Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yıldız was trying to play down the oil and gas dimension of the Kurdish problem when he said on Friday that he was not going to escort to Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan in his meeting with Iraqi Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani in Diyarbakır, in order not to cast a shadow on the political and social importance of the visit.
He was pointing to the initiative by Erdoğan to start a dialogue with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party
(PKK) to end its 30-year armed campaign for a political solution to Turkey’s chronic Kurdish problem. The Turkish government hopes that Barzani may contribute to the dialogue atmosphere, which would serve to decrease the political tension in the region, from which everyone could benefit.
Barzani’s visit is indeed an important one. This is not only because it will see the president of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Iraq in Turkey’s most important Kurdish-populated city in the southeast of the country, bordering Iran, Iraq and Syria and their Kurdish-populated regions. It is also not only because of the fact that Barzani has a lot of sympathizers in Turkey among conservative/pious Kurds. But it is also because it is taking place at a time when important energy deals to transport Iraqi oil and gas - both from the Kurdish region in the north and the Shiite region in the south through pipelines through Turkey to mainly European markets - are in their final stages.
Perhaps I should have written “with more pipelines.” Because there are already two pipelines connecting the oil fields of Kirkuk and Mosul to Turkey’s Mediterranean port of Ceyhan/Yumurtalık, near Adana. By the way, Adana also hosts the terminal of Azeri oil and gas pipelines and the biggest air force base in the entire region, called İncirlik, which is opened for NATO/U.S. use.
Now, two more pipelines are under consideration. One of them is to connect the Basra fields to Ceyhan, in order to export some of the southern Iraq riches without being exposed to the risks of the Persian Gulf. The other one is to connect the KRG’s Taq Taq and Tawke fields to the same terminal.
Those pipelines are expected to bring in revenue, increase interdependence, and so serve peace and stability between Turkey and Iraq, and also serve unity within Iraq, since both Kurds and Shiites would benefit from the agreement. The only problem left for those lines is a meter to record the amount of exports for the sharing of revenues between Baghdad and Arbil.
One should not forget that almost a third of the Syrian oil and gas fields now are under the control of Democratic Union Party (PYD) forces, and the PYD is known to be the PKK’s extension in the civil war-hit country. And, possibly not by coincidence, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu
is next week going to fly to the U.S. for talks on Syria, Iraq and Iran, (though the Kurdish issue is not mentioned in official statements), while U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz will be in Istanbul for Atlantic Council meetings, where he is expected to meet with his Turkish counterpart Yıldız.
Thus, it does not seem possible to separate the energy equation in the region from the future of the Kurdish problem, both in and around Turkey, irrespective of whether Barzani is going to discuss it with Erdoğan this time around.