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An Analysis of Massoud Barzani’s Visit to Turkey PDF Print E-mail

ABSTRACT -- The visit of the head of the Iraq Kurdish Regional Government, Massoud Barzani, to Ankara should indicate

that an important component of Turkey’s Iraq policy has began a process of normalization.

 

 

Barzani’s long delayed visit to Turkey shows that both sides have clearly showed their desire to normalize relations. Turkey’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ahmet Davutoglu, says that Turkey will implement an active policy leading to full integration with the Kurdish government. The Barzani administration declared that on their visit to Ankara their priorities will be strengthening commercial, political and diplomatic dialog.

The Meaning of Barzani’s Visit for Turkey’s Iraq Policy

Although Massoud Barzani’s official visit of to Turkey by special invitation from Turkey’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ahmet Davutoglu, in 2003 during the Iraq War is seen as historical in certain circles, it should be said that the visit was primarily not unrelated to Turkey’s policy of collaboration with all Iraqi groups. But, taking into consideration both Shia and Sunni leaders’ official visits to Turkey, Barzani’s visit should be considered normal. Important Iraqi leaders who have recently visited Turkey include Prime Minister Maliki, President Jalal Talabani, Vice President Tariq Hashimi and Adeel Mahdi, Leader of the Iraqiyya List, Ayad Allawi, Moktada al-Sadr, Ammar al-Hakim, Mosul Governor Atheel Nujayfi, the National Security Chief, Shirwan al-Waili, and the Minister of Defense, Abdulkadir Muhammad Qasim.Most of these leaders were invited to Turkey, not only as representatives of their own parties or the Iraqi Republic, but also to represent the different sects and ethnical groups. Moreover, we, the Center for Middle Eastern Strategic Studies, also arranged some joint conferences with these leaders. So we may say that Massoud Barzani’s visits to Turkey are one of a series of these sorts of visits.

However, it is also possible to understand Massoud Barzani’s vists in a different way.  After the 2003 Iraq invasion it is obvious that rhetorical problems between Turkey and the Iraqi Regional Kurdish Administration interrupted political cooperation and diplomatic relations. Before 2003, Massoud Barzani visited Turkey many times as leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), and he even managed to conduct to his foreign activities with a diplomatic passport. Before the 2003 war and subsequent incidents there was trust on both sides.  The main problems were Massoud Barzani’s position on establishing an independent Kurdish Nation, his open policy about Kirkuk joining to Kurdish region, his perspective on the PKK, the location of Turkmens and the exploitation of the oil resources. Turkey’s concurrent advocacy of a centralized Baghdad administration, its unwillingness to recognize the federal system, and its denunciation of Kurdish leaders in the media strained relations. Actually, after the 2003 war, the abstracts in U.S.’s Iraq policy had led Turkey to maintain a defensive policy, not only with a Kurdish region, but also with all other Iraqi groups. So between 2003-2005 and, as Dr. Basil al-Gureyri from the Iraq Strategic Research Organization has said, after 2007, Turkey’s policy of developing relations with all the Iraqi groups was initiated, and relations between Turkish and Iraqi groups changed completely. 

In this context, one fact that should be emphasized is the visits of Iraqi leaders to Turkey, and the other is the concrete steps to establish cooperation by taking Iraqi’s different groups into consideration one by one, as the Ottomans did. Opening Mosul Consulate, the decision to open a new consulate in Basra and right after that, in 2009, the decision to open a new consulate at Arbil, the initiation of official negotiations by Iraqi authorities were concrete steps for the new Iraq policy. When we think of Turkey’s profits in the Kurdish region, although the importance of opening of new consulates is well understood, the Kurdish side sees this as a major step towards Turkey’s official recognition of the Iraqi Kurdish Regional Government. It is known that by the means of economy Turkey supported the policy of increasing its profits in the Kurdish region before 2003, and as a consequence, in 2010 about 3,200 Turkish firms are working on many important projects, including the expansion of oil fields. It is said that the volume of Turkey’s investments and reciprocal trade in Arbil, Duhok and Sulaymaniyah, the provinces of the Kurdish region, is over 5 billion dollars. With three provinces and 5 billion dollars of trade, we see that Turkey’s economic relations with the Kurdish region are very significant. 

However, we also may observe that the economic cooperation between Turkey and Kurdish Administration doesn’t play a direct role in solving the political and diplomatic problems. In particular, Barzani’s call for an independent Kurdish nation after being elected leader of the Kurdish Administration, his approach to the Kirkuk problem and his opinions on the PKK lead to reciprocal mistrust and doubts. When Turkey raised the Kirkuk issue, Barzani’s response, “We’ll interfere in Diyarbakir,” illustrate the relationship’s potential for conflict. Turkey’s air and ground operations frustrated the Kurdish side, seriously aggravating the tensions. Thus, when Turkey’s policy of establishing relations with Iraqi groups was implemented, important obstacles to good relations with Barzani remained for decision makers, media, academic groups and public opinion. However, these doubts also caused problems for the success of Turkey’s Iraq policy. On the one hand, Barzani was getting more powerful in Iraqi politics as a leader, and on the other, as representative of the Kurdish region, he managed to maintain good relations, especially with the U.S., the Arab nations and European capital cities. During times when it was hard to be effective Iraqi politics while excluding the Kurds as a whole, Iran was more aggressive about including Iraq in its sphere of influence after the U.S. occupation. Iran’s effectiveness in Iraq, where the population is approximately 60-65% Shiite, bothers many countries, especially the Arab nations, since nearly 90% of the oil resources are located in Shiite regions. Iran’s effectiveness and control over Iraqi Shiites may be a short term result of Iraq needing Iran to defend its regional policy after the U.S. occupation. This may prevent many nations, including Turkey, from playing an effective role in the Middle East. So it was really hard to be effective in Iraq politics while excluding the Kurdish region. On the other hand, both Iraqi groups at Kurdish Regional Administration and some other regional nations had to cooperate with a strong country like Turkey in order to maintain their own effective Iraq policies. Otherwise, it was likely that their interests in Iraqi politics would suffer. So during recent years Turkey has pursued a policy of having a well-defined role in Iraq, first of all, and the entire Middle East. Then Turkey began to more actively establish relations with the Kurdish region, while realizing that it still had doubts about Kirkuk and Iraqi politics. However the air operations held during Kandil, before and after the visit of Barzani, show clearly that Turkey maintains its basic stance towards Iraq.

To review, during recent years Turkey, having implemented a policy of having an active role in all Middle East and especially in Iraq, has also been maintaining good relations with each of the global powers that are actors in international relations. Formerly, Turkey only carried out foreign policy at the official governmental level. However, at times this policy led to ignorance of the real conditions of other nations. For example, in Lebanon, if relations were restricted to the governmental level, this would lead to ignorance about the Hezbollah Party, which has an important role in Lebanon’s military and political life. This would make it nearly impossible for Turkey to be an active power in Lebanon. It is same in Iraq. For example, if there are only relations at governmental level, there will be relations with the Shiite groups represented by the prime minister, and Maliki government’s critics, the Sunni and Kurdish Parties would be ignored. In this case, it would not be possible for Turkey to lead Iraqi politics to its own advantage. It is reasonable for Turkey to implement policy and effect outcomes that steer the current actors in beneficial ways.  So we see Barzani’s visit as part of Turkey establishing relations with all Iraqi groups, Shiites, Sunnis, Arabs, Turkmens, Kurds, Christians, etc.

The Kurd’s Opinion on Barzani’s Visit

Massoud Barzani’s official visit to Turkey as the leader of the Kurdish Regional Administration started important debates, not only in Turkey, but also in the Kurdish region.When we held interviews with the head of the Regional Administration, Massoud Barzani, in Arbil, it was obvious that the Kurdish side attributes great importance to the visit. According to the Kurdish side the most important thing about Barzani’s visit is not developing the commercial and diplomatic relations between Turkey and the Kurdish Administration, but getting over the psychological obstacles to the normalization of relations. Although the psychological obstacles seem to have been overcome by the historical visit of Davutoglu, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Turkey, it is still not possible to normalize relations in all respects. However, according to the Kurdish side, the visit of Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs, Davutoglu, is a turning point for improving relations. The Arbil visit in a time of normalization and the direct emphasis of the Davutoglu, the Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs, on the friendship and mutual faith played a significant role in getting over the previously insurmountable prejudices of both the Iraqi Kurdish and the Turkish. Since then, Turkey’s decision to open a new consulate in Arbil helped to get rid of doubts.The officials we met in Arbil said that it was a really important step to designate a consul, even before building the consulate. During April, the leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party and former leader of the Regional Kurdish Administration, Nechirvan Barzani, shared their opinions on Massoud Barzani’s visit to Turkey. Nechirvan Barzani again mentioned the Arbil International Airport being constructed in Arbil and has the seventh longest landing field in the world and the longest in the Middle East, and he also expressed his gratitude for Turkey’s cooperation. When we met with consultants of Nechirvan Barzani in Arbil, they said that the visit had been pleasant and that Nechirvan Barzani desired to develop the commercial, political and cultural relations with Turkey.   According to the consultants the future of the Kurdish region will be determined more by diplomatic and economic relations with Turks, than with Arabs. According to them, when we look at the history of the Kurdish region, its people cooperated with the Turks, not with Arabs. So in the future it is inevitable to have a common future with Turkey, rather than with Persians or Arabs.

So within this context it is known that Massoud Barzani’s visit of to Ankara is a conscious effort to steer the media in order to alter negative perceptions of Barzani himself. In fact, when Massoud Barzani was answering our questions at his place of residence, after emphasizing the importance of his visit to Turkey, he stated that after the visit the normalization of relations will proceed much more quickly. To a question about his visit to Turkey, Barzani responded that Turkey is a neighbor country, and although there may be some problems between neighbors, they try to ensure that they never became public problems, and he also said that it is normal to have dialog and cooperation between neighbors.

In interviews we conducted with the Kurdish side we saw that they pay attention to the background of the Turkey and Kurdish Administration relations in recent history. Accordingly, after 1991, support for Massoud Barzani provided great advantages to both for him and his party KDP. However, according to some analysts, the new situation after the 2003 war led Turkish relations with the Kurdish Administration in a new direction. According to some, relations with Turkey were only militarized after the 2003 war. According to the Kurdish politicians we met, during those years when there were some problems in relations, although they had the desire, both sides were unsuccessful in the end. In many issues including Kirkuk, sides were doubtful, mistrust became the controlling parameter. According to the Regional Administration officials, although there was constant growth in cooperation, Turkey avoided political and diplomatic cooperation for different reasons.

According to the Kurdish side, the changes in political and diplomatic relations were possible by Turkey’s new foreign policy that completely understands the Iraqi realities. Especially after Turkey initiated the zero problem policy with her neighbors, the Regional Administration actively supported the policy, and as a result, good relations began to be established with the Kurdish Baghdad Embassy by the Mosul Consulate General, and were strengthened when Turkey’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Davutoglu visited there. The new period of what Kurdish officials call ‘the Mr. Davutoglu policy,’ mistrust and doubts were largely eliminated, and both sides have made efforts to create a common history, as Minister Davutoglu has said. During our interview with Massoud Barzani, he said that this visit was a significant step, adding that this will strengthen the friendship between the two nations. For Barzani, the problems with Turkey should be seen as family issues. Sources close to Barzani use the same expression ‘family issues,’ and they say that Barzani sees the recent problems as brother-sister problems, implying that it is a natural obligation to solve them. The leader of the Regional Administration’s parliament, Kemal Kerkuki refers to the same subject when he says that the differences are political, that both sides have been together throughout history and that:  ‘If the line drawn at the end of World War I had been placed south of where we live, today our territory would be part of Turkey.’  

Massoud Barzani being invited to Ankara as leader of the Kurdish Regional Administration will help Kurds to get over the idea that, “Turkey doesn’t want to recognize our legal and legitimate status.” So in this context, Turkey and Regional Kurdish Administration are above all two neighbor nations making great steps towards developing the reciprocal trust in the Kurdish region. For the Kurdish Administration the relationship between these two communities goes back centuries.  Kurdish officials think that the problems in relations that have occurred from time to time have now been eliminated by the dialog and reciprocal understanding that has been established since the Justice and Development Party came in to power, and they think that the problems between governments will not affect the citizens. Kurdish officials point out that even they were exposed to all kinds of attacks, including nuclear weapons, during Saddam’s reign, since 2003 there have been no hostilities or clashes with the Arabs. So they implicitly state that the Iraqi Kurds see having good relations with Turkey as one of their priorities throughout history.

As a consequence, the Kurdish Administration officials, politicians and opinion leaders we met at Arbil hope that the visit of Massoud Barzani will help accelerate the establishment of dialog between societies and citizens. From our observation it can be seen that by taking the regional conjuncture and Iraq’s new political balances into consideration, the Kurdish Administration is trying to establish a common policy with Ankara regarding the future of Iraq and they take Turkey’s regional policies very seriously.

An Analysis of Massoud Barzani’s Visit to Ankara

Even though Massoud Barzani, leader of the Iraq Kurdish Regional Administration, came to Turkey at the special invitation of Turkey’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ahmet Davutoglu, for an official visit, the visit lasted for 5 days, and included executive meetings with the President of the Republic of Turkey, Abdullah Gul, Turkey’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Davutoglu and Barzani’s meetings with the Turkish Industrialists' and Businessmen's Association and Center for Middle Eastern Strategic Studies, showing that Barzani’s visit was important for both sides. Also, when we consider that the same protocol and interviews were used for Iraqi leaders Ammar al-Hakim and Ayad Allawi when they visited Turkey, we see that Turkey’s policy is equal for all Iraqi groups. 

In this context it can be understood from the statements and meetings during Barzani’s visit to Turkey that issues like security, economics, political cooperation and Iraq’s stability after the elections have been raised. Regarding these issues, although positions were shared on the economic, politic and social issues, there was conflict concerning security.

However, at the press meetings held after the negotiations between Turkey’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ahmet Davutoglu, and Barzani, Davutoglu said: “This visit has been held at the very time that Middle East is being restructured. Brother, our friend Iraq is being remade.” He continued: ‘These close relations between Turkey and Iraq are a bridge, and between Turkey and Northern Iraq a project of full economic integration will be carried out.”    In this context, we see that strengthening economic cooperation is the primary item on Barzani’s agenda. However, it is important that Turkish Airlines has regular flights to Arbil, Turkish banks have branch offices in Arbil and Barzani and his committee visited the head of the Turkish Industrialists' and Businessmen's Association, Ümit Boyner. When he gave a speech at the Center for Middle Eastern Strategic Studies, Barzani expressed his gratitude for Turkish companies’ activities, and stated that Northern Iraq will be a bridge between Turkey and Iraq and the Gulf states.

In the frame of economic cooperation, joint energy projects has become a current issue, and Barzani said that they are ready to work as a bridge, bringing the resources from the Middle East to West, including Nabucco. He also said that they are capable of taking every precaution about security issues. The Kurdish side pointed out that there are 3,200 Turkish companies operating in the Kurdish region, and commercial cooperation will play an important part in developing the social dialog. At the meeting of Turkish Industrialists' and Businessmen's Association Barzani claimed that both sides will benefit from developing the economic and commercial relations, and that the reciprocal economic cooperation will lower tensions and improve political relations.    

Another topic of Barzani’s visit to Turkey was the development of political cooperation. On this subject it is seen that sides share a common will to develop their relations. At the press conference of Turkey’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ahmet Davutoglu’s words clearly explain this political cooperation: “All Iraqi people are our brothers. We want Iraqi groups to build a strong, prosperous and stable Iraq. Our brothers from Arbil will be in Baghdad, in Ankara, in Basra and in İstanbul at the same time. In the zone from the Gulf to Europe, from Baghdad to Istanbul we will establish a world of peace and stability. And those roads will pass by Arbil, Kirkuk and Mosul. The friendship here will be an example to the entire world. Arabs, Turkmens, Kurds, Shiites and Sunnis will all be part of this.”  In his speech to the Center for Middle Eastern Strategic Studies Barzani said that his visit to Turkey is an extension of his contacts with Turkey’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ahmet Davutoglu, and that this visit will begin a new era in relations with Turkey. Barzani added that his visit’s purpose was also to consolidate and strengthen the relations. Actually, this proved once more that both Turkish and Kurdish sides are willing to strengthen the economical cooperation.

So it may be claimed that the primary item on Barzani’s agenda is cooperation for security. Those who opposed Barzani’s visit to Turkey raised the PKK, the Turkmen and the Kirkuk problems, and as a precaution they wanted Barzani to make concrete steps towards improving relations. Before the visit, an official statement by Turkey’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said: “During our meetings with Iraqi Kurdish Regional Administration officials and ministers and Mr. Barzani, there are steps to take primarily on counterterrorism, and we foresee that we must develop our relations with Iraq and the Iraqi Kurdish Regional Administration.”

In this context, the most important problem is the presence of the Kurdistan Workers' Party in Northern Iraq. After meeting with Prime Minister Erdoğan, even though Barzani said, “We don’t see Turkey’s security as separate from our own,” and stated that there will be more cooperation on security issues, he didn’t refer directly to the PKK. Nor did he say anything concrete about removing the Kurdistan Workers' Party from the Kurdish region. Barzani’s speech was criticised by some in Turkey. However, Barzani actually did send a clear message about the PKK both in his speech at Center for Middle Eastern Strategic Studies and at some other meetings. The issue was raised again in press conferences, and after saying that he is against the clashes and the violence, he said “If Turkey or the PKK has the solution to the war, why have both sides failed to come up with this solution? I want this mentality to end.”  So we understand from Barzani’s words that his statement about the PKK is contrary to the expectations of some portions of the Kurdish Administration have held since 2003. The statement actually says that the PKK is Turkey’s domestic problem, that they have no responsibility for the emergence of the PKK, and that military, even though they have fought with Turkey against the PKK since 1990, they were unsuccessful. In a way, the Kurdish Administration always says that the PKK is a Kurdish-Kurdish problem, and they clearly declare that they won’t be involved in this process.

Even though there is a problem with his explanation of the problem, Barzani’s difference from the Kurdish sections of Turkey and, above all, from the Peace and Democracy Part is notable. What should be discussed is that Barzani, in meetings with the chairman of the Peace and Democracy Party, Selahattin Demirtash and the chairman of the closed party Democratic Society Party, Ahmet Turk, said that he wants them to support Turkey’s democratic opening and do so on Kurdish television on TRT 6. On the TRT 6 program Barzani attended he clearly said that he used these expressions in the meetings with Selahattin Demirtaş and Ahmet Türk, ‘Support this project. Even though the necessary steps weren’t taken on this project, this is an important project for Kurdish people, you should support it and defend it. You definitely shouldn’t oppose it.”  At meetings in Center for Middle Eastern Strategic Studies and elsewhere Barzani always says that he supports the democratic opening and that with this policy of opening the problem will be solved. We see that there is a difference of opinion between Barzani with the PKK and the Peace and Democracy Party. On the top of all this, Barzani’s Kurdish speech on TRT 6 opposed the Kurdish politicians words and policies in Turkey, and Barzani told the Kurds in Turkey that their problems cannot be solved with violence and that they should support the democratic opening.

Barzani’s words on supporting Prime Minister Erdogan and his party’s politics may cause problems in the Peace and Democracy Party.  On TRT 6 Barzani said: “The Prime Minister’s policy of opening and his party are the best solution for this problem. This problem cannot be solved with fighting. it can be solved only in a peaceful and democratic way.  Thus I want the Prime Minister and those who are with him to support the Kurdish.” To TRT’s question about his meetings with Demirtash and Turk, Barzani said that they should support, and definitely shouldn’t oppose, the democratic opening. Barzani’s words show that the Iraq Regional Kurdish Administration’s policy on solving the Kurdish problem is  totally different from those of the PKK and the Peace and Democracy Party and that Barzani calls on the Kurdish people and its politicians in Turkey to support the government. The above mentioned statements are so clear and direct that the fallout will cause some problems in the future for Kurdish politicians. Thus, contrary to what some people think, there is no correspondence between the policy of Barzani and the policy of the Peace and Democracy Party.

On the other hand, contrary to those who want direct military actions against the PKK, Barzani has only said some words of criticism. However, it should be said that the Kurdish region’s opinions are different from Turkish expectations. The two important controversies affect the Kurdish region today.  There is a side that wants the Kurdish Administration to take part in a Turkish-Kurdish dialogue to protect them, and there is another powerful side that wants Kurdish-Kurdish dialogue to be established first for protection. On the first side we find Kurdish Regional Administration officials and politicians and Kurdish businessmen working on common projects with Turkish companies. On the second side there are university students, prominent media members and academics and rigid Kurdish nationalists. Even though they give importance to cooperation, they have doubts about Ankara’s cooperation with Turkmens, Sunni Arabs and especially the Kirkuk problem. Those who want the Regional Administration primarily to have good dialogues with Kurds around the world are supported by an important number of Iraqi Kurdish people. Besides this, there is an important Kurdish population in Europe that wants Kurdish-Kurdish dialogue. If Barzani makes the PKK a target, his effectiveness both in Europe and on the Kurdish population will decline, and this situation will weaken the Barzani movement in all Kurdish regions, especially in Arbil. The places where Barzani is historically powerful are Dohuk, Mosul and some parts of Arbil. These places, known as Behdinan, are where Barzani movement is based. On the other hand, in Arbil, Sulaymaniyah and Kirkuk support for Barzani’s family is limited. Since Barzani is trying to enlarge his area of influence with a nationalism policy, he doesn’t want to be know as the Kurdish opponent of the Kurdish. It is known that in war rhetoric about Kirkuk and nationalismthe rivalry between Barzani and the PKK is growing.

As a result, Barzani’s words about security cooperation may affect Kurdish and Turkish people differently. Barzani sees security policies primarily as the last step, while tryiing to protect his status in Iraq and readying for the possibility of fragmentation of the Iraqi groups.

Conclusion

After the leader of the Iraq Kurdish Regional Administration, Massoud Barzani’s, visit to Ankara, it should be stated that an important point for Turkey’s Iraq policy is the normalization process. As Iraq’s future is being defined, it is almost impossible to have an Iraqi policy or be effective in Iraq politics while excluding the Kurdish actors. Like the Shiites, Sunnis, Arabs and Turkmens it is difficult to say anything about Iraq’s future while excluding the Kurdish, who are a reality of Iraqi politics.

In this context, Barzani’s visit allowed both sides to clearly show their desire to normalize relations. As Turkey’s Minister of Foreign Affairs said, Turkey will implement a full integration process with the Kurdish Administration. The Barzani government said in Ankara that their priorities are to strengthen commercial, political and diplomatic relations with Turkey. As a result, after a long hiatus, it is possible that relations between Turkey and the Regional Administration will develop more quickly after Barzani’s visit.

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