The events in Syria and developments in northern Syria have brought the Kurdish issue to a new dimension.
Both external Kurdish organizations and our domestic problems now call for the Kurdish issue to be re-tackled. While I will review the present developments from an economic angle, let me say at the outset what I need to say at the end: Turkey must solve this problem as soon as absolutely possible. If Turkey wants its economy to enjoy high and lasting growth, it has to solve this political deadlock together now with other structural problems. Meanwhile, there is also the obligation that we need to solve this problem as soon as possible for the future of our children.
This urgency is valid not only for the formations in northern Iraq or northern Syria, but also for the domestic Kurdish problem, in other words, the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) problem. If Turkey does not want to be broken up, if it is to prevent a foursome Kurdish state, then it has to do whatever it can to satisfy domestic Kurds, recognize their democratic rights, solve the PKK problem and move the dispute to the political platform.
Let’s not forget that the national income per capita in northern Iraq, which was $400 five years ago, has now exceeded $5,000. This serious economic development involuntarily attracts people. By increasing democratic rights on one hand and increasing economic development in East and Southeast Anatolia on the other, Turkey may decrease the appeal of this attraction and eliminate its fear of being broken up. The fact that the majority of Kurds in Turkey still do not favor separatism does not mean they will always think like this. For this reason, Turkey has to solve this issue now without waiting any longer.
The best way for Turkey, both to decrease the attraction of northern Iraq and to provide economic development in the region, passes again through northern Iraq. If northern Iraq’s economic integration with Turkey is fostered, then the process of finding political solutions will accelerate. This integration will both develop northern Iraq and also seriously contribute to Turkey’s economic development.
In this framework, the energy deal with northern Iraq, which is perhaps the most important step the government has taken until now, has to be made effective and further developed. Because this deal – the details of which were not disclosed – covers a wide field from the production to the transportation of oil and natural gas, as well as to power stations. It also offers significant opportunities not only for northern Iraq but also for neighboring countries.
A wide segment, primarily Russia and Iran, but also the United Kingdom and the United States, do not view this deal positively because of their own interests; this, naturally, makes business more difficult.
If you ask me whether the government has the necessary vision or competent staff to play such a tough game despite the opposing major actors, including its allies, I cannot really answer very positively. However, I think Turkey should not give up this strategic step of economic integration with northern Iraq, even if it means keeping quiet for a while and assuming a humble attitude.
The dispute between Iraq’s central administration and the northern Iraqi regional administration is continuing, and this stands as a block to the deal between Turkey and northern Iraq. Meanwhile, we know that the U.S. is exerting pressure, particularly in regard to a solution to the problem of oil exports. The U.S. is exerting pressure on both sides for northern Iraq to restart the oil flow in the Kirkuk-Yumurtalı pipeline that started in February 2011 before stopping in April this year. The hope is that the Iraqi central administration will pay its accrued $1.5 billion debt and that exports are increased with northern Iraqi oil because the U.S. wants to keep prices low until the elections in November by increasing global oil supply. It will likely think of new things in time for next year’s elections for the Iraqi central administration, but it suits its interests to prevent conflict until that time. For this reason, it believes the energy deal between Turkey and northern Iraq was made too soon, but its viewpoint may change in 2013.
For the health and future of its economy, Turkey should make energy cooperation with northern Iraq effective, and for this to happen, it should be able to solve the domestic and external Kurdish issue with radical steps.
In short, there is a need for policies that avoid populism and prioritizing political-personal interests.
Erdal Sağlam is a columnist for daily Hürriyet in which this piece was published on July 31. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.