As the political gulf between Baghdad and Kurdistan continues to grow at a rapid rate, and Ankara revaluates its position in Iraq and the Middle East, the alliance between Turkey and Kurdistan assumes a new dawn.
The Middle East crisis has meant that sectarian, political, economic and strategic tides have dramatically shifted.
As Turkey’s “zero problems” policy with their neighbours has slowly unravelled, this has continuously made Ankara and Kurdistan natural allies, a far cry from the more tenuous relations of just a few years ago.
In recent weeks both the Kurdistan President Massaud Barzani and Kurdistan Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani have participated in productive and high-profile visits to Turkey, a symbol of the growing respect and solidarity that is pushing the two parties together.
Too often relations in the past have been based on the ideals of “what divides us, rather than what unites us”. Turkey may have a historical fear of Kurdish nationalism but it has slowly come to terms with the huge benefits that stability and constructive relations with the Kurds bring.
While politics plays a big part, especially, as the political earthquake across the Middle East has left governments scurrying to revaluate their positions, ultimately money talks and no rational government can ignore the massive trade and energy opportunities that come with a growing economic power-house such as Kurdistan.
Iraq is already Turkeys biggest trade partner, with Kurdistan accounting for the majority of that trade.
Kurdistan is the next energy hub of the Middle East and with its immense oil and gas reserves, Turkey stands to benefit tremendously with a close alliance with the Kurds.
This led to an inevitable energy pact with Turkey and Kurdistan that was always going to stir tensions in Baghdad.
Oil pipeline enhances autonomy
Kurdistan and Turkey used the international energy conference hosted in Erbil to outline details of a new pipeline that will drastically alter the political and economic map of Iraq and the greater region.
Kurdistan Minister of Natural Resources, Ashti Hawrami, confirmed the proposal of a new pipeline to be built within the next 12 months with a capacity of 1 million barrel per day that will carry Kurdish oil and gas via the Kirkuk-Ceyhan pipeline to Turkey.
The first phase of the pipeline scheduled for completion by October 2012 will carry crude from the Taq Taq oilfield. The second phase is due for completion by August 2013.
Kurdistan then plans to build a separate pipeline by 2014 that would connect to refineries in Ceyhan.
The new pipeline will greatly diminish Kurdistan’s dependence on Baghdad both for exportation of oil and import of refined oil products and also ensure that Kurdistan has an oil exportation infrastructure solely within their territory.
Baghdad unsurprisingly denounced the deal with a repeat of its usual rhetoric that all deals must be ratified by the federal government. Nechirvan Barzani reiterated the long-time Kurdish position that their oil deals fall within the remits of the constitution, while stating at the energy conference, “unlike some of the officials of the federal government in Baghdad, we believe that our policies in the field of energy and natural resources should be based on cooperation and coordination, and not on hostility, confrontation and retaliation.”
The fact that Turkey had a high-profile representation including Energy and Natural Resources Taner Yildiz, demonstrated Ankara’s willingness to deal with Kurds directly at the expense of angering Baghdad.
The one last rope that Baghdad has over Kurdistan is over oil. By taking export infrastructure, size and format of exports and receipt of the respective revenues, Kurdistan seeks to break that rope. Currently, oil exports in Kurdistan are halted over dispute of payments to foreign parties.
However, dispute over oil exports is just tip of the iceberg as relations between Baghdad and Erbil have drastically declined, with Massaud Barzani in repeated remarks making it very clear that Kurds will no longer tolerate the policies of Nouri al-Maliki and will take matters into their own hands if the situation doesn’t change.
The fact that Barzani openly repeated this warning in Ankara to Turkish leaders shows an increasingly confident Kurdistan but also shows that Turkey is slowly coming to terms with realities on the ground.
Zero problems policy backfires
At the current time Turkey is far from its doctrine of zero problems with its neighbours. Its increasingly dragged into the uprising in Syria as its opposition to Bashar al-Assad has accelerated, especially as Damascus renews its ties and support of the PKK. Its relations with Iran has cooled as Tehran has sided with Assad, refused to backdown over its nuclear ambitions while becoming uncomfortable with the idea of Turkey hosting a NATO anti-missile shield just next door. Its relations with Baghdad have deteriorated with harsh exchange of words in recent weeks between Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Maliki that were exasperated with Ankara affectively affording protection to exiled Sunni Vice-President, Tariq al-Hashemi and accusing Maliki of monopolising power and stoking sectarian tensions.
The end result is that Turkey needs the secular Kurds as a strategic political ally and as a key buffer to Shiite dominance, to put pressure on Iraqi Kurds to leverage influence over the Kurds in Syria to back the Arab dominated Syrian opposition, and as a way of maintaining equilibrium in a fast changing region.
In addition, as one of the fastest growing economies in the world, Turkish energy demands are increasing all the time. It has an overriding reliance on Russia and particularly Iran which provides a third of its gas supplies, for its energy needs.
Turkey is already a key part of the 1 million bpd Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) oil pipeline from the Caspian Sea. Oil and gas supplies from Kurdistan will quench its own energy first but also allow it to diversify its current dependence on limited sources, whilst at the same time confirming its role as a strategic energy hub of Europe that will bring with its levies and taxes billions of dollars of revenue to Turkey.
Oil in Kurdistan belongs to Kurds
On paper Iraq is one of richest countries in the world with its immense oil reserves. However, for decades upon end the people have endured suffering as opposed to prosperity for their divine gift.
In the example of Kurdistan, oil revenues were used not to promote unity and brotherhood but to purchase apparatus to systemically oppress the Kurds and destroy their villages and livelihood.
One can only imagine what Kurdistan or the rest of Iraq for that matter would look like if vast oil revenues were used in a rightful and productive manner.
Now the pages of history have turned and a new dawn has arrived. Kurdistan can look to Baghdad for their rewards from the oil reserves and rely on Arab sentiments, or take matters into their own hands and use oil in Kurdistan for their own benefit.
This doesn’t mean that Kurds will not abide by the constitution or their allocated share of revenues; it just means that it doesn’t wait indefinitely for fairness and equitable distribution of wealth that Hawrami has alluded to.
Indeed the implementation of revenue sharing and Iraqis getting a fair slice of the cake whilst adhering to a constitution approved by the majority of the population can bring unity. But this is Iraq after all and one shouldn’t hold it breath with distant dreams.
Note of caution to Kurds
Whilst relations with Turkey are increasingly strong with the crisis in the Middle East and Turkey’s frosty relations with their neighbours pushing them closer to the Kurds, in the Middle East nothing is irreversible.
Turkey is still weary of Kurdish independence, anxious over the possibility of another Kurdistan developing on its doorstep in Syria and above all has a major Kurdish problem that it has failed to effectively address for many decades.
Furthermore, any ties or deal should be as much on Kurdish terms as Turkish terms. The need for unity in Kurdistan is as great as ever as is the need to become self-sufficient and protect their future and not rely on existing socio-political sentiment that can later undercut the Kurds as witnessed in the past.
First Published On: Kurdish Globe
Other Publication Sources: Various Misc.