By Azad Amin
Kurdistan Region Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani made a crucial two-day visit to Ankara in a highly sensitive period in which both relations between Kurdistan Region and Baghdad, and relations between Ankara and Baghdad, are going through hardship and conflict.
In his famous speech at Newroz, Kurdistan President Massoud Barzani accused Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki of being a dictator and warned of Kurdistan independence should Baghdad not resolve the issues with Kurdistan and fully implement the Iraqi Constitution and Erbil Agreement. Since then, an exchange of harsh words between the two leaders has been circulating in the media, with a regional and international resonance.
Relations between Ankara and Baghdad are also tense. Nechirvan Barzani's visit took place at a time when Iraq announced it had summoned the Turkish ambassador in Baghdad to protest the behavior of two Turkish diplomats. "Some activities conducted by the two Turkish consuls general in Basra and Mosul ... are far from their consular duties and obligations as stated in the Vienna Convention for Consular Relations of 1963," a statement on the Iraqi Foreign Ministry website said on May 17. It said that the meeting took place on May 15, but did not say what the diplomats were accused of.
Recently, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Iraqi counterpart, Maliki, traded accusations. Last month, Erdogan accused Maliki of fanning tensions among Shiite Muslims, Sunni Muslims and Kurds in Iraq through "self-centered" behavior. Maliki, on the other hand, quickly responded that Turkey was becoming a "hostile state" with a sectarian agenda, saying it was meddling in Iraqi affairs and trying to establish regional "hegemony." Iraq summoned Turkey's ambassador at that time and Turkey responded by summoning Iraq's envoy in Ankara, in each case for formal notification of a protest against the diplomat's government.
Despite all these tensions, Nechirvan Barzani's visit to Turkey should be seen in context.Orhan Miroglu, for example in Today's Zaman, put forwarded that, "We may be experiencing a new page in Kurdish-Turkish relations that started with Manzikert, the battle between the Seljuk state and the Byzantines in 1071. At least this is how I have preferred to think of it for a long time. Manzikert was the first contact between Kurds and Turks. Another milestone was the Battle of Chaldiran in 1514, where Yavuz Sultan Selim defeated Shah Ismail of the Safavids. In this battle, the Kurds sided with the Ottomans. After this move, Kurdish chiefs were given autonomy and this autonomy continued until the Bedirxan uprising of 1843-1847." Taraf newspaper's article on the visit carried the comment "Nechirvan Barzani renewed his wedding."
To assume that Turkey and KRG will enter a new historical phase is not only flawed but also misleading. It is misleading because it distracts strategic policy differences between the two parties from consideration. The relationship between Turkey and KRG is temporary at best and prone to radical alterations, depending on unfolding internal and regional events.
There are two dimensions of this rather difficult relationship. On the one hand, economic relations between Turkey and Kurdistan are booming and there are various economic fields that have potential to increase the trade volume and economic partnership, ranging from construction to trade and from tourism to industry and, most importantly, in the energy sector, including production and energy corridors. Iraq, for example is Turkey's second largest trading partner after Germany, with trade reaching $12 billion last year, more than half of which was with the Kurdistan Region. The main route for Turkish trade with Iraq is through Kurdistan. The strategic importance of Kurdistan's border entry points with Turkey, such as the Ibrahim Khalil crossing, have taken a new turn since Turkey's entry points with Syria closed as the political tension between AKP-led Turkish government and Bashar al-Assad's Syria grew. Ibrahim Khalil is the only land crossing for Turkey to reach the Arab Peninsula.
Since the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime and successful and energetic works of Kurdistan Natural Resources Ministry under Ashti Hawrami, discoveries of Kurdistan's rich reserves in oil and gas turned the KRG an influential actor in the energy market. With its more than 40 oil exploration contracts, and with the entry of leading global actors such as ExxonMobil and intentions of French oil company Total, Kurdistan Region became a crucial actor in the regional and international energy sector.
Turkey has potential to be one of the leading partners in developing, marketing and building the petrochemcial industry in Kurdistan Region. Kurdistan Region presents Turkey with a lucrative market and trade opportunities, as well as the energy sector.
This rather bright potential in economic cooperation, however, cannot easily be translated into a mutual political partnership and cooperation. Political relations between the two lag behind the intensified economic contacts they have developed. It is this political aspect that signifies the temporary nature of relations between Turkey and Kurdistan.
To put it bluntly, the political objectives and intentions of Turkey and Kurdistan are irreconcilable. The Turkish political establishment, whether military wing under the guidance of Kemalism or civil administration of AKP-led government, cannot tolerate the formation of an independent Kurdistan to the south. Political establishment in Kurdistan Region, on the other hand, move towards independence day by day as Iraq devolves toward its dictatorial origins.
Formation of an independent Kurdistan in the south will be a moral and physical detriment to the political foundation of Turkey due to its inherent Kurdish national question. Occupying a greater part of Kurdistan, and including the majority of Kurdish nation, Turkey will have no moral or judicial base to develop proper relations with an independent Kurdish polity. Formation of an independent Kurdistan and its recognition by the international community would inevitably squeeze Turkey in its dealing with its own Kurdish national question. So far, Turkey managed to reduce the Kurdish question to terror and prevented its politicization, mainly thanks to the Kurdistan Workers Party's -- PKK -- misleading tactics and strategies.
A closer observation of internal Iraqi political affairs since the fall of Saddam Hussein clearly indicates the fact that formation of a democratic, plural and federal Iraq, at peace with its various national and religious constituencies, is almost impossible. Kurdistan Region President Massoud Barzani was one of the leading political figures in Iraq who worked towards the integrity and unity of Iraq. The Kurdish leaders could easily have opted for separation from Iraq in 2003 when the entire political and administrative system of Iraq, along with its military apparatus, collapsed. If the Kurdistan president now considers independence, it shows the seriousness of the issue and radical political shift in the vision and perception of the Kurdish nation. Neither Turkey nor any other regional or international actors can prevent the Kurds from going their separate way from Iraq should Iraq build another dictatorial and oppressive system.
The developments in Syria and Syrian Kurdistan are another aspect that indicates sharp policy differences between Turkey and Kurdistan. While the Syrian Kurds and KRG opt for a federal political structure in post-Assad Syria, Turkey, through its influence over the Syrian opposition, opts for a single and central political structure. The reason is obvious: A federal Syria and formation of another federal Kurdish political entity poses a serious dilemma for Turkey for its own Kurdish policy. It would be almost impossible for Turkey to continue its path to resolve its Kurdish national question within the paradigm of individual/cultural rights under the umbrella of citizenship rights. Recognition of the Kurds as a nation requires recognizing the Kurds' collective national rights. Neither the political establishment nor mental set up of Turkey is ready for such an eventuality.
This brings us to a critical junction: How can Turkey and Kurdistan Region improve economic relations or economic integrity while they have such irreconcilable political directions' The answer is inevitability and temporary nature that each side needs at this critical period. It is inevitable because each needs the other economically. Turkey, in such a global crisis, cannot deny the lucrative economic opportunities that exist in Kurdistan. Kurdistan needs Turkey to open it to global markets and integrate it with the global economy and energy sector. It is temporary because both sides prepare themselves for the inevitable colossal political earthquakes in the region.
The foundation blocks of the Middle East that were laid after World War I have been shattered. The reconstruction of a new Middle East is prone to radical changes. The Kurds have a historical change to enter to the new phase with their national sovereign rights, to be a nation for itself not in itself. In other words, the Kurds who failed to make their own history in the 20th century now have a chance to make their own destiny. The main intention of Turkey and other regional players, on the other hand, is to manipulate the Kurds during this shifting period of the Middle East so they don't establish themselves as they should.
As a leader of Kurdistan Regional Government, Nechirvan Barzani has two dual policies to follow. On the one hand, he has no choice but to improve economic and political relations with KRG's neighbors, and on the other hand, as one of the most influential Kurdish leaders, he has to gaze into distant horizons for integrity and sovereignty of the Kurdish nation.