İstanbul-Arbil alliance

The prime minister of the semi-autonomous Kurdish administration in northern Iraq, »»

The prime minister of the semi-autonomous Kurdish administration in northern Iraq, Nechirvan Barzani, has arrived in Turkey for a visit. Last week, Barzani stated that their relations with Turkey are strategic, noting that the volume of trade between Turkey and the region is increasing each day.

This volume, at about $7 billion, is almost twice as high as that with Iran. Per capita income in the Kurdish region has already reached $5,000.

Certainly, relations between Arbil (Hewlêr) and Ankara cannot be understood purely from an economic or diplomatic perspective. They are much more comprehensive, historic and based on the current unfolding of political events, it seems.

We may be experiencing a new page in Kurdish-Turkish relations that started with Manzikert, the battle between the Seljuk state and the Byzantines in 1071. At least this is how I have preferred to think of it for a long time. Manzikert was the first contact between Kurds and Turks. Another milestone was the Battle of Chaldiran in 1514, where Yavuz Sultan Selim defeated Shah Ismail of the Safavids. In this battle, the Kurds sided with the Ottomans. After this move, Kurdish chiefs were given autonomy and this autonomy continued until the Bedirxan uprising of 1843-1847.

The years of establishment of the republic served as the third, but disappointing, milestone in the encounters between the two peoples. After the country won its independence, Kurds were faced with policies of denial and assimilation and they started to revolt. Indeed, Kemalists did not keep their promises to them.

When Ziya Gökalp of Diyarbakır, one of the greatest ideologues of Turkish nationalism, died in 1923, Kemalists were preparing to deny Kurdish identity. However, Gökalp stressed the strong historical ties between Kurds and Turkey, saying, “A Kurd who does not like Turks is not a proper Kurd and a Turk who does not love Kurds is not a proper Turk.” Unfortunately, after the Treaty of Lausanne in 1924, nothing was left from the love and respect Gökalp was talking about.

The ties between the two peoples had been almost irrecoverably damaged. We entered a new century.

Having the largest population of Kurds in Turkey, İstanbul has become a magnet for 40 million Kurds in the new global world where borders are easily surpassed and where walls of customs are abolished altogether. Likewise, as a city of civilizations and nations for hundreds of years, Arbil is waiting for Turks and the world to rediscover its ancient history and assets. A meeting between Arbil and İstanbul will perhaps represent the fourth and last historic encounter between the two peoples. Now, the scene features neither an Ottoman sultan as grand as Yavuz Sultan Selim or Murat III, nor a Kurdish chief as high-grade as Şerefxan of Bitlis. As for political leaders, there is Massoud Barzani on one side and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on the other.

The Kurdish issue is solved in Iraq, but not in Turkey, where democracy is the strongest among the countries in which Kurds live. In Turkey, this issue is yet to be settled. This lack of a solution in Turkey is the only factor that complicates the above-mentioned, fourth-greatest encounter. In Iraq, which was rebuilt after the fall of the Saddam regime, Kurds earned a special political status.

But this status came to be a problematic one. The Kirkuk issue has not been solved.

Problems concerning initiatives and powers and authorities involved in the sale of oil to foreigners led to political conflicts.

For the Iranian leadership, the settlement of the Kurdish issue is equal to assassinating the Kurdish political leaders in Europe. Thus, Iranians killed Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) Secretary-General Abdul Rahman Ghassemlou in Vienna and, two years later, his successor Sadegh Sharafkandi in Berlin. And these politically motivated assassinations have continued without interruption.

The historical and political experiences that Kurds have had with Arabs, Persians and Turks deserve to be understood anew today. The memories of this past are fading. But I think this new century is putting Turks one step further ahead. There are many reasons for Kurds to nurture reserved but optimistic trust in Turkey. The Kurdish issue has acquired new dimensions in the Middle East, and the KDP, as the most powerful historical representative of this issue, will enjoy a greater political role and representation in the coming days.

The KDP and its leader, Massoud Barzani, have important and indispensable roles in the settlement of Turkey’s Kurdish issue. The Kurdish population living in Turkey is four times greater than the population of the federated Kurdish region of Iraq. Under these conditions, it will not be easy to represent Kurds in politics without realizing the historic importance of the fourth-biggest encounter and the İstanbul-Arbil alliance in the making.