Increasing Turkish dependence on KRG as a factor of peace and stability in the region. Kurdistan Region is no longer a threat but a ticket for Turkish stability, economic prosperity and to maintain their strategic influence in the ever-changing dynamics of conflict-torn Middle East.
Turks and Kurds have always been natural allies. It may have come decades too late and with much suffering for the Kurdish people later, but Ankara has grown to accept a reality, that was always prevalent, but they chose to mask in the pretext of narrow nationalist pursuits.
That reality is that as a major ethnic group of the Middle East both at present and throughout history, Kurds and Kurdistan have always existed as a key component of the region, regardless of constitutional stipulations, policies of repressive governments or a lack of statehood.
Turkey spent years threatening the Kurdistan Region and making accusations against them. Now in the ever changing Middle Eastern climate, perhaps it is Turkey that is more in need of the Kurds as natural allies.
Ankara has acknowledged that strong ties with the Kurdistan Region are vital to maintaining stability in Turkey, the surrounding region and the Turkish quest for influence in the new Middle East. Turkish analysts mistakenly observe that their border with the Kurdish territories has increased from 800km to 1,200km. They are wrong. The border of the Kurds stretches much further when you include Iranian Kurdistan and remnants of soviet areas of Kurdistan.
Furthermore, the Kurdish border never “increased”, it is and always has been the same length.
In simple terms, Turkey was always engulfed by Kurdistan. While oppressive policies of the previous regimes in respective countries kept the Kurdish segments largely apart, these borders are been slowly eroded.
The Kurdistan Region is now the national hub of the Kurds and their economic, cultural and strategic centre. Movement between the parts of Kurdistan is becoming easier and the Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) economic boom and newfound prominence, is a gain for all parts of Kurdistan.
There is already an increasing labour, trade and employment benefits for Kurds outside of the KRG. Turkey needs the KRG to keep peace, stability and diplomatic channels in the parts of Kurdistan they commonly border.
Kurds over Iraqi Arabs?
Turkey is increasingly choosing Kurdistan over Baghdad. At the same pace as Ankara-Baghdad relations have deteriorated, Ankara-Erbil ties have accelerated.
Already boasting billions of dollars of trade between them, new energy deals and oil pipelines, in the face of fierce objections from Baghdad, adds new economic dimensions to already flourishing relations.
Just this week, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu paid a symbolic visit to Kirkuk. The fact this was the first of its kind in 75 years says it all.
This is the same city that for Turkey was a red-line and the city Turkey had threatened many invasions over. Now the visit was conducted, much to the anger of Baghdad, side by side with Kurds. Long-time Turkish aspirations for influence in the old Ottoman Mosul Vilayet that they historically crave, runs through Erbil, much in the same way as Turkey’s quest to promote Turkmen interests can only be achieved through Kurdistan.
The Iraqi foreign ministry issued a sharp rebuke to Turkey for “violating” its constitution as they claimed that Davutoglu had neither requested nor obtained permission to enter Kirkuk.
Baghdad repeated what Davutoglu already knew. But it’s the Kurds they need in Iraq right now, not Baghdad, hence why Turkey agreed to export Kurdish oil in a historic move, again, against a backdrop of a stern backlash from Baghdad.
The fact that in recent weeks the likes of Chevron, Total and Gazprom joined the rush of oil-giants, on the side-lines for so many years, is also an indicator of Turkish backing of the KRG for such deals.
Oil giants are fed-up of the waiting game with Baghdad and have signed lucrative contracts with the KRG knowing fully well what the Baghdad stance and risks would entail.
They effectively chose Kurdistan over Baghdad.
Whilst the public Turkish rhetoric is understandable, if nothing to appease the nationalist hawks and military elite, in reality Turkey can do little to prevent the Kurdish autonomous advancement in Syria.
Much in the same way as it finally warmed to the reality of a Kurdistan government next door in Iraq, Turkey will come to realise that it needs to lure and work with the Syrian Kurds rather than alienate them.
Furthermore, it will be rather ironic, that they promote and support the democratic and freedom struggles of the Sunni Arabs, yet chastise the Kurds, who have suffered a lot worse than Arabs under Baathist rule, for wanting the same.
Too often for Turkey, a nationalistic Kurd has been synonymous with a PKK sympathiser. Most Kurds are nationalists but not all support the PKK.
While there is an undoubted PKK support base in Syria, there is also clearly a multitude of other Kurdish political parties in the mix. It’s not the Kurdistan Democratic Union Party (PYD) that solely rules the roost as many allege.
The PYD may actually serve as an opportunity and not as a threat to Turkey. Not only can it slowly bring the PYD to its sphere of influence with an affective carrot and stick approach, it can also use it as a way to diminish support of the PKK in Syria and indeed Turkey.
If Turkish Kurds can see that nationalist goals can be achieved in Syria without the PKK, it may well swing sentiments.
The root cause for endless circle of violence between the PKK and Turkey has been the failure of Ankara to address the roots of its problems.
Success against the PKK cannot be achieved by shooting them down from their mountains and strongholds, but it is to prevent their ascent in the first place.
Any military incursion by Turkey into Syrian Kurdistan will have dire consequence. It will further antagonise the PYD into a hard-line stance and certainly tip the scale for Kurdish moderates.
Even the PKK have renewed grounds for striking peace, if they can find a political voice in Syria, it may well change the tune of negotiations in Turkey, affording them with a unique opportunity to break from arms and their image.
Syrian Kurdish foster parents
Kurdistan President Massaud Barzani and Turkish Foreign Minister Davutoglu both warned in a joint statement that “any attempt to exploit the power vacuum by any violent group or organisation will be considered as a common threat.”
Barzani is unlikely to relinquish support and unity with PYD, but the statement serves as a warning to the party, to keep within a political path and uphold the terms of the Erbil Agreement.
Turkey may well accept the PYD as long as the PYD works closely with the Kurdistan Region. Some Turkish circles had expressed surprise at Barzani’s key part in the Erbil agreement that ensured Syrian Kurdish unity, but Ankara will in the background accept and encourage Barzani and the KRG to becoming the foster parents of the Syrian Kurds.
Increasing economic and political Turkish support for the KRG and perhaps even statehood will come under the trade-off that peace and stability can be maintained in Turkish Kurdistan and the surrounding Kurdish areas.
Turkey and Kurdistan may well become a de-facto confederation. It may seem strange and delusional, but how believable was senior Turkish leaders openly referring to the term Kurdistan and giving press conferences under the flags of Kurdistan and Turkey, just a few years ago?
Such strong alliances could well be win-win for Turks and Kurds. Turkey has access to Europe and the possibility of future European Union membership with all the benefits it entails, whilst Kurdistan has access to billions of barrels of oil, are secular Sunni’s like Turkey and form an increasingly important buffer against Shiite influence and in the ever hostile and conflict torn Middle East that is threatening to severely damage Turkish standing in the region.