A De Facto Relationship: Turkey and the Kurds
The meeting between Prime Minister Erdoğan and Iraqi Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani last week could be described as “sweet and sour.” Erdoğan assured that Turkey was not lending support to the al-Qaida affiliated al-Nusra Front in Syria, whereas Barzani assured there would be no declaration of an independent Kurdish state during the Kurdish National Conference to take place in Arbil on August 19. The two leaders also agreed on the completion of a new pipeline to carry oil from northern Iraq to the Turkish border, expected to start exports in 2016. This was the sweet part.
And here comes the sour one. Even though Barzani made it clear that they are against any division in Syria, presenting a similar stance to Turkey, he also added that they hoped Turkey would not neglect the Kurds in Syria. This came just one week after Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said Turkey would not tolerate the creation of a “de facto” Syrian Kurdish entity on its borders. The very same week the leader of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), Saleh Muslim, said during his visit to Turkey that the Syrian Kurds will seek a “new status.” The PYD had recently announced a plan to declare local autonomy by forming a “transitional authority.”
Meanwhile, KRG President Masoud Barzani has consolidated his regional power further. Almost 45 Kurdish groups met in Arbil two weeks ago under his auspices to discuss the date and participants of the upcoming Kurdish National Conference. Luck is on his side also with regard to his relations with the central Iraqi government with which he had been at odds over oil and gas revenues. A recent law passed by the KRG Parliament forms the legal basis for the settlement of its outstanding issues with Baghdad.
In addition, the Kurds in the region appear to have overcome their major problems. The PYD and the KRG which had been at odds just a couple of months ago, have come to terms with each other. Similarly, the Syrian Kurds have put their differences aside and united after clashes erupted between the PYD and jihadist militias in northern Syria.
Looking at this big and complex picture, the foundation of an independent Kurdish state is unstoppable. Turkey cannot ignore the elephant in the room anymore. Ankara has to accept the Kurdish entity in northern Syria just as it gave its consent, however grudgingly, to the formation of an autonomous Kurdish entity in northern Iraq. Most importantly, unless Turkey accommodates the demands of its own Kurds, Turkish Kurds will have more incentive to demand for themselves the autonomy enjoyed by other Kurdish communities. Worth reminding that the upper hand recently gained by the PYD against al-Nusra has also delivered a power boost to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Plus, for now the PYD avoids confrontation with Turkey, but that would not be the case if the ongoing peace process to solve the Kurdish question does fail. The same is also valid for northern Iraq. Last but not least: It is already ironic to act as the big brother of northern Iraq while unable to solve its own domestic Kurdish question.
Turkey could become a major player in the Kurdish equation by bringing Iraqi and Syrian Kurds into its sphere of influence and developing economic integration. My humble formula to achieve this could be seen above.