On the Table? Turkey’s Kurdish Policy

On the Table? Turkey’s Kurdish Policy

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In a prescient article for The American Interest, Dov Friedman first exposes Turkey’s divergent policy approach for the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) and the Syrian Kurdish administration (PYD), and then prescribes Turkish policy with the PYD to mirror its KRI counterpart more closely.

Friedman follows the evolution of Turkish policy towards the KRI past its turning point in the mid-2000’s, when Turkey began reversing its previous policy and developing economic and political ties with the Kurdish proto-state. While Turkey still launched military operations into the KRI as late as 2008, by 2009 Ankara seemed to have shifted in policy to the point where a Turkish consulate was opened in Erbil in 2010. The next year a deal was signed between the Turkish-British Genel Energy firm and the Kurds. By 2014, Kurdistan could pump its oil directly to the Turkish port Ceyhan, weakening its dependence on Iraq.

Turkish policy initiatives evolved over a strategic period, calculated to create a greater KRI dependence on Turkey. Friedman argues that Turkey’s policy towards the PYD administration in Syria is completely divorced from Turkish policy with the KRI, and that their assessment of PYD goals is flawed:

Why is this? Turkey sees the respective politics of Iraqi and Syrian Kurds as dramatically different. And for now, a good case can indeed be made that they are very different. But this is a shortsighted approach. After all, Turkey wasn’t always friendly with the KRI. Turkey’s early hostility to the KRI diminished Ankara’s regional influence, whereas its subsequent engagement helped mold the KRI’s political dynamics. Turkish leaders might learn from that history and seek to cultivate a relationship with the Syrian Kurdish administration.

In Friedman’s view, Turkey would stand to benefit by moving from antagonism to economic and political cooperation with the PYD. Not only would that increase Turkey’s influence in Syria, but also bolster the fight against ISIS and Assad.