Does Turkey have a Kurdish policy? And an energy one?
Right after landing in Kayseri airport on his way to Arbil – due to the objection of Baghdad - Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yıldız told reporters that Turkey would not be affected by the Iraqi government’s obstruction and would keep going on its own way.
Yıldız was pointing to a Turkish policy about Iraq’s rich oil and gas fields; in particular, those that lay in the northern part of Iraq bordering Turkey, which is under the control of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). The KRG forces and the central Iraqi army were about to clash as recently as last week, mainly over oil and gas rights, which could be averted with the intervention of the United States. Tony Hayward, the former head of British Petroleum and now of Ankara-based Genel Enerji, which has a lot of investments in the region, keeps saying that the fields in the KRG area are the last untapped resources on earth and they would find a way out to markets whatever the political obstructions are. Estimates claim that there are 45 billion barrels of oil and 3.5 trillion cubic meters of gas waiting to be surfaced in the region. That is why many major energy companies of the world - from Exxon and Chevron of the U.S. to Total of France and Gazprom of Russia - have already invested in the region, risking their rights in the south of Iraq after Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s ultimatum. The scene is an oil rush, perhaps the last one in the Middle East.
Turkey doesn’t want to stay out of this oil rush next to its borders. That is why Yıldız was on his way to attend an “Oil and Gas Conference” in Arbil, where the office of Massoud Barzani, the president of the KRG, is located. One has to recall that up until a few years ago, the same Tayyip Erdoğan government in Turkey was protesting its Western allies for having relations with Barzani and thus encouraging Kurdish independence there. What’s more, the military headquarters of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been fighting a war against Turkey for independence for the last 30 years, is still based in the Kandil Mountains within the borders of the KRG.
While following this pragmatic foreign and energy policy outside Turkey, inside it Erdoğan is trying to lift the parliamentary immunities of the Kurdish problem-focused Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) deputies, while also supporting the re-establishment of talks with the imprisoned-for-life leader of the PKK, Abdullah Öcalan. These come at the same time as fierce clashes continue between Turkish security forces and the PKK militants.
It is not realistic and sustainable for the Turkish government to follow two Kurdish policies inside and outside Turkey, as this has started to affect almost every walk of politics now - from energy, to diplomacy, to security.