What I consider this attempt to be is yet another empty step on behalf of Turkey for the Justice and Development Party (AKP) to develop its own strategy. I have three good reasons for why the meeting will not produce any tangible results.
First, unlike what Turkish media presents, Massoud Barzani has very limited influence over Syrian Kurds, especially on the Kurds who live around Kurd Mountain, which is close to Aleppo. To better explain Barzani’s influence over Syrian Kurds one needs to compare his influence over Turkey’s Kurds. As we all know, Barzani has some influence over tribal Kurds in Turkey near the Iraqi border but almost no influence over Kurds in major city centers, such as Diyarbakir, Batman, Van or Mus. Similarly, Barzani has some influence over tribal, rural Kurds in Syria close to the Iraqi border, but almost has no influence over urban Kurds especially in Afrin and to some degree in Qamishli.
Those who want to compare Barzani’s influence over Kurds in Qamishli need to look at what has happened when pro-PKK Democratic Union Party (PYD) members and pro-Barzani Kurdish National Congress (KNC) Kurds confronted each other a few months ago. It was KNC members who left the scene because they know the PYD’s capacity, influence and capability of engaging in battle.
Since Barzani’s influence over Syrian Kurds is very limited, I think Turkey’s hope that Barzani could do something about the PKK states is just a wishful thinking. Barzani could not to anything to counter the PKK state inside Syria.
Second, Barzani’s strategy in response to the new development is to find new avenues to exert his influence over the new state as much as he can. Thus, Barzani invited Kurdish parties in Syria to a negotiation table to find a middle ground between them. By doing this, Barzani hoped to gain some influence over the newly emerging system.
The PKK and PYD came to the table to negotiate with Barzani not because they are weak and in need of such negotiation but because they need some form of legitimacy from Kurdish authorities first and from the international community in the future. Therefore, Barzani would not want to do anything against the PKK before he secures and stabilizes his influence over Kurdish people in Syria.
Third, Barzani’s outlook on the Kurdish question is very different from the PKK’s outlook. The PKK wants to establish the KCK model, a democratic autonomy, a mixed model that was borrowed from Mandela’s South Africa and Gaddafi’s Libya. In this model, the PKK trusts in the capacity of its own social mobilization network and hopes that the PKK would control the society through existing and lively network activities. Therefore for the PKK model, it requires a capacity to mobilize the grassroots to establish such a model.
On the other hand, Barzani’s model for how to establish a state is a based on a tribal hierarchy and tribal relations. Abdullah Öcalan calls this form of state a “primitive state” and considers Barzani’s way of statehood the antithesis of his model.
Given that the PKK is an international organization that has well established networks in four countries, which requires a KCK model to function in all four parts of the Kurdish region, the PKK would not want Barzani to overexert its influence in Syrian Kurdish affairs. Thus, there is no way that the PKK/PYD and Barzani would establish a unbreakable marriage. The relationship between the two is rather a temporary relation that will be broken sooner or later. For all these three reasons, Davutoğlu’s attempt to reach out to Barzani to deal with the PKK state inside Syria is an empty step. Such a meeting will, however, function as a pacifier for Turkish public anger and will prevent questioning and criticism of the Turkish government’s failure to anticipate the emerging PKK state inside Syria.
I think at this stage that is what Mr. Davutoğlu and the AKP government is hoping for. The pro-AKP media’s attempt to hide the emerging PKK state in Syria and antagonistic attitude toward those who reveal this reality indicate that what the AKP government cares about is hiding the emerging development for the moment and waiting and see how to deal with it in the near future. If possible, the AKP government is in search of a way to postpone the emergence of the PKK state because they, too, know that there is no way that Turkey will be able to prevent the emergence of such a state. Thus, for now, the AKP government wants to find a pacifier to pacify Turkish nationalist anger toward the AKP government to win some time. Hence, Davutoğlu’s visit to Barzani is an attempt to find a pacifier: no more, no less.