Regional Stability

Murder in France, Fragile Opening in Turkey

Kurdistan Workers' Party soldiers
Kurdistan Workers’ Party soldiers. Photo: james_gordon_losangeles/flickr.

Who carried out the execution of three women prominent in the European branch of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in Paris on January 9 and what was their intended message are unclear. The dead included Sakine Cansız, a long-time senior figure in the organization, Fidan Doğan, the Paris representative of the pro-PKK Kurdistan National Congress, and Leyla Söylemez, a younger Kurdish activist. Regional players and pundits are already speculating: the assassinations were carried out by Turkey’s “Deep State;” they are opening shots in a war within the PKK over leadership and policy; or it might be Syria, Iran, or some other regional actor with an axe to grind. The motives ascribed depend on who was the actor and how conspiratorially inclined the pundit is. The obvious context is the unprecedented opening toward one another carried out in recent weeks by the Turkish government and jailed PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan. For one reason or another, the perpetrators wanted to derail or at least skew that discussion, and they may well succeed.

Öcalan and the authorities in Ankara have danced with one another for some time. As early as 2005, Turkish intelligence engaged in quiet conversations with him and other PKK leaders, especially in Europe, to see whether and how some modus vivendi could end the violence. These sometimes showed promise, and some positive steps were taken, but ultimately each effort ran aground. In December, the authorities allowed Öcalan’s brother Mehmet to travel to his prison on Imralı Island in the Sea of Marmara, where the PKK leader has been held since 1999. Mehmet Öcalan subsequently announced that his brother believes “a new Kurdish initiative [by Turkey] could take place” to which, “if deep powers do not intervene,” the imprisoned PKK leader “will contribute.” Öcalan subsequently defused an anti-government hunger strike being staged by imprisoned Kurds accused of terrorism. On December 28, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan made public that Turkish intelligence had met with Öcalan directly days earlier–the first such public admission of high-level government conversations with the jailed PKK leader. In another unprecedented move, the government subsequently allowed two parliamentarians representing the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) to meet with Öcalan on Imralı and were reportedly told by the PKK leader that the era of armed struggle is over. These and other BDP figures traveled immediately after to northern Iraq and Europe to brief the PKK leadership abroad on Öcalan’s status and plans.

Regional Stability

Arab States of Uncertainty

Tahrir Flags
Tahrir Flags. Photo: AK Rockefeller/flickr.

MADRID – The revolutions that swept the Arab world during the last two years have exposed the extraordinary fragility of key Arab states. With the exception of historical countries such as Egypt or Morocco, most Arab states are artificial constructs of European colonialism, which combined disparate tribes and ethnicities into unitary states that could be held together only by authoritarian rule and a common enemy – Zionism and its Western patrons.

Today’s turmoil, however, is no longer driven by anger at foreign forces; instead, it marks a second phase of the de-colonization process: the assertion of the right of self-determination by peoples and tribes united only by a dictator’s yoke. Indeed, it is not entirely farfetched to anticipate the emergence of new Arab states from the debris of the old, artificial ones. The American invasion of Iraq set the pattern, for it broke the central government’s power and empowered ethnic and religious enclaves.

What happened in Yugoslavia, an ill-conceived product of Wilsonian diplomacy, could happen in the more cynical imperial creations in the Middle East. What Sigmund Freud defined as “the narcissism of minor differences” caused Yugoslavia to split into seven small states (including Kosovo), following the bloodiest fighting in Europe since World War II. Can the Arab states avoid a similar fate?

Regional Stability

Mercenaries from Mali to Foment Unrest in Côte d’Ivoire?

UNOCI Conducts Disarmament Operation in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire – February 2012. Photo: United Nations/flickr

According to a controversial report commissioned by the United Nations, former Ivorian President Laurent Gbabo’s exiled allies are recruiting Islamists from Northern Mali to destabilize the current government of President Alassane Ouattara.

News of the report broke on Saturday, October 6, 2012 on Radio France International (RFI). In an article entitled “Côte d’Ivoire: UN report rich in revelations” [fr] RFI describes the alleged links between the pro-Gbabo Ivorian Patriotic Front (FPI) and Ansar Dine Islamists in Mali. Their report also claims that a meeting took place on the border between Mauritania and Senegal to discuss the mobilization of mercenaries.