Turkey juggles relations with Erbil, Baghdad

With a diplomatic visit set to take place between the president of Iraqi Kurdistan and the Turkish prime minister in Turkey’s largest Kurdish city, Ankara must strike a balance between Erbil and Baghdad.

al-monitor Kurdistan Regional Government President Massoud Barzani (R) welcomes Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan at Erbil's airport, about 350 kilometers (220 miles) north of Baghdad, March 29, 2011. Photo by REUTERS/Azad Lashkari.

Topics covered

turkey elections, turkey-pkk talks, turkey-iraq relations, pkk, ocalan, kurds, kurdistan regional government, krg, erdogan, barzani, bdp

Nov 13, 2013

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is to meet with Massoud Barzani, the president of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Iraq. The location and timing of the meeting are no coincidence.

Barzani’s plan to meet with Erdogan in Diyarbakir and then to accompany him during his time there is undoubtedly a meaningful gesture for the Kurds, making the visit a hot story in the Turkish media. If the meeting were to take place in Ankara, it would be treated as routine.

Barzani is also coming to Diyarbakir at a critical time, as elections are forthcoming in Turkey. Erdogan wants payback for his work in the solution process. If his Justice and Development Party (AKP) can increase its votes in the southeast, it will make its task in the country’s west easier, allowing Erdogan to tell people, “Look, the Kurds prefer the AKP over the Kurdistan Workers Party.” This will boost his wise-man image and strengthen his hand in the solution process after the elections.

If the Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), not the AKP, increases its votes in the southeast, then Erdogan will have a hard time with the voters in the west. An anti-Kurdish wave that could surface after the elections may even hinder Erdogan’s chances of being elected president.

This is why Erdogan took a major risk by inviting Barzani to Diyarbakir. Erdogan wants to convey warm messages to the people of Diyarbakir, hence the inclusion of renowned Kurdish singer Shivan Perwer on the guest list. Mind you, this populist move is repeated before every election. Whether it works is another issue.

The second important timing element of the Barzani visit is the solution process. It is no secret that there are cracks in the process and that the Kurds are becoming increasingly pessimistic. Last April and May, Kurds were asking, “When is peace coming?” Now they worry, “When is war going to break out?”

Erdogan did not get what he had hoped from Abdullah Ocalan and the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). Things are not moving along as he wants, but he also knows that there is no going back. This is why the cracks in the process have to be quickly papered over; Erdogan does not want to head to elections in such a state.

The best way to cover those cracks is to bring Barzani over and put him in front of the Kurds. After papering over the cracks with Barzani, you have Shivan Perwer to gloss it over and — voila — you have a new process.

Also, by inviting Barzani to Diyarbakir, Erdogan is sending a message to Ocalan: “If you are not with us, then we have Barzani. I will continue on my way with Barzani and present him to the Kurds as their leader.”

The rivalry between Barzani and Ocalan for leadership is well known. From this angle, the Diyarbakir visit is a great opportunity for Barzani, who will salute the Kurds with an introduction from Erdogan. While Ocalan’s party could not even win votes in the thousands in Northern Iraq, the sympathy for Barzani in Diyarbakir will be a serious loss for Ocalan.

Ocalan’s personality means he will be watching Barzani saluting the people alongside Erdogan with envy and resentment. Ocalan will try to come up with a response. Earlier, he had said, “If they can, let them make peace with Barzani and end the bloodshed.” A similar reaction is to be expected from Ocalan and the PKK.

The third important element is undoubtedly the issue of relations with Iraq. Erdogan, who sent Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu to Baghdad to mend the relations with the central government, invited Barzani to Diyarbakir to ensure their relations remain intact. The message here is very clear: “We won’t ignore Baghdad, but we won’t give up Barzani.”

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More from  Emre Uslu

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