Erdoğan gets ready for a new Kurdish move

Erdoğan gets ready for a new Kurdish move

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is going to meet with Masoud Barzani, the head of Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) on Oct. 16 in the predominantly Kurdish-populated city of Diyarbakır in Southeast Turkey, as announced by his office yesterday.

Up until last week Erdoğan was supposed to be in İzmir that for the startup ceremony for a port for oil and oil products trade together with İlham Aliyev, the President of Azerbaijan. First it was announced that Erdoğan would not go to İzmir but meet Aliyev in Ankara. Later on Aliyev’s program was officially announced as Nov. 12-14; Aliyev is expected today in Ankara.

Erdoğan will go to Diyarbakır following an executive board meeting of his ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) on Nov. 15, where the strategy for local elections will be discussed. The media attention will be on this meeting also because of his quarrel with Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç, but more important on the agenda will be the March 30, 2014, elections. 

Erdoğan’s Diyarbakır visit was planned in the election framework, too. Diyarbakır is a stronghold of the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) which shares the same grassroots with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Having carried out an armed campaign for the last 30 years, costing some 40,000 lives, the PKK is engaged in a dialogue with the government which was initiated by Erdoğan in pursuit of a political solution to Turkey’s Kurdish problem. It is not by coincidence that the dialogue was started in autumn 2012 when the Democratic Union Party (PYD) militants in Syria, PYD being PKK’s sister in the civil war-hit Syria, started to establish control over the Kurdish-populated towns bordering Turkey; a de facto liberated Kurdish zone along Turkey’s borders, in other words. It is also not a coincidence that at the same time Turkey has started to get into closer relations with the KRG, which wants to export its oil and gas to Europe via pipelines passing through Turkey without Baghdad’s control. The fact that the PKK’s political and military headquarters are in the Kandil mountains, also theoretically under KRG control made the entire picture more complicated.

Because of taking opposite sides in the Syrian civil war, the relations of Ankara with Baghdad run by Shiite origin Nouri al-Maliki’s government turned sour in the last two years. But things started to change following the coup in Egypt on July 3rd. When the Muslim Brotherhood fell from power in Egypt, the Syrian opposition with its Brotherhood backbone started to fall apart and fell into the hands of al-Qaeda affiliated radical groups. Turkish policy had to be revised and that is what is happening now.
Erdoğan’s meeting with Barzani is announced on the second day of Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu’s visit to Iraq, when he visited Shiite holy sites in Nacaf and Karbala, as a new move to revive relations between the two; it is again no coincidence that relations between Turkey and Iraq started to return to normal following Maliki’s visit to U.S. President Barack Obama on Nov. 1 in Washington DC.

The key point to satisfy both Kurds in the North and Shiites in the south in Iraq might be a simple measuring device to meter the flow of oil and gas from KRG fields to Turkey, so that Baghdad is sure about the amount exported and get its share. Erdoğan, as a smart politician, would of course calculate that the presence of a happy Barzani in Diyarbakır will not only have a positive effect on the Kurdish dialogue but also for traditionalist Kurdish votes to go to AK Parti, instead of BDP in the locals, since a great deal of the Kurdish population put religious and traditional values before nationalist ones.

In any case it is safe to forecast that Erdoğan is getting prepared for another Kurdish move, whether it makes BDP/PKK happy or not.