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August 17, 2012, Friday

The road to Kirkuk goes through Arbil

If he had obtained a visa from Baghdad, Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahçeli would be visiting Kirkuk during Eid and attending a program organized in his honor.

However, acting like a “tribal state,” Baghdad denied the visa to Bahçeli. Bahçeli had to cancel his visit although he would love to go there. This incident is significant in many respects and deserves to be discussed in depth:

-- in terms of the Iraqi government’s attitude,

-- in terms of the MHP’s insistence on not recognizing the Kurdistan Regional Government, just 80 kilometers away from Kirkuk, and

-- within the framework of how the Turkish nationalism fails to acknowledge the tremendous changes that have occurred as regards the Kurdish issue in the region and in Turkey and turns this ignorance into a political attitude that is beneficial to no one and that will harm peace between peoples.

Baghdad may be criticized for denying a visa to a political leader who in the past served as deputy prime minister. Indeed, this has been amply done by our media. Recently, Baghdad had expressed its unhappiness about Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu visiting Kirkuk via Arbil and harshly criticized him for meeting with Turkmens, hinting at the possibility of the arrest of Mr. Davutoğlu.The Maliki administration in Iraq has long been anxious about the ties Turkey has established with the regional Kurdish government and is making this very clear at every opportunity. However, given the developments and the incidents in Syria, it is not oracular to say that our government’s ties with Massoud Barzani will be stronger in the future.

In this setting, it was easy to predict that any relation Turkish nationalists would like to establish with Kirkuk’s Turkmens, even in the context of an Eid visit, would not be perceived as acceptable by Baghdad, which would be more inclined to see it as a “cross-border nationalist solidarity” effort.

Therefore, the MHP should have guessed that Baghdad might deny them a visa, particularly at a time when the swords had been unsheathed between Iraq and Turkey and the uneasiness created by Davutoğlu’s visit still lingers. And they should have realized that it is possible to go to Kirkuk via Arbil in future, if not now.

However, commenting on the incident in a TV interview, MHP deputy Tuğrul Türkeş had a hard time responding to the questions about whether they should take the Arbil route to Kirkuk. “Turkish Airlines [THY] has flights to Mosul and Baghdad. It is for this reason we preferred to go to Kirkuk via Baghdad,” he said. But THY has flights to Arbil as well. Plus the Arbil airport is better than the Baghdad airport in terms of security and comfort, and it is an airport with international standards. And Kirkuk is located 80 kilometers away from Arbil. Furthermore, no visa is needed for this route.

The Arbil government has good political ties with Turkmens in Kirkuk and across Kurdistan. They don’t raise any objections to the presence and demands of Turkmens. Turkmens are represented in the Arbil parliament and they face no problems enjoying their cultural and political rights. The disagreement on the status and future of Kirkuk is not between Turkmens and Arbil, but between Arbil and the central government. Saddam Hussein’s regime had targeted both Turkmens and Kurds. The Arabization of Kirkuk has been detrimental both to Turkmens and Kurds.

In other words, they shared a common fate under Hussein. Kurds and Turkmens have always been loyal to the political responsibilities and relations required by this common fate.

Turkmens are represented in the Kurdistan parliament in proportion to their population. For the Turkmen bourgeoisie, Arbil is Iraq’s most peaceful and secure city. Turkmens have a sizable share in the services sectors, especially in hotel management. All this change must be re-assessed by Turkish nationalists.

A number of businessmen who are said to be MHP supporters from the Black Sea and Central Anatolia are undertaking medium- and large-scale projects in Arbil. And they are well aware of the fact that they are operating in Kurdistan.

Mr. Bahçeli and Turkish nationalists must realize that the road to Kirkuk goes through recognizing these changes and the Kurdish reality and stopping denying this fact. Today, it is no longer possible to use Turkmens in Kirkuk and Kurdistan for domestic policy purposes in Turkey. It is high time that Turkish nationalists and Kemalists change their useless policies in Turkey. Despite the tremendous change in the region, neither the MHP nor the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) has made an official visit to Arbil.

Yet, even a meaningful visit to Arbil could change the current political climate and make a great contribution to peace.

Previous articles of the columnist