Massoud Barzani, the president of the Kurdish Regional Government in northern Iraq, is in Turkey today and tomorrow where he is getting the royal treatment in meetings with Erdoğan, Davutoğlu, and Gül. Partly this is a dig at Nouri al-Maliki, since Barzani will take the opportunity while in Turkey to meet with renegade Iraqi VP Tariq al-Hashemi and decry the Maliki government’s treatment of Iraq’s Sunnis, a cause near and dear to Erdoğan’s heart. Turkey has been keeping a wary eye on the Shia-dominated Iraqi government, and Barzani’s visit is a chance to express some Sunni solidarity while also implicitly putting some more pressure on Iran.
The main theme of the visit though is Erdoğan’s attempt to continue marginalizing Turkey’s Kurds. From Erdoğan’s perspective, he is intent on driving a wedge between the KRG and Turkish Kurds for two reasons. First, he wants Barzani’s help fighting the PKK, and he believes that this will be easier to do if there is a sense of Iraqi Kurdish identity separate from Turkish Kurdish identity. Iraqi Kurdistan’s relationship with the PKK is not a good one, and Barzani has made improving relations with Turkey a top priority and has accordingly supported Ankara in its efforts to root out the PKK from the Iraq-Turkey border region. The more that Barzani and Iraqi Kurdistan view themselves as distinct from Diyarkabır, the more they will be willing to distance themselves from the PKK and to shut down PKK supply lines.
Second, Erdoğan wants to anoint Barzani as the global Kurdish spokesman in an effort to marginalize Turkey’s Kurds and take away their independent voice. By treating Barzani as an important visiting head of state, Turkey sends the message that Kurdistan already exists without Turkish Kurds, who then have no choice but to drop their dreams of separation or even autonomy and accept their status as Turks. Turning the Kurdish problem into a regional one rather than a national one holds advantages for Turkey because it increases the chances of Turkey’s Kurds being left out of any solution, and as Murat Yetkin points out in Hurriyet, the BDP has had more difficulty distancing itself from the PKK than the Iraqi Kurds have. Improving ties with the KRG and securing Barzani in his corner is a win-win for Erdoğan, which is why he is rolling out the red carpet over the next two days. By developing closer ties with Iraqi Kurdistan, Erdoğan is able to deny his own Kurds a possible influential champion and keep them right where he wants them.
Is this also a back-handed slap at Iran?
Yup – giving Barzani a forum to complain about the Maliki government is also meant to send a message to the Iranian leadership.
More than half of the Kurdish population in Turkey doesn’t support BDP, Kurdish nationalist party, and doesn’t approve PKK. When you write something like “effort to marginalize Turkey’s Kurds and take away their independent voice” you completely ignore the fact that most Kurds doesn’t have any affiliation with BDP or PKK.
In another sentence you wrote “[Kurds]who then have no choice but to drop their dreams of separation or even autonomy and accept their status as Turks”, as if it was current government wants to make Kurds into Turks. Turkish state had a long policy of denying Kurdish identity and this became more apparent after 1980 coup d’etat. Erdoğan and his party did the opposite; instead of trying to “convert” Kurds into Turks, he changed the state’s policy of ethnic citizenship into a plural idea of citizenship. That was his position years ago and still is. That’s the reason why its no surprise that MHP( Nationalistic Movement Party) and CHP (Republican People’s Party) accuse Erdogan and his party by treason because this policy.
I certainly do not think, nor do I mean to imply, that most Kurds are affiliated with the PKK or support the PKK. The efforts to prop up Barzani though are absolutely directed at the segment of the Kurdish population that wishes for autonomy.
As for Turkish policy toward the Kurds, Erdoğan’s Kurdish Opening was a great step forward, one that I wish had continued (and in fact I wrote a post last week calling him to resume it). Nobody who knows anything about Turkey would suggest that Turkification is a policy created by Erdoğan and the AKP, but the fact remains that there is still a long way to go before Turkey thoroughly and fairly deals with issues surrounding Kurdish identity and culture. The Barzani visit is a move toward sidestepping them rather than addressing them.