Reassuring Turkey over its fears of a sovereign Kurdish state on its southeastern frontier in northern Iraq, a leading Kurdish official says any independent Kurdistan will still be dependent on its neighbors
There is a change in the mindset of Turkish people towards Iraqi Kurds says Safeen Dizayee, adding that many Turks from as far away as Thrace go to Northern Iraq to set up businesses.
Kurds could carve out an independent state in northern Iraq, but the state would remain inherently tied to its neighbors, according to a prominent Iraqi Kurdish leader.
“Even if tomorrow … there is an independent Kurdish state in Iraq, it would be a dependent independent [country] whether on Turkey, Iran, Syria or Iraq,” Safeen Dizayee of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) recently told the Daily News.
In your view, what’s the gist of the change in relations between Turkey and Iraqi Kurds?
Accepting the reality on the ground and dealing with that reality is, in itself, a major change. Most of the relations in the 1990s were indexed to security issues, but it has been proven since 2003 that Kurdish political leaders are important elements in the political equation, not only of Iraq, but also of the entire Middle East. Accepting this reality on the ground made Turkish leaders review their policy.
Before 2003, probably many Turkish leaders, thought that Baghdad would return to control the [Kurdish] region sooner or later. For a good while, Ankara wanted to deal directly with Baghdad [on the basis of sovereign state to sovereign state], while bypassing the Kurdish region politically and economically.
But the people running key positions in Baghdad were Kurds, because in the early days, the Sunnis boycotted the process and the Kurdish gains of the 1990s were [solidified into] the Iraqi constitution. Also the extension of (Kurdistan Regional Government leader) Massoud Barzani’s influence goes beyond the borders of Iraq among the Kurds.
You are saying Turkey has recognized the Iraqi Kurdish reality.
This was not an easy job for the Turkish side. In 2008, the Turkish military entered the region; it almost led to a confrontation, but before that and after that, a lot of work was on behind the scene. In between the economical development has also played a role in bettering ties. The Kurdistan region has offered huge potential for Turkish goods and products and energy is equally important.
In what way has the problem of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) played a role in Turkey’s revision of its policies?
The PKK issue is a continuing issue. It was there long before relations existed. We don’t want to [think of] the PKK element as one of the key factors in our relations. It’s a matter of concern to Turkey and to us. In the 1990s, relations were indexed to the PKK; today it is one of the issues that can be talked about.
For any Kurd, if you ask the question, “Do you want to be independent?” the answer without any hesitation would be “yes.” But Kurdish leaders have been very careful to be pragmatic about entertaining ideas that are achievable. What we have been able to achieve is something that is in the Iraqi constitution; we should be able to protect it. Even if tomorrow when there is a Kurdish independent state in Iraq, it would be a dependent independent [country] whether on Turkey, Iran, Syria or Iraq. You live in an environment in which you are geographically, culturally and socially interlinked with the peoples and communities around you. Economically you cannot isolate yourself. This taboo in Turkey is at least being argued. It is no longer a taboo; [but] whether it will be accepted or not – that is a different matter.
How about relaitons from people to people?
From the days where there was dislike – if I put it mildly – to the days when you have such an approach that not only people of Kurdish origin in Turkey, but people from as far as Thrace are coming and setting up businesses in several cities and feeling quite at home there, there have been major developments. There is also a change in the mindset. The concerns over the PKK are there, of course, because we see body bags coming from time to time, but the negative attitude which was once there has diminished or is diminishing.
To what degree are the currently warm relations between Turkey and Iraqi Kurds irreversible? Just a few months ago, Barzani’s meeting with Syrian Kurds led to angry reactions in Turkey.
It is natural right for all Kurds to have affinity with their brothers. Knowing well that things are changing in the Middle East, Kurds are important components in the region. The people who have spearheaded the changes [in Syria], have had no program or agenda for the Kurdish issue in Syria.
When they saw there was no road map for Kurds in Syria, they withdrew from it. As an immediate neighbor, Turkey has every right to be concerned; as immediate neighbors and with affinity with our 2.5 million Kurds there, we also put our ideas forward. We advise to avoid any conflict between Arabs and Kurds.
To what degree do you think the relationship between Turks and Iraqi Kurds are well-rooted in view of the reactions? Some even said it is now like a Catholic marriage.
I don’t think a Catholic marriage for Muslims is viable but it is certainly not a “mutah” marriage – a Shiite temporary marriage. Even the best marriages also face problems. The policymakers were not as upset as the opinion makers. Yes, some of the concerns were there because of the PYD’s [Democratic Union Party] links with the PKK. But the influence Barzani enjoys with the rest of the Kurds, should be encouraged. He should be the one to guide and help them. Turkey also should open up dialogue with the Kurds of Syria, too.
When Barzani came to attend the AKP’s congress on Sept. 30, he went up to the stage under a chorus of “Turkey is proud of you.” What did he think about that?
He didn’t understand what it was all about; he thought the chants were negative. These changes were unthinkable three years ago.
There is talk about a Kurdish spring, that the developments will prove an opportunity for Kurds in different countries to unite.
In each country where you have political boundaries, whether these boundaries are to my liking or to Iranian or Turkish liking, people are saying that the Middle East is changing; [whether the] borders are changing or not changing is a different matter. Under the circumstances, we fully support the rights of the Kurdish people in all these countries. But with each country, you can’t [take] a carbon-copy solution for the Kurds of Iraq [and apply it] to that of Turkey or Turkey to Syria, or Syria to Iran. In each country, they live under special, different circumstances, and within the countries in which they live, we believe they should be equal citizens, be granted democratic rights and live basically side by side with other groups – just as the Turks do with Arabs and all the other 27 ethnic groups that exist in Turkey.
The PKK issue stands as an obstacle to the picture you draw.
I don’t think that should be an obstacle. At the end of the day, people need security, stability and a good standard of living. If you go to the border areas [to see people] who are dealing directly on a trade basis with our region, their standards have improved. I am not trying to [restrict] the issue to economic development alone; it has cultural, social and security dimensions, but the economic dimension will play the key role in resolving other issues.
But lately the government has been giving the impression that it will rely more on security measures to solve the issue.
Any government that is being cornered would have such reaction, but I hope the doors of dialogue will not be closed.
WHO IS SAFEEN DIZAYEE?
Safeen Dizayee, who worked as the Kurdistan Democratic Party’s (KDP) representative in Ankara from 1992 to 2003, is one of the key figures shaping relations between Turkey and the Iraqi Kurdish leadership.
From 1980 to 1989, Dizayee was an active member of the Kurdistan Students’ Society in Europe.
In 1999, he was elected to the KDP’s Central Committee. After the fall of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, he began working as the second deputy to northern Iraqi leader Masoud Barzani as a member of the Iraqi Governing Council in 2003-2004 under the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad.
Between 2005 and 2009, Dizayee was the head of the KDP’s international relations bureau.
Diyazee acted as education minister in the sixth Kurdistan Regional Government Cabinet from 2009 to April 2012.