Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu paid a surprise visit to the disputed oil-rich city of Kirkuk last week after holding a meeting with the Kurdish leaders in Erbil about the future of the Kurds of Syria following a possible collapse of the Syrian regime setting off criticism from Iraqi officials.
TheIraqi officials considered the unexpected visit a “blatant interference in the Iraqi internal affairs” while Turkish officials said it was a “peaceful” visit to the city where the FM met with the Turkmen community with whom Turks share close ethnic and historic ties. Following the visit, Iraq summoned Turkish ambassador to protest the visit while Turkey summoned the Iraqi ambassador to tell him that the Iraqi government’s statements were “unacceptable”
When a high ranking foreign official such as Davutoglu visits, without notice, a disputed city in Iraq that is claimed by each of the Kurds, Arabs and Turkmen communities that has been the source of tensions between Baghdad and Erbil for years, it may be deemed inappropriate. It may also be seen as the “peaceful” visit that Turks claim, but I think there is something else behind it: a tit-for-tat for Kurdistan Region’s support for the creation of a Kurdish region in Syria, especially when Barzani admitted training Syrian Kurds in Kurdistan Region to send them home to “defend their areas”. Kurdish leaders also continued their support for all Kurdish groups in Syria even the one that Turkey accuses of having links with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) rebel group that has been fighting the Turkish state for almost three decades.
Barzani’s late July remarks when he told Al Jazeera that the Syrian Kurds were beingtrained in Kurdistan Region so that they can go back to Syria and “fill any security vacuum” that might come forth in the wake of the fall of the Syrian regime, upset the Turks so much that immediately after that they threatened to use military force to intervene in Syria if a Kurdish region was established where the Democratic Union of Kurdistan (PYD) – a Kurdish armed group allegedly affiliated with the PKK – had any control. The Prime Minister Recepy Teyyip Erdogan also appeared on TV saying Davutoglu will visit Kurdistan Region to “share Turkey’s sensitivities and determination on this issue” with local administration officials.
Prior to the visit, a senior Kurdish official from Barzani’s party said that Turkeyshould not push away any Kurdish parties in Syria, even the PYD.
Turkey has been viciously fighting PKK and is desperately trying to eliminate the group through military force. The creation of a Kurdish region in Syria is seen by Turkey as a potential threat to Turkey because it fears that the PKK will use the Kurdish region of Syria to attack Turkey. PKK is already using the Kurdish region of Iraq as a launch pad to attack Turkey and Kurdish leaders have made it clear that they will not fight alongside Turkey against the PKK despite their presence in the northern mountainous territories of Kurdistan on the Turkish border. Barzani once said that the blood of a Kurds should never be shed by another Kurd in response to Turkey’s pressures on Barzani to fight against the PKK.
Davutoglu’s Kirkuk visit shows the extent to which Turkey is ready to go to prevent the creation of a Kurdish region in Syria. On the surface, Turkish officials may say that they do not oppose the creation of a Kurdish region in Syria provided that it is not controlled by a group linked with the PKK. But in reality, they oppose a Kurdish region in Syria because that will no doubt encourage Turkey’s own Kurdish region in the southeast will be demanding the establishment of a similar region, not to mention that it might open a new front for Turkey to fight the PKK.
Davutoglu’s Kirkuk visit was a reminder for Barzani and Kurdish leaders in Iraq that “we can meddle in Kirkuk if you keep supporting the creation of a Kurdish region in Syria where even PYD can exist”, that Turkey will support the Turkmen in their claims of Kirkuk being a Turkmen city which the Kurdish leaders have been trying to incorporate into the Kurdistan Region since 2003 and which the Kurds fought over it for decades with Saddam Hussein.
History shows that Turkey has the potential to intervene and divide the ethnic groups as in the case of Cyprus in 1974. Davutoglu spoke to the Turkmen community as if Turkey was going to establish a Turkmen region in Kirkuk. Turkey has considered Kirkuk a historically Ottoman and the property of the Turkmenminority. “You waited for us too long, but I promise you won’t wait for us that long in the future.” He told the Turkmen community of the city stressing on Turkish support for the Turkmen.
More importantly, Davutoglu implicitly said that Turkey recognizes Kirkuk as a Turkmen city and will act accordingly when it comes to disputes between the ethnic groups of the city. “Today we [Turkish authorities] decided to make Konya city in Turkey and Kirkuk sister cities. I am a Turkmen of Konya and for that reason I feel your pain very well... Wherever there is a Turkmen, we have felt responsible towards them and protected them and we will always do so” Davutoglu told the Turkmen rally.
Davutoglu chose a Turkmen city of Turkey instead of a Kurdish city or just any other Turkish city, to be a sister city of Kirkuk. Normally, when two cities are said to be sisters, they are such because they share something vital. In the particular case of Kirkuk and Konya, that shared characteristic, according to Davutoglu’s speech is the Turkmenness of Kirkuk and the Turkmenness of Konya.