Kurdish Politics in the Middle East: The Role of the PKK's Changing Policy in Regional Politics

By Ozgur, Berkan | Insight Turkey, Winter 2019 | Go to article overview

Kurdish Politics in the Middle East: The Role of the PKK's Changing Policy in Regional Politics


Ozgur, Berkan, Insight Turkey


The PKK-Kurdistan Workers' Party's Regional Politics During and After the Cold War

By Ali Bala

Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018, 212 pages, $129, ISBN: 9783319422183

Iraqi Kurdistan, the PKKand International Relations, Theory and Ethnic Conflict

By Hannes Cerny

New York: Routledge, 2018, 340 pages, $64, ISBN: 9781138676176

When Strategy Collapses: The PKK's Urban Terrorist

Campaign

By Murat Yesiltas and Necdet Ozcelik

Istanbul: SETA Publications, 2018, 200 pages, M7.50, ISBN: 9789752459786

The transformation of the discourses of the PKK since the 2000s is placed virtually at the center of Middle East politics as they relate to the Kurdish issue. Particularly the Syrian civil war and the role of PYD, which is the Syrian branch of the PKK, have made the ideological and discursive evolution of the PKK, and the ways in which this evolving discourse has been implemented, one of the most interesting topics for scholars to elaborate. The evolution of the PKK/PYD affects the decisions of the Turkish government, as well as Iraqi (and other) Kurdish parties in domestic politics, and has directly impacted the course of the Syrian civil war. Therefore, this review article introduces and critically discusses recent contributions to the field of approaching the radical evolution of the PKK.

The books under review approach Kurdish politics from diverse perspectives and contribute to the rapidly increasing literature on Kurdish politics. These books differ considerably in terms of their methodological, theoretical, and empirical approaches toward Kurdish politics and its impact on both the domestic politics of regional states and the relationship between Kurdish parties themselves. The review has two main points. It firstly evaluates the books' theoretical and empirical contribution to the literature of international relations (IR). Secondly, it focuses on the role(s) the authors attribute to the ideological, political and military evolution of the PKK and its impact on regional politics.

Beyond State-Centrism: New Proposals for IR

Scholars have handled the transformation of Kurdish actors' politics in different ways. However, one perspective, which takes explanatory IR's (International Relations) state-centric approach as fixed, is very prominent in the IR literature. Despite the contribution of IR's state-centric understanding to the field, its assumption of the primacy of the state makes it blind to the practices of non-state armed actors. This reduces the essence of international relations to state-centric interpretations. Moreover, some scholars believe that adherents of this perspective overstate the role of ethnic identity in the politics of Kurdish actors towards other Kurdish groups and toward regional or global actors. Balci and Cerny argue that IR needs a new perspective, a new conceptualization, to complete the explanatory models (Balci, p. 2; Cerny, p. 6).

In this respect, Hannes Cerny's Iraqi Kurdistan, the PKKs and International Relations deploys theories of ethnic security dilemma and 'ethnic alliances model' to understand the relationship of the Kurdish parties among each other and with the states of the region, i.e., Turkey, Iraq, and Syria. Cerny's book can best be considered a political history account of the Kurdish movement in the Middle East, providing an analysis of the relations of Kurdish parties from the end of the First World War until the Syrian civil war. By reviewing relevant theories, and instead of taking states as the primary actor in world politics, Cerny locates Kurdish organizations as "ethno-nationalist parties" (p. 9) at the center of his analyses. In line with this assumption, Cerny proposes looking at ethno-nationalist actors such as the PKK, the KDP and the PUK as organizations like states that have security problems, interests, and foreign policies, etc. …

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