By MAHMUT AKPINAR
Iraqi Kurdistan, which was a federal state of Iraq, held a referendum on independence. Some reactions came in the region primarily from the Iraqi Government, Iran and Turkey against this move to independence. Although it is not known how serious they are, but there are some military activities and operations on the borders of Turkey and Iran to Kurdistan. Nevertheless, Barzani and the Kurds do not appear to have any intention to step back from their decision. Although the Western countries, with the tip of their mouth, expressed their reaction, before long, they will start recognising Kurdistan, and its independence process will be completed in the forthcoming 5-10 years.
Does the establishment of Kurdistan really pose a threat to Turkey? What would be the effect of such a state to Turkey?
First of all, there is no need to take the howls of the AKP government that they utter to release the gas of the chauvinist crowd inside the country seriously. Because, it was Turkey who provided the greatest support and the lifeline to Barzani and the independent Kurdistan. In terms of economy and politics, Kurdistan has reached this point with the support of Turkey. The Northern Iraq has been reconstructed by the Turkish building contractors and the Turkish citizens have carried trade and products there. If you leave aside the jingoist statements of the Kurdist and Turkist chauvinists, which they emit every so often to consolidate and keep alive their grassroots, Turkey and Northern Iraqi Kurdistan have been enjoying very good integration and trade relations. Meanwhile, one must remember that the Kurds of Northern Iraq are much more sympathetic towards Turkey than some of the Kurds living in Turkey who are under the influence of PKK.
We do not think that the Erdogan regime under normal circumstances will make a fuss over Kurdistan. Because they have mutual alliance of convenience. Kurdistan opens up to the world, meets its needs, sells its crude oil and constructs its country due to the support of the AKP government. On the other hand, Erdogan and his relatives get the best of this exclusive collaboration economically and possess many unrecorded informal assets. Sons, son-in-laws, kith and kin gain lots of money by selling the crude oil extracted from Kurdistan to primarily Israel –the country which they everyday demonise– in order to maintain their hegemony over Turkey. The AKP contractors and tradesmen have roaring businesses with Kurdistan.
However, if Erdogan, who lately seems in a very tight situation in every aspect, is in need of a war in the region, he may think to march into Kurdistan for both taking the gas out of the chauvinists and to dig his feet more into the ruling power.
He would wish to turn this into an opportunity to keep his ruling power and sovereignty alive and to prevent him from being questioned inside the country. For this purpose, he would not hesitate to drag the country into a venture.
This is completely to do with how much trouble Erdogan is in, how much such a hot conflict could yield benefit for him, and what kind of personal interest he is after. According to Erdogan’s politics, the questions; “What will happen to the country?” “How will our Kurdish citizens act?” “With which army will he fight?” “How about if the things will go wild?” are to be thought only afterwards. When he realises that the things are going wrong, he may just turn to the opposite direction and switch to the mode of addressing Barzani as, “My dear brother Barzani,” from the mode of calling him “traitor Barzani”. Erdogan possesses this exceeding skill of making such sharp manoeuvres. The diplomatic aspects of the words uttered against the Kurds, how these words would affect the Kurds of Turkey and what kind of complicated problems they may cause in future, are in the agenda of neither the Turkish Foreign Ministry, nor Erdogan’s Palace! They are in the flap of salvaging the day and protecting their power!
How about an independent Kurdish state, is it a bad thing?
Looking at the present situation, Northern Iraqi Kurdistan’s declaration of independence will in fact mostly benefit Turkey. As it is very much integrated with Turkey, there is no other country rather than Turkey where Kurdistan can turn its face toward. Moreover, such an independence can also impair the influence of the 5-10 year old Shiite block of Iran. The country which will be mostly disturbed by the independence of Kurdistan is Iran. Because Iran does not want Iraq –which is like a second Iran under its control– to be divided and to lose its rich oil reserves. Although the establishment of Kurdistan with a Sunni and religious population can pose a threat to Iran, it can be turned into an advantage for Turkey. But at the end of the day, with its very agile diplomatic skills, Iran can dampen the atmosphere with a manoeuvre it can perform at any moment, while Turkey which is lately following a completely blindfolded foreign policy can gain another enemy and become even more isolated.
It is not logical for Turkey to oppose the establishment of Kurdistan, for which it did nothing to prevent for the last 20 years through neither sociological balances nor diplomatic means. However, the AKP government is now in need of the MHP propping and nationalist support. Meanwhile, they cannot do this while they are oppressing, ostracising, and burning down the towns of their own Kurds. If Turkey would have been able to establish a trustful and peaceful relationship with its own Kurds, if the Kurds in Turkey would not have been pushed and shoved around, and would be able to have a peace of mind and treated as equal citizens, –as some of the AKP members say– the newly established Kurdistan would be like another state of Turkey. Integration would be very comfortably secured. Even the borders would be able to be removed with this collaboration, and the PKK could be stalemated and it would lose its sociological feeding ground. Alas, Turkey is now crushing its own Kurds even worse than in the 1990s. This naturally will cause the Kurds of Turkey to emulate the Iraqi Kurds and aspire to be like Kurdistan. In the event of any turmoil that may rise in the Southeast Anatolia, the Kurds of Turkey would also wish to seek similar paths.
After the suspicious coup attempt of 15 July 2016, a very heavy pressure started to be exercised over the country in general and over the followers of Gulen Movement and the Kurds in particular. Hundreds and thousands of people who are close to Gulen have been victimised, lost their jobs, detained, and their possessions and businesses have been seized. However, the same pressure has also been imposed upon the Kurdish settlement areas and the Kurdish politicians.
Many effective opposition members of the HDP (the political party mostly composed of Kurdish politicians) have been arrested and put into prison by Erdogan. Kurdish politician and HDP leader Selahattin Demirtaş who was almost the only person who could effectively oppose Erdogan is in prison for nearly a year now. AKP is openly blocking the HDP from participating in politics, the second biggest opposition party, whose members are legitimately elected to the parliament with the votes of their constituency, and what is more imprisoning its members.
The Kurds are not given place in today’s Turkish parliament and their right to be represented is openly denied. Today in the Kurdish region, the government has assigned its own officers in place of many mayors who were elected with the votes of the local people and their administrators are put behind bars. The policemen, soldiers and security forces serving in the region are treating the civilian people brutally, and write provocative Turkist and chauvinist slogans on the walls of cities and in the houses they raid. They destruct settlement areas, demolish houses and force people to move elsewhere. Throughout Turkey today, human rights and the law are suspended. Under the pretext of state of emergency, there are flagrant violations of human rights. These violations are mainly and most widely committed against the Gulenists in the western part of the country and against the Kurds and the Kurdish identity in the eastern part of the country. Similar events to those happened after the 1980 military coup, are again happening today and there are people who are arrested just because they speak or sing songs in Kurdish.
Turkey has not given an inch to solve the Kurdish problem which has been coming with full blast for the last 40 years. It has not produced permanent solutions in this regard. By always pushing aside or taking fake measures, Turkey has caused the problem to become gangrenous in the eyes of the Kurds.
And at present, because of the heavy oppression, atrocity and discrimination applied by the AKP government in the region and in the country in general, the Kurds are experiencing a much deeper emotional disengagement from Turkey than ever before in history. Except its supporters, AKP is chopping all Turkish citizens’ sense of belonging to the country.
This situation becomes the lifeline for separatist movements such as the PKK, and feeds the separatist thoughts in the Kurds. While AKP is seeking to continue its coalition with the extreme nationalist party MHP, in reality it is preparing the Kurds for the next step to the physical separation. Although they utter through their hat, shouting chauvinist slogans saying, “The homeland may not be divided!” their destructions of houses and cities, treatments of ordinary Kurds as “terrorists” are actually providing the very best capital for the Kurdish separationism.
Turkey could well live together with the Kurds on the ground of democratic humanistic values, treating them as equal citizens. The AKP, however, is exhausting even the last amount of the remaining hope. The ostracising, humiliating policies of the AKP are expelling and distancing the Kurds from Turkey.
On the other hand, we must remember that the AKP government has contributed greatly to the establishment of the PYD structure in Syria at the time. Turkey granted diplomatic passport to Salih Muslim and allowed him to use all the facilities of the Turkish Foreign Ministry for him to be able to form the infrastructure of this state.
Today, however, the same AKP rule is doing everything that is required to sever the bond of their own Kurds with the country. Only until recently, the Barzani government was their close friend and they offered a lifeline for them. Not long, just 2-3 years ago, the AKP government provided protection for the PYD structure that is under the effect of the PKK and let the Peshmerga forces and Kurdish militants, who were going from Iraqi Kurdistan to Kobani in Syria to give support to this structure, pass freely through Turkey’s territory and tried to reap political benefit from this. On the other hand, the AKP is only ranting when it comes to the Turkmens and leaving them in isolation and completely disregarding them. The chauvinists only appease themselves by posing with weapons in buildings of the MHP, jabbering “We are ready to go to Kirkuk”. The MHP is supporting the AKP only for its nationalist discourse that stinks out hostility against the Kurds which the AKP is using in its contradicting Kurdish policies.
In the Middle East, opposing every acquisition regarding the Kurds right off the cuff is naturally perceived as “anti-Kurdish” by the Kurds.
It aggravates their separatist and nationalist feelings. Establishment of an independent Kurdistan may well bring many advantages for Turkey. It is not essentially a threat or danger for Turkey. With a cleverly played out politics, it is possible to assuage the Kurds of Turkey, break up the blockade of Iran in the Middle East, be the protecting power of all the Kurds and make a new and organic alliance in the region. However, it seems that the AKP government is spending a special effort to turn all the Kurds against Turkey, alienate the Kurds in Turkey from their country and make Turkey a loser.