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As the Middle-East unravels, Kurdistan displays its new leverage

By Bashdar Ismaeel - posted Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Turks and Kurds have always been natural allies. It may have come decades too late and with much suffering for the Kurdish people. But now it appears that the Turkish capital, Ankara, has grown to accept the reality that was always prevalent even if it was one that Turkey chose to mask in the pretext of narrow nationalist pursuits. While Turkey expelled efforts in deligitimising a Kurdish state, a normalisation of relations between Turkey and Kurdistan, now appears to favour Turkey’s interests and influence in a rapidly-changing and conflict-torn Middle East.

The reality is that as a major ethnic group of the Middle East both at present and throughout history, Kurds and Kurdistan have always existed as a key component of the region, regardless of constitutional stipulations, policies of repressive governments, or a lack of statehood. While the apparent transitory borders of Kurdistan caused concern for Turkey, increasing economic development in Iraqi Kurdistan and Turkish Kurdistan has increased Turkish support for alliances with Kurdistan. Moreover, it is a recognition of the historical reality that Turkey was always engulfed by Kurdistan. This is evident if you also consider northern Syria as West Kurdistan. It was only political postering, from Turkey and others, that denied the existence of the Kurdish state by demarcating their borders into Turkey, Iraq, Syria and parts of Iran.

The Kurdistan Region, Kurdistan is now the national hub of the Kurds and represents their economic, cultural, and strategic centre. Movement between the parts of Kurdistan is becoming easier and the Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) economic boom and newfound prominence, is a gain for all parts of Kurdistan. There is already increasing labour, trade, and employment benefits for Kurds outside of the KRG and Turkey now recognises that the KRG is needed to keep peace, stability, and diplomatic channels open.


As a result, Turkey is increasingly choosing Kurdistan over Baghdad. At the same pace as Ankara-Baghdad relations have deteriorated, Ankara-Erbil ties have accelerated.Already boasting billions of dollars of trade between them, new energy deals and oil pipelines, in the face of fierce objections from Baghdad, adds new economic dimensions to the flourishing relations between Kurdistan and Turkey. Confirming this the Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu has recently paid a symbolic visit to Kirkuk. It was the first of its kind in 75 years. This is the same city that for Turkey was a red-line only a few years ago: one that Turkey threatened military intervention over if Kurds seized control of the city. 

The visit, much to the anger of Baghdad, consolidates Turkey’s acceptance of Kurdistan and the importance it now plays in stabilising the region. As a result, it is seen as being in Turkey’s interests to promote relations.

The Iraqi foreign ministry issued a sharp rebuke to Turkey for violating its Constitution as they claimed that Davutoglu had neither requested nor obtained permission to enter Kirkuk.

Baghdad repeated what Davutoglu already knew. But it’s the Kurds they need in Iraq right now, not Baghdad, hence why Turkey agreed to export Kurdish oil in a historic move, again, against a backdrop of a stern backlash from Baghdad. The fact that in recent weeks the likes of Chevron, Total and Gazprom joined the rush of oil-giants, on the side lines for so many years, is also an indicator of Turkish backing of the KRG for such deals. Oil giants are fed-up of the waiting game with Baghdad and have signed lucrative contracts with the KRG knowing fully well what the Baghdad stance and risks would entail. They effectively chose Kurdistan over Iraq.

Public Turkish rhetoric, at a cost of more substantive realignment of interests with Kurdistan is understandable, but it does appease the nationalist hawks and military elite. The reality is that Turkey can do little to prevent the Kurdish autonomous advancement, particularly in Syria. In the same way Turkey has warmed to the reality of a Kurdistan government in Iraq, Turkey is coming to realise that it needs to lure and work with Syrian Kurds, rather than alienate them.

Furthermore, it will be rather ironic, if Turkey that promotes and support the democratic and freedom struggles of the Sunni Arabs continued to chastise the Kurds, who have suffered a lot worse than Arabs under Baathist rule.


Too often for Turkey, a nationalistic Kurd has been synonymous with being a Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) sympathiser. Most Kurds are nationalists but not all support the PKK. While there is an undoubted PKK support base in Syria, there is also clearly a multitude of other Kurdish political parties in the mix. It’s not the Kurdistan Democratic Union Party (PYD) that solely rules the roost as many allege.

The PYD may actually serve as an opportunity and not as a threat to Turkey. Not only can Turkey slowly bring the PYD to its sphere of influence with an affective carrot and stick approach, it can also use it as a way to diminish support of the PKK in Syria and indeed Turkey.

If Turkish Kurds can see that nationalist goals can be achieved in Syria without the PKK, it may well swing sentiments. Success against the PKK cannot be achieved by shooting them down from their mountains and strongholds, but it is to prevent their ascent in the first place.

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About the Author

Bashdar Pusho Ismaeel is a London-based freelance writer and analyst, whose primary focus and expertise is on the Kurds, Iraq and Middle Eastern current affairs. The main focus of his writing is to promote peace, justice and increase awareness of the diversity, suffering and at times explosive mix in Iraq and the Middle East.

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