September 9, 2013


Erdogan's Kurdish Dilemma (Morton Abramowitz, Omer Zarpli | September 9, 2013, National Interest)

In Syria Kurds have been the only beneficiaries from the unending civil war. Assad gave free rein to his Syrian Kurds, in part to complicate Ankara's security problems. Despite recent tensions with Turkish-supported jihadist groups leading to Kurdish refugee flows to Iraq, The dominant PKK-linked Syrian Kurds carved out something of an autonomous zone in the North. Today, Turkey's southern borders are mostly controlled by Kurds. How much of a threat this poses to Ankara's handling of its Kurdish peace process is debatable. Surprisingly Ankara recently made the practical but unexpected decision to engage with the Syrian Kurdish leadership. But Kurdish self-rule in Syria emboldens the PKK and makes more complicated Turkey's management of its own Kurdish problem. Indeed, Turkey's support of anti-Kurdish jihadist forces in Syria is still a liability, distorting the anti-Assad cause, raising ire in Washington, and fostering instability on Turkey's border.

Ankara's only friends in the region are now the Iraqi Kurds. Iran's fallout with Turkey over Syria and its hosting of a NATO missile-defense radar led apparently Tehran to cut a deal with the Iranian branch of the PKK and to turn something of a blind eye to its activities as long as they were not directed against Tehran. Relations with Iraqi prime minister Nuri al-Maliki are in tatters, ironically because of Turkey's ties to Iraqi Kurds, but also because of its sectarian involvement in Iraq's domestic politics and Maliki's dictatorial tendencies and cozy relations with Tehran. While Ankara sees Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) president Massoud Barzani as its man in Iraq, he is unlikely to take on his brethren despite his differences with the PKK and of his ambitions to become a pan-Kurdish leader.

Turkey's vast trade and investment in Kurdish Iraq complicate its freedom of action in Baghdad and along its Iraq border. Over the last few years Ankara has become a major source of the KRG's efforts to reduce its dependency on Baghdad, while Kurds have become not only a major trade partner but also important to Turkey's plans of becoming a regional energy hub.

Posted by at September 9, 2013 7:30 PM

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