Turkey: Iraq Crisis Impacts Ankara's Kurdish Policies
Turkey's recent approach to regional Kurdish issues has been highly contradictory. In northern Iraq, in an effort to diversify its energy supplies and further establish itself as an oil and gas hub, Ankara has entered into energy deals with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), something which has infuriated the central Iraqi government in Baghdad but which has helped the Kurds further build a foundation for their independence.
In northern Syria, on the other hand, Ankara has been so alarmed by the growing Kurdish autonomy there that it reportedly has provided support for radical Islamist groups (including the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS)) in their fight against the the Kurdish militia that controls the region, which is affiliated with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).
But the takeover by ISIS in recent days of Mosul and other cities in northern Iraq could lead to a change in Turkey's approach to the regional Kurdish issue. Faced with a growing radical Islamist threat in Iraq, Ankara will likely not only have to deepen its relationship with the KRG, in charge of what is now clearly the only dependable military force in Iraq, but also alter its approach to the Kurds in Syria, who also have had success in fighting ISIS. Explains Lehigh University professor and Turkey expert Henri Barkey in an analysis piece on Al-Monitor website:
The crisis may force the Turks to rethink some of their policies in Syria. To date, Ankara’s friendship with the Kurds stopped in Iraq; Erdogan and his government have taken an uncompromising position against Syrian Kurds led by the Democratic Union Party of Kurdistan (PYD), an offshoot of the Turkish Kurdish insurgent group the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). The PYD has emerged as the strongest Kurdish group in Syria and has put together an impressive fighting force to defend its territory from both ISIS and the regime. The idea of another autonomous Kurdish region on its borders after the KRG has been anathema to Ankara. Paradoxically, the PYD’s armed elements are some of the only ones that have scored blows against the jihadists. In the face of the ISIS sweep, the PYD and the KRG, which have also had antagonistic relations, appear to be cooperating on defensive measures against ISIS. Turkey may have to reconsider its boycott of the Syrian Kurds to enlarge the anti-ISIS coalition.
Faced with a situation where it is either directly or indirectly supporting Kurdish autonomy moves in Iraq and Syria, Ankara will then have to deal with the question of what to do with the autonomy demands of the Kurds living in its own territory? The Justice and Development Party (AKP) government has been engaged over the last few years in a peace process with the PKK and its jailed leader, Abdullah Ocalan, but that effort has been flagging as of late, leading to increased violence. As it turns its focus to dealing with the ISIS threat with the help of the Kurds, Ankara might find that it has to make reignite its talks with Ocalan and the PKK and take serious steps towards meeting the Kurds' demands for greater local autonomy in order to take another potential source of trouble off its already full plate of security woes.