June 7, 2019 / 11:32 PM
Turkey permission to Ocalan lawyers possible Erdogan trick: analyst

A Turkey affairs analyst believes Ankara’s permission to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) Leader Abdullah Ocalan lawyers to meet him in Imrali Island prison is a likely Turkey President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s plan and trick as Turkey Kurds are angry with Erdogan and his plans in Syria are doomed to fail.

James Carey, a journalist and editor at Geopolitics Alert, shed light on the decision behind the permission and the impacts of the meeting between Ocalan and his lawyers.

What follows is his full answers to Kurdpress question;

Did the hunger strikes made Turkey to allow lawyers to meet Ocalan?

The motivations behind what finally made the Turkish government allow access is still somewhat of a mystery, the hunger strikes likely did play some role. President Erdogan is in a tight spot at the moment while he tries to balance Turkey’s growing relationships with Russia and Iran at the same time he claims to want to retain the benefits of Turkey’s historic privileged relationship with the US, EU, and NATO. I think some of these public overtures to the Kurds by Erdogan may partly be a result of a stunt to make it seem like the AKP is using a softer, more humane hand with political dissidents. I think there is also the matter of Erdogan’s recent election losses in Ankara and Istanbul (and the new Istanbul election) which I will expand on in a moment.

Lawyers read a statement by Ocalan who called on Syrian Kurds to consider Turkey’s concerns; can we say there will be a new development regarding Turkey- Syrian Kurds engagement afterward?

I am hesitant to say that there will be a renewed round of talks between the Turkish government and Kurds in the near future but it is a possibility. As I see it, there are two possible directions Erdogan could go.

The first potential scenario is that Erdogan could just be temporarily softening his position on the Syrian Kurds for show to seem more lenient before the new Istanbul elections in order to possibly drum up a few more percentage points for the AKP. In this scenario, Erdogan is simply trying to draw enough voters who may be on the fence about voting AKP again into believing he is softening his crackdown on political opposition. If this ends up being what Erdogan is doing I suspect that once the election is over, any talk of negotiating with the Kurds will likely fade away and Erdogan will return to consolidating power to better cheat in the next national elections.

The other possibility is that maybe Erdogan does have a long term strategy of softening his position on the Kurds in both Syria and Turkey, but much like everything Erdogan does this too is also likely motivated by self-serving political motivations. Much like Erdogan has threatened - or actually started - anti-Kurdish operations in Syria and Iraq during previous elections like those last year and during the lead-up to the constitutional referendum vote, he may now be changing his tune to making peace with the Kurds for the sake of the AKP’s future. Erdogan has spent the last several years demonizing the Kurds in order to appeal to both his base and more importantly, his nationalist coalition partners from the MHP’s voters. The cracks in this coalition started to show as early as the last national election when Aksener and the nationalist defectors started the Iyi Party and now the division seems even greater as evidenced by the recent AKP losses. Erdogan may be having second thoughts about whether he will be able to trust the nationalists to help deliver him the presidency again and if the AKP can make some steps towards peace with Syrian Kurds perhaps some Kurdish voters will back the AKP. This seems a bit more unlikely than the previous scenario but it is possible Erdogan may believe he can return the earlier days of his political career when the AKP seemed more tolerant of Kurds and Armenians and it looked as if reconciliation may have been on the agenda. Erdogan may be seeking to pick up some of these former Kurdish AKP votes but with the AKP voters’ extremism only having grown over the previous years this will be difficult for Erdogan.

Do you believe Ocalan's engagement in Syrian- Turkey issues is related to Ocalan’s role in Syrian and Turkish affairs and Ankara cannot deny it?

Absolutely. Even our media and some politicians in the United States understand that there are close ties between the force we Americans know as the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the PKK. Erdogan and the AKP are well aware of this situation, and as your readers likely know, probably always have been which is likely a large part of the reason Ocalan has remained so cut off from the media, human rights NGOs and his own lawyers. As far as Erdogan waiting until now to try this strategy I suspect this is probably a result of multiple factors including Turkey’s role in Syrian peace negotiations with Iran and Russia, US President Trump’s dwindling commitment to keeping troops in northern Syria, and what I believe is the realization that Turkey’s proxy forces in Syria will never be capable of fully controlling Kurdish territory in Syria. Erdogan likely knows he can’t bluster and bomb his way to permanently resolving his Kurdish insurgency problem and will need to try other outlets including opening a channel to the PKK through Ocalan.

Can this issue lead to an opening in Northern Syria’s crisis regarding Turkey- Syrian Kurdish relations?

The answer to this question and the response to this statement by Ocalan is hard to predict. Although the fight with the PKK is primarily Turkey’s - and to a lesser extent NATO’s - concern there are going to be other actors that have to be taken into account in Syria. If Erdogan really does understand the Salafist forces in Syria backed by Ankara are nowhere near capable of eliminating the Kurdish “threat” without the Turkish military becoming more involved in Syria, further agitating Russia. Erdogan is still in the middle of improving relations with the Kremlin and is now probably trying to avoid this. With recent losses by Turkish proxies, one of the few remaining ways Turkey may be able to stay relevant in Syria is to begin a dialogue with the PKK in an attempt to gain some degree of control over northern Syria - even if it’s just a ceasefire with the SDF. This would allow Ankara to remain relevant as a power broker in Syria even without their jihadists and Erdogan likely sees this as a way to do some good for Turkey-US relations by giving Washington a chance to make a deal between their Kurdish allies in Syria and their NATO allies in Ankara, allow for a de-escalation in the current blustering by the US and possible easing of sanctions, and give Trump justification for removing US troops fighting with the SDF. Again, whether Erdogan can pull this off after years of riling up his voters with hate-filled speeches about the Kurds and using anti-PKK military operations to rack up political points. The statement by Ocalan may be part of the first step by Ankara and the PKK towards starting some type of negotiations but Erdogan will have to balance the interests of his voters along with those of his internal and international allies and adversaries that will make it a hard slog to attain a positive outcome. There is also a possibility that any negotiations could just implode right out of the gate, so the future is uncertain.

Reporter’s code: 50101