Reflecting on Davutoğlu’s agenda in Arbil

Reflecting on Davutoğlu’s agenda in Arbil

Serdar Aziz
There is a rumor in town that Arbil will host Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu in the coming weeks. This will not be another mundane high-ranking political visit. Due to the time and the situation in which it is occurring, it is not just any - it will be a political event par excellence. Thus, it is worthy of reflection and dwelling on. If Turkey and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) relationship was an anomaly from the beginning, before developing to be regarded as the only “successful” outcome of Ankara's “zero problems policy,” today this relationship is stepping toward a new stage.

If people in the region were skeptical of the possibility of a relationship between Turkey and the KRG in the past, today that relationship is a fact. However, this fact is facing multifaceted challenges. It is essential that the prime minister in his trip considers certain points. In his last trip, Davutoğlu saluted a crowed in Kirkuk by saying “Ewarbash,” which means “Good evening” in Kurdish. To deconstruct this simple gesture, the relationship might have reached the evening and it is time to ask how solid it is, or how to make it solid again, before the fall of the dark.

It is no longer enough, especially after Kobane, for Davutoğlu to speak about shared cultural values and beliefs. Recently, Kobane has become the symbol that combines the two nations on many different levels. Turkey’s inaction over the recent challenges that faced the Kurds led even pro-Turkey officials in the KRG to express their “disappointment,” and the people in the region demand a reassurance regarding the nature of the relationship. Therefore, it is important for Davutoğlu to address the Kurds and their concerns; not only in Iraq, but also in Turkey and Syria.

Almost a century ago when the current Middle East order was established, Turkey was a weak country. Turkey is a strong country today, but that strength has to be accompanied by a cohesive policy acknowledging the emergence of the new reality. People are confused about the aim and strategy of Turkey. The Middle East is broken. Within this wasteland, both Turkey and the KRG were the two rare emerging powers, with different - but not necessarily divergent - ambitions. These two actors together can contribute a lot to the emerging new system in the region. The political order of a certain time and age is a cultural and historical artifact shaped by the character and experiences of specific people, as most political theorists remind us. Therefore, the order is neither natural nor permanent. As it is made by people, it is up to the people to remake it according to their historical needs. The Western system emerged after the Westphalia treaty in the 17th century, in response to the brutal religious violence of the Thirty Years War (1618-48). The current Middle East order was established not as a response to religious war, on the contrary it contributed to enflaming the current religious war in the region. 

The current system is broken. A new system has to be built with a view of how to overcome the crisis in the current system. Kurds have been the victim of the current system, but one can argue that no one was the winner. Win-win has to be the credo of any new order in the region.  

Turks and Kurds share enough interests to make them friends. What Turkey has to realize is that no other nation in the region can contribute what Kurds can contribute in making Turkey a pivotal country.

Should the visit to Arbil to be confirmed, Davutoğlu will arrive in town after his visit to Baghdad at a time when the former’s relations with the latter are at a critical moment. The gist of the problem is that Baghdad is still haunted by the nostalgia of authoritarianism and centrism, and is unaware that the era of rule by the fist is over. Ankara, Arbil and Baghdad are a complex triangle in the new order in the Middle East. Turkey is the stronger part of the triangle and can play an effective and positive role in settling the differences in an amicable manner. This will also serve Turkey’s national interest.

Sardar Aziz, PhD, is a senior adviser at the Natural Resources Committee, KRG Parliament.