Kurdish oil, the pipeline, and the PKK

Kurdish oil, the pipeline, and the PKK

Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Prime Minister Necirvan Barzani paid a visit to Ankara last week. The Turkish government showed him great hospitality, because there were a lot of issues on the table. For example, the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) issue, Baghdad, Iran, Syria, economic relations and, most importantly, oil. Although the priorities of both sides differ, oil is the top issue.

Minister of Energy Taner Yıldız wasted no time and flew to Erbil to attend an energy conference there, which proves how vital the issue is. 

At the conference, KRG Energy Minister Hawram’i said “In August 2013, we will be able to directly export crude from the Kurdish Region’s oilfields.” Apparently the KRG wants to export oil directly to the market, bypassing Baghdad. Turkey has been strongly supporting this project. From a broader perspective, it could be said that the U.S. is also supportive of this initiative. 

Lessons learned have taught us that pipeline construction always triggers important and interesting developments. Turkey’s recent experience supports this argument.

The Kirkuk-Yumurtalık pipeline was opened in April 1984, in the middle of the Iran-Iraq War. It is interesting to note that the PKK made its systematic first attack on Aug. 15 of the same year. We have learned from the PKK’s documents that it failed to carry out its planned attack for the pipeline’s opening day, as the preparations had not been completed. And it was Syria, Iran and Soviet Russia who planned this attack, with the aim of sabotaging Saddam’s resources for maintaining his war. Since that date, the PKK has made hundreds of attacks at that spot in the last 3 decades. 

The other pipeline is the Baku-Tiblisi-Ceyhan pipeline. The PKK was also on the stage during this project. Responding to demands from Iran and Russia, it increased its attacks and delayed the pipeline’s construction for 10 years. The PKK was trapped and ended up with considerable casualties, which led it to declare a cease-fire in Sept. 1992. The government covertly complied with this. At that time, the Baku-Tibilisi-Ceyhan pipeline agreement was about to be signed but this failed. The PKK broke off its commitments and started attacking, killing 33 unarmed soldiers. Afterward, it shifted its attacks to the pipeline route as Iran opened its border. Was it a coincidence that in those days, the Turkey-Russia and Turkey-Iran pipeline agreements were signed and the pipeline constructed? The Baku-Tibilis-Ceyhan pipeline project was delayed, its route was changed, and it became a reality only after Saddam’s arrest. 

Russia has always been an active actor on pipeline issues. In 2008, shortly before Russia’s attack on Georgia, the PKK blew up the pipeline at Erzincan, thus proving its loyalty to the cooperation and the orders. Was this also a coincidence?

The follow-up decisions made by Turkey and the KRG will trigger interesting developments in the region. When we look at the big picture involving the Arab Spring, Syria, the Iran and Iraq crises, and Russia, which would not like to lose its indispensable customer, Turkey, the PKK seems likely to take a place in the picture.

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