularly Germany and Russia as well as the US are confronted with the reality of making a new decision on the Kurdish question. But above all on the PKK.
What do you think about the role of the West in regards to the political struggle for unity of the Kurds: supportive or obstructive?
I think that the divide-and-rule policy of the West in Kurdistan will become increasingly difficult to apply. Categorising the Kurdish political parties into “the good ones” and “the bad ones” has little chance in the future. The PKK was primarily a problem for Western politics. To continue to treat the PKK as a problem will not be easy due to its influence on all four parts of Kurdistan. It should be remarked that the political culture of the PKK as a modern and progressive force currently enjoys great sympathy in all four parts of Kurdistan as well as in the Kurdish diaspora. Moreover, one must note that it is the only Kurdish force militarily present in all parts of Kurdistan. Finally, the PKK also has guerrilla forces in the KRG to combat the IS. In the Middle East the presence and strength of military forces are decisive for political work. Last but not least Kurdistan is under IS threat. With its strategy of defence, the PKK has proven its strength and in Kobanê, Girê Spî, Şengal, Maxmur it destroyed the myth of invincibility of the IS. That is why the AKP is now busy integrating some sections of the IS into the al-Nusra Front and to arm them in order to continue the war with those forces against the Kurds.
In near future it will be important to bring some order in to the chaos in Syria and Iraq. In this respect the liberation of, among others, Kaniya Dil (Jarabulus) from the IS, the US counts on the Kurdish forces. The event of Kaniya Dil will precipitate the event of ar-Raqqa and then the event of Mûsil. In this context it will be harder to maintain an anti-PKK position. Even overcoming the crisis in the KRG depends heavily on the stance of the PKK. Despite the deliberate provocations of the AKP, the PKK has declared clearly and explicitly that it will not be engaged in any confrontation with the PDK and the PDK expressed itself accordingly. Many critical voices in the KRG listen to the PKK. This is one reason why the KRG is now faced with the challenge to convince the PDK by political means to a democratic and parliamentary line. The autonomous region is not only for the Kurds a national achievement, but it is also of importance for the international powers as a stable entity. The stability of the KRG depends also on the struggle of the Kurds against the AKP in Turkey.
For a considerably long time I have been following how the European governments have been under pressure in regards to the Kurds. Europe and above all Germany see themselves faced with a new challenge. Here Kurdish diplomacy can provide a serious contribution by being involved in a systematic work of persuasion, because the scepticism based on the prejudices of the last 40 years still prevails in Europe. Here concerns still exist about to what extent the non-state (non-governmental) players could be trusted. Besides, currently it is very complicated for Europe to deal with the AKP government. Once Europe and the US helped the AKP to power as a model of moderate Islam, but now the AKP is changed and has become something totally different, which Europe as well as the US has problems with. This is an AKP, which has been engaged in its proxy war in Syria through IS by any means possible and in contradiction to the international anti-IS coalition. The AKP destabilises wherever it intervenes and deepens the already existing chaos.
For Germany I now raise this question: Will it invest like during the times of the ‘Kaiser’ in “the sick man upon the Bosporus” in order to prolong its lifetime or are the democratic forces in the country going to be supported instead? Back then it was Sultan Abdul Hamid II and today it is Sultan Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
I think a weakening of the Kurdish forces will have a negative effect on the entire Middle East. Mainly because the weakness of the Kurds would mean the strengthening of IS as well as extending the life expectancy of the corrupt and anti-democratic regimes. Therefore, the convention of the Kurds is also in the interest of all parties, who are interested in the stability in the Middle East.
 The project of a Pan-Kurdish General Assembly/Conference, which has been postponed over and over again for years. Not to be confused with the KNK, the institution itself with the similar name.
View archives of the Kurdistan Report here.