The tension of the geopolitical landscape is going on in the Middle East. Political and ideological contradictions were joined by sectarian and ethnic conflicts. Under such circumstances, rapprochement in the Turk-Kurd relations is of paramount importance for Ankara. In reality, this issue went beyond borders of one country to become the one of regional importance. The Turkey visit of Masoud Barzani is interesting from this point of view.
Historical chance: new step of the Turkish diplomacy
The meeting of Head of the Northern Iraqi Kurdistan Masoud Barzani with Premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the Turkish city of Diyarbakir was described by the media as the “historical event”. Turkish analysts and experts offer a number of arguments to substantiate this. These are political, economic, cultural and historical factors. To be concrete, the fact that the visit of the leader of one of the Iraqi provinces Masoud Barzani is presented as a geopolitical move is suggestive. What caused the political terminology to make a u-turn?
To answer this question, it is necessary to think over the links between geopolitical processes going in the Middle East and political developments within Turkey. First of all, it is necessary to consider serious impact of Syria developments. Experience shows that great powers prefer to cause discord inside regional countries in line with their own interests.
It is possible to underline two aspects of this trend. Firstly, there are attempts to solve conflicts only sticking to the plan which meets interests of geopolitical forces. There is overt or covert activity towards disagreements getting stalled (like that in Syria). Secondly, there is a fight of denominations among Muslims. It means more dangerous and long-term contradictions for the region.
The above-mentioned two hallmarks manifest themselves more concretely in the Syria, Lebanon, Egypt and Iraq issues. In the same vein, the danger of break-out of the fight of denominations emerged within such countries as Turkey and Iran. Ankara seems to counter all games directed in this aspect against this country (see Şahin Alpay. Hoş geldiniz Sayın Barzani / “Zaman” newspaper, 16 November 2013).
The other side of the issue on a regional scale is related to the energy factor. Turkish experts openly and concretely underline this (see Murat Yetkin. Kürt sorunu petrol pazarlığına göbekten bağlı / “Radikal” newspaper, 16 November 2013). We must confess that it is a trustworthy thought because an oil and gas factor lies to some extent at the root of ongoing geopolitical processes in the Middle East. However, the small Northern Iraqi Kurdistan autonomy’s gaining geopolitical significance gives grounds to claim that some serious trends have got topical. What can they be?
Firstly, it can be the ensuring of Turkey’s interests. Ongoing geopolitical events in the Middle East show that the Kurdish factor can be leveraged against Ankara. For this reason, it is necessary to achieve rapprochement between Turks and Kurds. Barzani is quite a necessary figure from this point of view also because Ankara insures itself against possible provocations of PKK. In addition, Turkey will take advantage of the opportunity to meet some of its energy needs from the field located in the Northern Iraq. Along with Kirkuk and Mosul, it accesses other energy sources. The most important thing is that Turkey is about to become the major hub for transporting Iraqi oil and gas to the world markets.
Secondly, it is about Northern Iraqi Kurds’ getting opportunities to access Europe. Erbil is very much interested in this issue because the situation of Kurds in Syria is very difficult whereas the state in Turkey is very strong and does not allow any separatism. It appears that existence of the Kurdish Autonomy in the Northern Iraq is very important. This structure can become the major foundation of their political future. Kurds’ accessing Europe is very much necessary to achieve this. The Turkish route for transportation of hydrocarbons to the West is the most reliable one. This aspect among the main reasons, which brought Barzani to Diyarbakir, occupies a special place (see Kürtler ne kazandılar, ne kaybettiler? / “Radikal” newspaper, 16 november 2013).
Thirdly, it is about ensuring interests of Iraq’s central government. Deepening sectarian contradictions among Muslims make Iran and Iraq concerned. The Al-Maliki government can leave office because of this factor before the elections. That is why, Al-Maliki did not object energy cooperation between Turkey and Northern Iraqi Kurds. This issue was discussed during the last visit of Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu to Bagdad. It results in improvement of relationships among Turkey, Iraq and Iran. At the same time, official Baghdad gains financial benefits and ensures its geostrategic security. The West’s attitude to this processes constitutes an important aspect of this.
Fourthly, the West (headed by the USA) wins strategic chance by connecting Turkey to Iraq’s energy sources. In this context, it looks not accidental that Davutoglu visited Diyarbakir before discussing Iraq, Iran and Syria issues, and that US Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz came to Istanbul. Washington virtually gains total access to Iraq’s energy resources through Turkey (see previous source). It also gets additional geopolitical dividends by improving Ankara-Tehran relations. On top of all, the Muslim states thereby block the deepening of sectarian contradictions.
On the path of dialogue and reconciliation: next stage
All these points altogether serve strategic interests from different angles of the Erdogan-Barzani meeting. Media reports suggest that both leaders in their remarks issued friendship, cooperation, fraternity and peace messages (see: Erdoğan: Cezaevleri boşalacak / “Yeni Şafak” newspaper, 16 November 2013 and Barzani: Yaşasın barış / “Yeni Şafak” newspaper, 16 November 2013).
Prime Minister Erdogan stated that Turkey would deepen democratization process. He assured all rights of the Kurdish community will be ensured. He underlined that ancient Turkish-Kurdish fraternity will be eternal. He pointed out that Barzani and Northern Iraqi Kurds will be able to play an important role in this process. At the same time, he openly declared that great responsibility lies with the Diyarbakir residents. He linked this issue with Erbil and Qamishli (predominantly Kurdish-populated city of Syria).
Experts link this part of the Prime Minister’s statement to the incidents between the Kurdish and Syrian opposition in the Middle East area. The point is that the Democratic Union Party (PYD in Kurdish), branch of the PKK, announced transitional government in the north of Syria (Kurdish call this area Rojava).
In this case, PKK seems to seize the initiative in the Kurdish issue. There are two reasons why this process does not satisfy Barzani and Turkey. First of all, it causes contradictions among Kurdish organizations in the region and it can be used by outside forces to trigger conflicts. Confrontation among Kurdish groupings gives rise to additional difficulties to not only security but also energy issue. Secondly, it creates additional obstacles to the victory of Barzani’s party in the upcoming elections. It means that Northern Iraq Kurdish Autonomy, which already has a definite political line, finds itself in an uncertain political whirl.
And finally, the most pressing side of the problem is related to Turkey’s strategic geopolitical interests (Akif Emre. Ankara’dan Ortadoğu’ya biçilen gömlek / “Yeni Şafak” newspaper, 16 November 2013). Turkey, which set itself an objective to become an influential country on a world scale, must build a constructive cooperation with all the peoples in the region. The successes achieved by Ankara in this direction are clearly seen. Relations with Kurds are also developing in a positive way. The role Masoud Barzani will play in this process depends on what the logic of the game dictates. Ankara is undoubtedly capable of steering this process.
The Diyarbakir meeting seems to have a historical value to not only Turkey and North Iraq, but also the Middle East. At least, it will be vital for development of relations among peoples in the region. The human factor is the most valuable wealth and strongest weapon.