Guest Post: The Foreign Policy Implications Of The Ocalan Talks

January 21, 2013 § 3 Comments

The always excellent Dov Friedman needs no further introduction at this point to O&Z readers (his previous guest posts are here, here, and here), and he weighs in again today to look at the foreign policy angle to the talks between the Turkish government and imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, and to point out that we have seen a similar dynamic before under the AKP.

On Wednesday, Michael discussed the underlying political reasons for Prime Minister Erdoğan’s sudden about-face on the Kurdish Issue.  In short, Erdoğan can count votes.  Both the nationalist MHP and some members of Erdoğan’s own AK Party oppose his desired expansion of presidential power in a new constitution.  A settlement of the Kurdish Issue that rewrites the constitution’s definition of citizenship and codifies primary language education rights would likely draw support from the heavily Kurdish BDP.  The same revised constitution could also include provisions for a stronger presidency—or such is the Prime Minister’s hope.  It may be a long shot, but it may also be Erdoğan’s only shot.

Though domestic politics may have spurred Erdoğan to act, we should not overlook the foreign policy impetus for a new Kurdish Opening.  It will affect Turkey’s relationship with both the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq and Maliki’s Baghdad regime.  It may also have deep implications for Turkey’s regional stature.

After years of hostility between Turkey and the KRG, Turkey wisely corrected course and fostered closer relations with the self-governing enclave.  Meanwhile, Maliki’s government and the KRG have become increasingly oppositional, with the rich oil deposits in the disputed Mosul and Kirkuk regions a key point of contention.  Despite stipulations that oil revenues are a national issue under Baghdad’s purview, Turkey has facilitated the KRG’s nascent efforts to open an independent revenue stream from fossil fuels.  Naturally, Baghdad is livid, and tensions between Turkey and Maliki’s government have understandably risen.  The Ankara-Baghdad divergence on the Syrian conflict certainly has not helped matters.

Turkey assists the KRG because it stands to gain tremendously from the development of Kurdish Iraq into an energy power.  The KRG is landlocked; Turkey presents its most natural geostrategic outlet to world markets.  The infrastructure already exists in the form of the Kirkuk-Ceyhan pipeline.  In 2012, the KRG inched toward energy—and some would argue political—independence by signing independent exploration contracts with some of the world’s largest oil companies.  By transporting KRG oil and gas from its port in Ceyhan, Turkey would transform itself into a major energy hub—with huge economic ramifications for Turkey’s underdeveloped southeast and political implications for the country as a whole.

That the Kirkuk-Ceyhan pipeline is a tremendous political asset doubles as the reason it has become a particularly appealing target for Turkey’s militant Kurdish insurgency, the PKK.  In 2010, despite relative calm, PKK operatives bombed the pipeline.  The same thing happened in July of last year.  In October 2012, rebels bombed a pipeline bringing natural gas from Iran.  In absence of a government initiative to solve the Kurdish Issue, these periodic attacks would likely persist.  Turkey knows—as does anyone engaged in commerce—that volatility and uncertainty are bad for business.

In light of the dual domestic and foreign policy ramifications, Erdoğan’s abrupt shift toward finding a solution to the Kurdish Issue makes sense.  The question becomes: will Erdoğan strike a deal with the Kurdish opposition?

Remarkably, the opening of EU accession talks in AK Party’s early years bears similarities to the present Kurdish Opening.  After AK Party took power in 2002, it still faced a secular establishment suspicious of its intentions and a military that had unseated the previous Islamist government in 1997 and banned it from politics. AK Party made opening EU accession talks its first major policy initiative, and Turkey earned a December 2004 date to formally commence the process.  At the time, the foreign policy ramifications were massive.  Turkey had kept one foot in Europe for decades without being permitted all the way in.  This was Turkey’s opportunity to permanently reinforce its unique geopolitical identity.

However, benefits to foreign policy were not Turkey’s only—or even primary—concern.  First, the AK Party’s EU stance was a political winner.  Kemalists, Kurds, and liberals all supported the process, each for different reasons.  Second, in order to open accession talks, the EU required Turkey to implement political reforms that weakened the military’s role in politics.  The National Security Council transitioned from foreign policy arbiter into an advisory role.

In 2002, Erdoğan pursued a foreign policy of EU accession that doubled as stealth domestic policy.  AK Party shored up its liberal credentials while the military zealously agreed to its own subtly diminished power.

Perhaps 2013’s Kurdish Opening is the mirror image.  Undoubtedly, Erdoğan wants to be president with vastly increased power.  That is the obvious way to read his sudden shift on the Kurdish Issue.  Focusing merely on the constitutional implications yields pessimism—who can trust progress hinging on Erdoğan’s cynical calculus about how to retain power.

That is why ignoring the potential foreign policy benefits of the Kurdish Opening would be a major mistake.  In 2002, Erdoğan demonstrated that policies with tangible potential gains in both the foreign and domestic spheres intrigued him and garnered his strong support.  It is far too soon to predict whether the Kurdish Issue will be solved; however, early AK Party history may provide reason for a small measure of hope.

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§ 3 Responses to Guest Post: The Foreign Policy Implications Of The Ocalan Talks

  • How arrogant can you possibly get? Am I supposed to imagine the leaders in Ankara, gathered together discussing this article, acknowledging to one another the need to accept the deep wisdom graciously revealed here by this noble wise man to their ignorant, lowly, savage selves?

    Another possible result is that this would (if anyone actually read it) be understood as a Jewish attempt to weaken Turkey by supporting internal ethnic rivals. If this didn’t occur to you then you aren’t nearly as brilliant as you seemed to have thought.

    • Huh? I am confused by your hostility here. I think that Dov wrote an insightful post analyzing the interplay of various factors shaping events.

    • KillDutch BengaliPKK says:

      Mr. Pologe, you are right, Mr. Friedman is VERY arrogant. If it makes you feel better, I don’t think there’s a Jewish attempt to divide Turkiye. It’s a more broad US/EU/Israel/Greece/Armenia + Russian/Iran/Armenia/Greece/Alawite attempt to divide Turkiye.

      Also, his arrogance I think is largely owed to an insular lifestyle in whatever part of Turkiye he lived in.

      What astonishes me is his belief in how willing Turks will be to accommodate the dismemberment of their country.

      “A settlement of the Kurdish Issue that rewrites the constitution’s definition of citizenship and codifies primary language education rights would likely draw support from the heavily Kurdish BDP.”

      And make him an enemy in the eyes of most Turks as recent polls are revealing.

      Does Mr. Friedman really think Turks are so dumb as to accept such a humiliating change in the Constitution where all mentions “Turk” are removed while the word “Kurd” is added?

      Have any of you ever looked at the Greek constitution? Right off the bat it says, “all GREEKS are equal before law”. How many times do you all think the word “Turk” is mentioned in the Greek constitution. Allow me to fill you in. EXACTLY ZERO! How do you think the Turkish minority of Greece feels about this? This is the constitution of a country that has already been allowed in the EU and will probably never change. It certainly won’t face opposition from separatist terrorists based in a country neighboring Greece who enjoy both the support of editorials in the New York Times and logistical support from American misadventures and weapons from Russian military.

      Does he really think we’re going to allow for the establishment of another country within our country?

      What country in the world has ever allowed these things especially in the face of a terrorist organization? Just what is bouncing around in that head of his?

      “After years of hostility between Turkey and the KRG, Turkey wisely corrected course and fostered closer relations with the self-governing enclave…That the Kirkuk-Ceyhan pipeline is a tremendous political asset doubles as the reason it has become a particularly appealing target for Turkey’s militant Kurdish insurgency, the PKK. In 2010, despite relative calm, PKK operatives bombed the pipeline. The same thing happened in July of last year. In October 2012, rebels bombed a pipeline bringing natural gas from Iran. In absence of a government initiative to solve the Kurdish Issue, these periodic attacks would likely persist. Turkey knows—as does anyone engaged in commerce—that volatility and uncertainty are bad for business.”

      Mr. Friedman thinks Turkiye was “wise” to foster close relations with Northern Iraq and has the nerve to right about PKK terrorist attacks in the same article.

      Never mind that THE TERRORISTS WHO LAUNCHED THOSE ATTACKS ARE BASED IN HIS BELOVED NORTHERN IRAQ!

      I continue to be stunned by American inconsiderateness, insensitivity, and arrogance. How would any of you feel if an American president engaged in dealings with the Taliban government of Afghanistan after 9/11?

      Perhaps these are the worst 2 facets:

      1. What Mr. Friedman writes, like most analysts, follows this tired narrative that the Turks are wrong that and the PKK is fighting for something right.

      2. His ridiculous idea that Turkiye or Turks gain something from Erdogan’s traitorous actions, which he is undoubtedly regretting at this point.

      If Erdogan and Ocalan are successful in their plans against Turkiye, then there is no more Turkiye. The American long-sought goal of turning the country into a sort of pseudo-Kurdistan, named Anatolia will have been successful. A constitution of a country called TURKIYE without the word “TURK” in it? Are you kidding me? If the word Turk is removed because some terrorist living on the border between Iraq and Iran and his lovers working in the Pentagon and at the New York Times wants it that way, then it’s game over. There is no more Turkiye. The terrorists won. Turkiye will no longer be Turkiye. Turkiye will no longer exist. Therefore Turkiye does NOT gain. Do you understand?

      Also, what does the average Turk get from all of this? Well, his ethnic identity has been humiliatingly erased so that PKK-sympathizing Kurds living in the Southeast can get more rich. Yippee!

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