Iraqi Kurds have launched wide boycotts of Turkish-made products in retaliation for Ankara's military offensive in Syrian Kurdistan or Rojava, where the Turkish army and the Syrian rebel militias it supports are being accused by human rights groups of ethnic cleansing and war crimes.
Many Kurds feel they have been abandoned by much of the world, including the United States, NATO and Russia, after they played a major role in defeating the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. They say it is time to unite and use every available tool, including boycotts and demonstrations, to resist totalitarian aggressors.
Social media activists in almost all Iraqi cities and towns of the Kurdish region and even Kurds in the diaspora have called for boycotting Turkish products and services, including tourism. Membership in one of the newly formed public groups on Facebook, Boycott Turkey, exceeded 218,000 within a week. Activists also have launched a website and formed teams of volunteers that visit local markets urging citizens to join the boycott.
A Kurdish trader of Turkish foodstuffs in Sulaimaniyah, Iraq, who wished not to be named, told Al-Monitor his business has already declined because of the boycott. He's no longer importing Turkish goods at this time, as buyers are rare.
Salah, a Kurdish shop owner selling Turkish-made shoes in downtown Sulaimaniyah, told Al-Monitor, “Since the boycott campaigns have started, our sales have decreased 50%.”
According to data from the Erbil-based Kurdistan Regional Government, about 1,400 Turkish companies operate in the region and the annual trade volume between Ankara and Erbil is between $10 billion and $12 billion. Turkey has yet to recover from US sanctions a year ago and Reuters reported that immediately after Turkey's incursion into northeast Syria on Oct. 9, the Turkish lira fell to its weakest level in nearly four months. The boycott is expected to contribute to the economic decline.
Sheikh Mustafa Abdul Rahman, chairman of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region’s General Union of Importers and Exporters, told Al-Monitor the boycott is sure to impact the sale of Turkish products, though it will take about six months to compile meaningful financial data on how the boycott affects bilateral trade. “Traders have begun to feel the boycott’s consequences, so most have decided not to import Turkish made goods," he added.
Abdul Rahman said the union supports the boycott: "We are with our people. Kurds should not do business with any state that harms human beings, humanity and Kurds."
Kurdish journalist and poet Amir Halabjae told Al-Monitor, "We should have boycotted Turkish and Iranian products earlier, since those two neighboring countries are our enemies and they are exporting only cheap-quality and expired products to our region." He said, “For a week I have boycotted Turkish goods and urged family and close friends to do the same. This boycott is effective and the least we can do for our fellow Kurds in Rojava.”
However, the owner of a store selling Turkish-made clothing in the Sulaimaniyah bazaar who wished not to be named told Al-Monitor his business hasn't been affected by the movement. He said there are no alternatives to “good-quality Turkish clothes,” especially compared with alternative Chinese products.
Kurdish activist Haval Ghalib told Al-Monitor about the success of another group created by young Facebook users. “Within one week it reached 170,000 members. All members are Kurds,” he said. “Turkey's military aggression against Rojava is dependent on its economy. If we can't confront Turkey in other ways, we can stop purchasing Turkish products. The group’s aim is to harm the Turkish economy.”
He emphasized that the campaign will continue to promote buying local products or importing products from countries other than Turkey. The boycott applies to Turkish food, clothes, cosmetics, electronics and other goods, and locals are being urged not to vacation in Turkey. The campaign is even urging the KRG authorities to ban Turkish soap operas — which are dubbed into Kurdish — on local TV channels.
“We also ask the KRG to impose high customs on imported Turkish products. Our campaign has been fruitful and effective, since the boycott is a national stance and people were widely responsive,” Ghalib said. He pointed out that within the past week, flights between the Kurdistan region and Turkey have been canceled due to a lack of passengers and the price of flights to Turkey has crashed.
The boycott may be a two-edged sword, however. While it harms the Turkish economy, it will also hurt local traders who previously bought Turkish products and business owners in Turkey's Kurdish region, known as Northern Kurdistan.
Zaki Chalabi, the owner of Deniz Restaurant in Sulaimaniyah, is from the Kurdish region of Turkey. He told Al-Monitor the boycott has hurt his business because some people assume he is a Turk.
“We are Kurds and we only serve Kurdish food. We also have decided to boycott Turkish goods. We call on Kurds to not use Turkish products, since that country is using chemical weapons against [Kurds] in Rojava. When someone purchases a Turkish product, it's like purchasing a bullet for the Turkish army to kill our brothers and sisters in Rojava,” Chalabi said.
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