Saturday, June 28, 2014

"Turkey ready to accept Kurdish state in historic shift" (Financial Times)

Following up my post from a week and a half ago, Did a Turkish spokesman really just say that Iraqi Kurds have a right to self-determination? ...

The answer seems to be yes. That report, which came from a Kurdish news source, has been confirmed and elaborated by other reports, including an article in Friday's Financial Times. (Thanks to David Pickering for the tip.) The FT's headline is right to describe this as the culmination of a "historic shift" in Turkish policy.

In my earlier post I suggested that if this report turned out to be correct,
It would also help confirm the growing impression that the Turkish government is giving up on the possibility of a stable and friendly Arab-ruled Iraq, and would prefer having a stable buffer between eastern Turkey and Arab Iraq—even if that means accepting an independent Kurdistan next door. (Kurds are overwhelmingly Sunni, at least, unlike most Iraqi Arabs. From the AKP's perspective, that's probably a factor.)
This FT report offers further support for all those surmises—including my parenthetical speculation. The Turkish spokesman being quoted here expresses anger at the US for having, in his view, "created a Shia bloc to the south of our country."
A Kurdish state in northern Iraq could also serve as a buffer against the militant group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (known as Isis), which Turkish officials increasingly see as a threat and which is holding more than 80 Turks hostage in the area of the now Isis-run city of Mosul. [....]

“The Turks don’t want to encourage independence and caution against hasty moves, but if it happens they will live with it,” said one foreign diplomat [....] “As they see it, if it happens the Kurds will be in their sphere of influence and under their control.”

Turkey is a big foreign investor in the KRG, with the Turkish government taking direct stakes in Kurdish oil and gasfields it hopes will help meet its own rising energy demands. Ankara also controls the Kurds’ direct link to western markets – an oil pipeline to the Turkish port of Ceyhan.
—Jeff Weintraub

========================================
Financial Times
June 27, 2014
Turkey ready to accept Kurdish state in historic shift
By Daniel Dombey in Ankara

Turkey’s ruling party has signalled it is ready to accept an independent Kurdish state in what is now northern Iraq, marking a historic shift by one of the heavyweight powers of the Middle East.

“In the past an independent Kurdish state was a reason for war [for Turkey] but no one has the right to say this now,” Huseyin Celik, spokesman for the ruling AK party, told the Financial Times.

“In Turkey, even the word ‘Kurdistan’ makes people nervous, but their name is Kurdistan,” he added. “If Iraq is divided and it is inevitable, they are our brothers . . . Unfortunately, the situation in Iraq is not good and it looks like it is going to be divided.”

This week, Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s foreign minister, also told John Kerry, the US secretary of state, that the creation of an independent Kurdish state was a foregone conclusion.

The territorial integrity of Iraq has long been one of Turkey’s foreign policy tenets – not least because the country has a large Kurdish minority of its own and for decades battled Kurdish separatist rebels.

But in recent years, Turkey has emerged as a key supporter of the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq, whose political and economic interests it sees as aligned with its own.

A Kurdish state in northern Iraq could also serve as a buffer against the militant group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (known as Isis), which Turkish officials increasingly see as a threat and which is holding more than 80 Turks hostage in the area of the now Isis-run city of Mosul.

Turkey has a more than 300km long border with Iraq and a roughly 900km long border with Syria, where Isis also controls territory.

In strongly worded comments for a Nato member, Mr Celik blamed not just Nouri al-Maliki, the Iraqi prime minister, for Iraq’s growing fragmentation, but also the US: “They didn’t bring peace, stability, unity, they just left chaos, widows, orphans. They created a Shia bloc to the south of our country.”

He expressed concern that the Turkish hostages in Iraq – including diplomats, special forces and truck drivers – could be used by Isis as human shields in the event of an attack.

He added that Kurdish independence was not Turkey’s “number one choice” in comments that chime with the observations of several international diplomats.

“The Turks don’t want to encourage independence and caution against hasty moves, but if it happens they will live with it,” said one foreign diplomat, noting that Mr Kerry visited the Kurdish capital of Erbil this week to push the region to stay within Iraq. “As they see it, if it happens the Kurds will be in their sphere of influence and under their control.”

Turkey is a big foreign investor in the KRG, with the Turkish government taking direct stakes in Kurdish oil and gasfields it hopes will help meet its own rising energy demands. Ankara also controls the Kurds’ direct link to western markets – an oil pipeline to the Turkish port of Ceyhan.

In recent comments, Mustafa Koc, the chairman of Koc Holding, Turkey’s biggest company, which owns Turkey’s only refinery, said his group was under “intense pressure” from both Ankara and the KRG to buy Kurdish oil, but that it could not do so at present without jeopardising existing purchases from Baghdad.

Turkish officials also express the hope that better ties with the KRG will help reduce tensions in Turkey’s own Kurdish dispute, which it is seeking to resolve through talks with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers party, or PKK. This week, it moved the process forward by sending parliament legislation that could pave the way for an amnesty for Kurdish fighters.

Despite Turkish fears in previous years that the region’s Kurds, who also live in Syria and Iran, could seek to combine to create a greater Kurdistan, the PKK no longer maintains the formal goal of independence.

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