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Turkey’s ambitious plan for Greater Kurdistan

Mahir Zeynalov

Published: Updated:

It was a historic day in Diyarbakir, the heartland of Kurds in southeastern Turkey, for the rare opportunity to reinforce peace in Kurdish populated areas while violence is on the climb in Syria and Iraq.

Tens of thousands of Kurds gathered in Diyarbakir to greet the country’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, as well as Iraqi Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani and famed Kurdish singer Shivan Perwer, who left Turkey 37 years ago and never came back. The festival-like concert in Diyarbakir was also celebrated in other parts of the country as a welcoming development, heralding a new Turkey, where rights and freedoms of Kurdish citizens are supposed to be upheld.

“With all its dimensions, Iraqi Kurdistan is a model for Turkey.”

Mahir Zeynalov

The ceremony broke so many taboos; even Turkey’s state TV had to censor Erdoğan’s use of word “Kurdistan” – first time a Turkish leader spells it out. Erdoğan constantly made references to “brotherhood” and “unity” among Turks, Kurds and Arabs throughout his speech. He highlighted that Turkish officials “felt at home in Arbil” and that his Kurdish guests should feel at home in Diyarbakir, too, referring to friendly relations between Kurdistan and Turkey. Deepening economic and political ties have largely turned northern Iraq into Turkey’s sphere of influence. Ankara plans to create a similar semi-autonomous statehood also in northern Syria as part of its plan to build Greater Kurdistan that becomes Turkey’s backyard.

The Great Arab Turmoil, with all the destruction it has caused, offered a golden opportunity for Kurds to embolden their foothold in Syria, Iraq and Turkey in the path to create a unified Kurdistan. However, internal political bickering and infighting made it harder for Kurds to gather around a unified goal. Grand Kurdish conference was delayed for several times now and it is unlikely that it will be held in the near future. Specifically, political forces close to Barzani are at odds with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in Turkey and its offshoot, Democratic Union Party (PYD), in Syria.

Deal with Barzani

For Turkey, close relationship with Barzani is very significant. Turkish businessmen benefit enormously from trade and investment in northern Iraq, reducing Turkey’s ballooning current account deficit. Several Kurdish cities also sit atop Iraq’s richest oil reserves. Turkey and Kurdistan are planning to build another oil pipeline to Turkey in upcoming years despite Baghdad’s strong opposition.

In Diyarbakir, Turkish media reported that Barzani and Erdoğan reportedly made a four-point deal during their bilateral meeting. According to the deal, Iraqi Kurdistan will not allow the establishment of a de facto PYD administration in northern Syria.

Barzani also assured Erdoğan that Kurdistan will start pumping oil from the newly built pipeline in less than two months. In addition, the Iraqi Kurdistan and Turkey will open two border crossings in a month.

The fourth point in the deal includes continued support of Barzani to the Kurdish peace process in Turkey aimed at ending decades long conflict between the PKK and the state. With the peace process, Ankara plans to eliminate the PKK and its political extension, Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), from the Turkish politics. Possible success in this process depends on to what extent Erdoğan’s government has an intention to grant freedoms for the Kurdish citizens.

Kurdish state in northern Syria

Barzani expressed his anger this week at PYD’s announcement of some sort of provisional local administration in northern Syria. Barzani claims that the PYD is putting pressure on other Kurdish political factions and even resorting to violence, describing them as a “pawn” of the Syrian regime.

Turkey is delighted that Kurdistan is unhappy with the PYD’s strong presence in northern Syria. Ankara expects Arbil to do whatever it could to prevent a Kurdish statehood in Syria. Turkey has never had a full trust with the PYD with respect to its links to the Syrian regime. Turkey is concerned that the Syrian Kurdish militants could seize the opportunity to declare its own autonomous administration by exploiting the turmoil in the country.

In its bid to support rebels fighting to oust Syria’s embattled President Bashar al-Assad, this situation presents a new dilemma for Ankara. Turkey recently cut its aid to radical Syrian groups, which were both fighting against Kurdish militants and forces loyal to Assad, and will most likely ask PYD to include other Kurdish factions in a possible autonomous administration in northern Syria.

With all its dimensions, Iraqi Kurdistan is a model for Turkey. Ankara aims to create a similar friendly Kurdish administrations in southeastern Turkey and Syria in a unified Greater Kurdistan. That larger Kurdish economic zone will be deeply integrated into Turkey and become Ankara’s sphere of influence. At least, this is what seems to be the plan for now.


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Mahir Zeynalov is an Istanbul-based journalist with English-language daily Today's Zaman. He is also the managing editor of the Caucasus International magazine. You can follow him on Twitter @MahirZeynalov

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.