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August 03, 2012, Friday

The foreign minister’s visit to Arbil

The meeting between Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and Massoud Barzani, leader of the autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan region, will effect new power balances in the Middle East.

This visit has proved once and for all that Turkey has finally decided to treat Barzani as a head of state, despite the Iraqi government in Baghdad denouncing Turkey’s so-called support of “separatists.”

Let’s imagine for a second that the French foreign minister is paying an official visit to Spain’s Basque region to meet with the region’s separatist leader. Would that please the Spanish government? Probably not. However, as the Spanish government has friendly relations with its neighbors and respects its citizens’ rights, such a visit wouldn’t be perceived as a major event.

Everybody has noticed that Turkey is extremely disturbed by the prospect of a power vacuum in Syria. Turkey’s biggest concern relates to the Syrian Kurds, who may declare their autonomy or independence in such a situation. One may ask why Turkey is so worried about the disintegration of another country, or say that Turkey has always been eager to recognize newly independent countries in the Balkans. But it appears that the real problem is not the prospect of a Kurdish state in Syrian territory, since if conditions are right, Turkey cannot prevent this from happening anyway. The problem is the Kurds who will lead this state. If Syrian Kurdish groups close to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) manage to wrest power in this state, Turkey must prepare to have an antagonistic neighbor. Such a development could turn Turkey’s fight against terrorism into an interstate war and worsen the security situation in Turkey’s Southeast. Turkey hopes that the Syrian Kurds will reject the presence of the PKK in their region. Nevertheless, Ankara is simultaneously fighting against the PKK at home, and has poor relationships with Damascus, Bagdad and Tehran. Considering this picture, the Turkish government has decided that Barzani may be useful in helping to convince the Syrian Kurds of the sense of Turkey’s position.

Barzani was once seen as a genuine enemy by some circles in Ankara, but now he has become a partner. This change is not that surprising when you understand that there are no eternal friendships or hostilities on the international scene. The nature of relations can change for the better the moment common interests or interdependencies surface.

Turkey has asked Barzani to try to influence the Syrian Kurds. Moreover, Ankara has advised him not to declare the independence of Iraqi Kurdistan in the near future. If Iraqi Kurds cross that line right now, this may have a triggering effect for Syrian Kurds and provoke a chain reaction with unpredictable consequences. If Kurds create their own state, will the Iraqi Shiites do the same? What will be the Sunni Arabs’ reaction? What about the future of the Turkmen? The same questions are valid for Syria, too. Will Nusayris, Kurds and all other groups try to establish their own little states? If so, what will be their relations with each other, and with surrounding nations?

We don’t have solid answers to these questions yet. Anyway, the developments on the international scene don’t depend on the unilateral decisions of individual states, and everyone’s actions depend on the actions of others.

Turkey’s new alliance with Barzani demonstrates that Ankara has decided to take precautions against a Kurdish state in Syria, just in case. The security of the borders is not only Turkey’s problem; it is a problem for both Ankara and Arbil. However, Turkey’s real problem is not situated outside its borders, but inside the country. Barzani’s support may help Turkey to a certain degree, but the real solution is to take courageous domestic policy decisions to resolve Turkey’s own Kurdish problem.

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