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NİHAT ALİ ÖZCAN

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NİHAT ALİ ÖZCAN > Iran, Turkey and the Kurds

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As has been foreseen, the attacks of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) have begun to increase with the coming of summer. We are receiving a lot of conflict news, especially from the border with Iraq and towns.

Nowadays, we are witnessing interesting developments in particular about the PKK and about the Kurdish problem in general. Despite all the difficulties, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is continuing his rhetoric of “fighting against terrorists, negotiating with politicians.” In this regard, he is taking some steps, such as allowing Kurdish language teaching in schools.

On the other side, Beşir Atalay, Turkey’s deputy prime minister, is drawing a much more promising picture. According to him, initiatives are being taken to “disarm the PKK” with the help of northern Iraqi leader Masoud Barzani and the United States.

Meanwhile, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the leader of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), chose “the Kurdish problem which is a difficult issue” and suggested a road map in order to show his “creativity and leadership.” Although what he tried to do was not clear enough, Erdoğan did not reject this suggestion at the beginning of the troublesome summer. As a result, he shared some of the burden of managing public opinion with the CHP for now.

Significant developments take place not only in internal politics, but also in foreign policy. Turkey is strengthening its economic, political and security relations with Barzani. Consequently, both sides will follow a policy where they decide the framework of mutual interdependency. Because a project to build a Kurdish oil pipeline to the Mediterranean will break Kurdish-Baghdad relations within a short period of time, it will create an interesting mutual interdependency between the parties.

On the other hand, this project will bring a massive influx of dollars which will affect not only the internal political life of Kurds, but also the regional equilibrium. For instance, a “rentier state” will be strengthened among the Kurds. Moreover, this will happen in the Arab Spring period which was triggered by bribery, corruption and nepotism.

Barzani, Jalal Talabani, the PKK, Iran and Baghdad will re-determine their relations and positions. Ultimately, we will witness new hostilities and alliances.

In this picture, we should especially mention Iran. It always sees itself as the major player in the Kurdish problem in Iraq. This role is a result of a historical and geopolitical heritage from the shah’s administration to the Islamic Republic of Iran. The new pipeline policy highlights important changes for Kurds and Iraq. Thus, Iran’s reaction won’t be too surprising. Iran can use its “covert operations” capability and “interesting networks.” What is more interesting here is the fact that while the U.S. encourages the Kurds on oil exports, it is also dictating restrictions on Iran. In such a situation, neither Iran nor Baghdad is expected to keep silent.

The issue gets more complicated with the developments in Syria. While the government of Turkey is supporting pro-Barzani Kurds against pro-PKK Kurds in Syria, both parties remain in close contact with each other.

As has been seen, we will witness interesting and unpredictable developments in the forthcoming days. However, despite its heavy cost, Turkey can be said to have the flexibility, power to tolerate and ability to maneuver in crisis management.

June/14/2012

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