Kobane and Turkey’s energy ambitions

Kobane and Turkey’s energy ambitions

A bloody war has been raging in Syria for the past three years. However, neither the more than 200,000 dead nor the use of chemical weapons have so far led to the outcry that has emerged around the ongoing fight between Syrian Kurdish fighters and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Kobane.

It seems that everyone (with the exception of Turkey) is ringing the alarm bells on the possible consequences of Kobane falling into the hands of ISIL. There are calls from all over the world for Turkey to help the Syrian Kurds fight ISIL.

The issue even came up at a panel organized by Turkish Policy Quarterly and devoted to Turkey’s energy policies, as energy expert John Roberts elaborated on the additional sources of energy to supply the southern corridor, apart from Azerbaijan.

Before referring to what he said about Kobane, let me first recount what he said about Turkmenistan as a potential new supplier to the southern corridor, which is envisaged to provide an alternative to Russia by transporting non–Russian gas to Europe via Turkey. For some, the fact that I used the word “new” for Turkmenistan as a potential supplier might come as a surprise. After all, as long as Turkmenistan produces gas it is a potential supplier of non–Russian gas. However, for a long time Turkmenistan was considered a hopeless case as an alternative to Russian gas because the Turkmenistan administration shied away from projects that could appear anti–Russian, fearing retaliation from Moscow. It therefore kept selling its gas to Russia, but the Russians recently told the Turkmens that they will no longer buy Turkmen gas, Roberts said. With sales to Europe shrinking, what’s the point of Russians importing gas? he asked, adding that Turkmenistan had started to show an interest in selling its gas to the West.

As is the case with so many other things in life, one should never take anything for granted, or as definitive, in the energy world. Ironically, when I attended an energy conference in northern Iraq two years ago, Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) was seen as the new shining star of the energy world. All that everyone was talking about was the potential of northern Iraq and how international companies were rushing there. But today the situation in Kobane puts into question how Kurdish gas will develop, Roberts said. Also, the KRG is in an acute financial difficulties and the development of energy endeavors will be much slower than expected, he added.

Turkey needs strategic clarity, said Mathew Brzya, the U.S. former ambassador to Azerbaijan, who added that Turkey “wants too many things at the same time.” It wants to defeat al–Assad, it wants to fight the PKK, it wants also to reconcile with the Kurds, etc. Bryza said Turkey should allow the international coalition to use its airfields and enable Kurdish fighters to get arms and ammunition, despite the implications this might have as far as the PKK is concerned. But life is about making good decisions out of bad choices. So perhaps Turkey needs to postpone its aim of toppling al–Assad and prioritize the fight against ISIL, which appears to be a choice for the lesser of two evils.

If Kobane falls, said Roberts, the whole security situation of Turkey’s southeast will be questioned. “And don’t forget,” he added, “The bulk of investment in northern Iraq is Turkish.”

It seems that there are more important issues at stake than the obsession with getting rid of al–Assad.