Two wise men on the Kurdish referendum
Tough and complex situations should be analyzed through the lens of experience and common sense. The recent article “The path that Turkey should take as the Kurdistan referendum takes place,” written by retired ambassadors Osman Korutürk and Selim Karaosmanoğlu for the OdaTV website, is a piece that we should all read carefully nowadays.
Korutürk and Karaosmanoğlu start by emphasizing that “protecting Iraq’s territorial integrity and national sovereignty has long been one of Turkey’s primary Middle East policy targets, due to the dangerous and unstable nature of the region.” At the same time, they also draw attention to Iraq’s special status in Turkish foreign policy in terms of Ankara’s political, economic and even military calculations, as Iraq stands as Turkey’s gateway to the Middle East.
Here’s how the ambassadors see the possible downsides of the recent Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) independence referendum:
1-It will destroy Iraq’s territorial integrity as well as its political unity.
2-It will cause a more problematic environment among the different peoples in Iraq and cause new conflicts.
3-It will weaken Iraq’s political weight in regional dynamics.
In short, the article underlines that this referendum is “by no means in line with Turkey’s national strategic interests.”
However, the two ambassadors also highlight a critical point: “An anti-Kurdish attitude should not be among Turkey’s reasons for standing against the independence referendum.”
The possible new country of Kurdistan is the entity that may be hurt the most by the referendum if the KRG breaks off from Iraq. But there is another important point that Korutürk and Karaosmanoğlu draw attention to: The Arab people see Iraq and northern Syria as “holy Arab lands.” “One of the few issues that unites Arabs is the territorial integrity of Arab lands. They will not be able to accept or be at ease with the idea that non-Arabs could take control of Arab lands,” they write.
The authors see the danger of a perpetual Arab-Kurdish conflict in the region in the upcoming period.
“Turkey could create conditions of coexistence with a Kurdistan, which will ultimately be dependent on Ankara and benefit from Turkey in terms of its security and economy. But it would not be realistic to expect the same of Arabs. Arab countries will see an independent Kurdish country as a ‘second Israel’ and view it as an enemy. That would keep this country under constant threat of conflict.”
The “military option” debate in Turkey is among the topics that make the ambassadors most uncomfortable. They make a number of warnings to the Turkish authorities.
“The military option is not among the steps that Turkey can take against the referendum. It is an option that must not even be considered. Turkey’s prestige has already been deeply damaged over the past seven to eight years,” they write.
Even if the subject involves Turkish national interests - especially considering an exit strategy in such a scenario, as well as the social imbalances it would cause in Turkey - attempting a military intervention in another country’s internal political conflicts and crossing into another country’s borders with military force will only pull Turkey deep into a swamp.
Korutürk and Karaosmanoğlu recommend for Turkey to instead take diplomatic measures, using “soft power.” They underline the importance of effective and strong, peaceful means of persuasion from Ankara against Barzani. As Barzani is landlocked and heavily dependent on Turkey economically, Ankara has a very strong hand when it comes to soft power.