Paris (AsiaNews) – It is not in the interests of Turkey to invade Kurdistan because it would destroy the economy and destabilising the entire region. An attack by Turkey’s army has no or limited chances of success given the terrain. PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) fighters are present throughout the region and can easily slip into Iran or Turkey itself.
This is what Saywan Barzani, nephew of Iraqi Kurdistan’s President Massoud Barzani and its representative in Europe, told AsiaNews in an interview. For him the PKK is an internal Turkish problem due to contrasts between the secular army and the Islamist government and caused by the fact that Ankara has deprived its own Kurds of any breathing space, denied their very existence and pursued policies of under-developing its Kurdish region.
How do you explain the recent escalation in tensions between Turkey and Iraq?
The ongoing Turkish escalation is due to an internal conflict between Turkey’s powerful army and its elected Islamist government. Both camps, the secular and Islamist, are trying to revamp their fortunes on a unifying issue, that of the Kurdish Question.
Rising violence in Turkey’s neighbours represents a defeat for Ankara’s policies. Ever since modern Turkey was founded it has faced revolts by Kurds demanding a minimum number of cultural, political and economic rights.
The government of Iraqi Kurdistan is not to blame if there is extreme poverty in the Kurdish areas of Turkey, if their existence is even denied. Kurdish rebels are fighting a civil war that is largely affecting civilians and the obvious underdevelopment of Turkey’s Kurdish areas even when compared to the rest of the country. About four thousand villages have been evacuated and destroyed. The eastern region of Turkey has become lawless, an area for all sorts of traffic, starting with billions of dollars in drugs as well as weapons and alcohol smuggling.
What is the relationship between Ankara and Iraqi Kurdistan?
The creation of the government Iraqi Kurdistan in 1992 was a chance for Turkey. Initially violence dropped by 80 per cent. More than 32,000 trucks were moving goods destined for Iraqi Kurdistan. The whole of south-eastern Turkey survives essentially thanks to official trade with our region. Last year Turkey’s exports in our region were more than US$ 5 billion with some 700 Turkish companies operating there.
We too want the PKK to stop its armed struggle, not because we believe it gained any rights for the Kurdish people, but rather because in Turkey it can use democratic institutions to peacefully realise structural reforms.
Is the Turkish threat of “large scale” intervention in Iraqi territory realistic?
Escalation and military threats from another age have no basis today and cannot be of any interest to Turkey except to carry on its 20th century nationalism, the official doctrine of its state and army.
First of all, the stated goal of eradicating the PKK cannot be achieved. In the last few years the Turkish army carried out 25 incursions into Iraq without any tangible result. Turkish Kurdish fighters are more than 130 kilometres from the border at 3,400 metres. It would take a Turkish tank 15 days to get there whereas in a two-hour march the guerrillas can be Iran.
Even if Turkey killed a few thousand fighters, others would take their place. There are thousands of PKK men in Iran, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia.
The [Kurdish] Question needs a political solution, not threats of extermination that have failed to achieve anything so far. Whatever military incursion Turkey can mount will just ruin the Turkish and Iraqi economies and destabilise the wider region.
How can the international community help solve the crisis?
The only solution is though negotiations and non interference in one’s internal affairs. For example, Iraq’s neighbours ought not to interfere in how Kurdistan’s borders are decided in the Kirkuk referendum.
Moreover, as the protector of Iraq’s borders the United States must clearly tell the Turks what their position is and reject whatever baseless arguments the latter can muster. The Americans must impose peace and call on the PKK and the Ankara government to stay away from Iraqi Kurdistan which is just emerging from 40 years of war and genocide.
Western public opinion and governments are the only ones who can get the Turks to pursue a peaceful policy, stop threatening Iraqi Kurdistan’s nascent democracy, and find a solution to their own 80-year-old Kurdish problem.