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January 21, 2013, Monday

Bid for regional power could be realized through peace

Murat Bozlak, a deputy from the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), was quoted in an interview with the Taraf daily on Jan. 13 as saying: “Turkey, after solving the Kurdish issue, will become a serious power in the Middle East. …The whole world knows that the faces of Kurds in Iraq and Syria as well as in Turkey are turned towards Ankara. The Middle East is being shaken by an earthquake. … Order cannot be established in this region without solving the problem of 40 million Kurds. If Turkey solves this problem, it will become a very serious power.”

This kind of statement from a member of the Kurdish national movement is not the first but it is, for sure, the most clearly expressed, at least to my knowledge. The ambitions of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) leaders who toy with the idea of a Turkey that is a main regional power capable of bringing order to its troubled region is well known. I have already discussed in this column the economic prerequisites of this ambition. I do not want to come back to them. I can simply reiterate that a fairly high and sustainable growth not based largely on exports but also on productivity and innovation that is capable of at least controlling the unemployment level is necessary but not enough. The Kurdish problem must absolutely be solved not only for political reasons but also for economic purposes if Turkey wishes to become a real regional power capable of reshaping the Middle East. Indeed, the Kurdish problem constitutes a fetter for Turkey, threatening its political as well as economic stability.

I would like to make here a digression regarding the word “solution.” I do not believe that the Kurdish problem will have a final solution even in the medium term. The new institutional setup for Turkey, as well as within the region, regarding political and cultural rights for Kurds will be an evolutionary process that will take decades. The “solution” we are talking about should be understood as the end of the armed clash, which not only envisions the disarming of the terrorist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), and at the same time, the continuation of the political combat under democratic rules which supposes, of course, a regime really deserving of a “democratic” epithet.

Coming back to our purpose, I must say that I agree with the approach of Bozlak, who puts the Kurdish problem in a larger context. Since the strategic shift initiated by Ankara concerning Iraqi Kurdistan, the borders of the Kurdish problem specific to Turkey have been enlarged to the whole Kurdish area in the Middle East. Starting a new process of dialogue with Abdullah Öcalan, the leader of the PKK who is jailed in İmralı Prison, the Turkish government was certainly aware of the regional dimensions of this problem since Ankara's strategic rapprochement with the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) and since the Syrian upheaval. Let me reiterate at this point that Öcalan had told his brother, Mehmet Öcalan, who visited him two weeks ago, that the Democratic Union Party (PYD), an armed Kurdish movement in Syria close to the PKK, must collaborate with the Free Syrian Army against Bashar al-Assad.

The process of economic integration, including energy trade, with northern Iraq is crucial for Turkey for economic as well as political reasons, but it cannot be achieved without establishing peace and satisfying the demands for democratic rights for Kurds within Turkey. Nechirvan Barzani, the prime minister of the KRG, during a conference held in Arbil a month ago in which 800 leaders from key international energy operators were present, estimated that northern Iraq had reserves of oil and gas amounting to 45 billion barrels and 3 trillion cubic meters, respectively. Currently, the oil fields of northern Iraq produce barely 250,000 barrels per day and nothing with regards to natural gas. According to Barzani, the KRG is on track to export 1 million barrels of oil a day by 2015 and 2 million by 2019. If these forecasts are realized, the oil revenues of the KRG will multiply eightfold within years.

What historic irony! Turkey, which had only a few years ago considered the Kurdish autonomous region in Iraq a major threat to its national unity, now considers it a strategic partner. Iraq this year became Turkey's top trading partner, taking over the spot from Germany. Most Turkish exports are directed to northern Iraq. If Turkey can find a political solution to its Kurdish problem, I believe the Kurdish oilfields will definitely be the main factor reshaping the region and that a new era will begin in the Middle East.

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