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Turkey looking for economic integration with kurdistan region

Qassim Khidhir Hamad
With bilateral trade between the Iraqi Kurdistan Region and Turkey reaching US$9 billion, Massoud Barzani, the Kurdistan Region Government President, formerly an enemy of the Turkish government, was invited…
18.05.2010  |  Erbil

Lately, relations between Turkey and the Kurdistan Region have calmed significantly, progressing rapidly as both entities look for opportunities to improve their economic outlooks. Barzani was invited to Turkey while Turkey’s Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Feridun Sinirlioglu, was visiting the President in Kurdistan.

Turkey is working hard to take the lion’s share of economic opportunities in Kurdistan and beat their competitors to the greatest stake in the region’s economic future.

"My Prime Minister wants Turkey and the Iraqi Kurdistan Region to be integrated with each other through economics," said Aydin Selcen, Turkish Consul in the Kurdistan Region’s capital, Erbil.

"We hope the border areas between Turkey and Kurdistan Region become very calm in a way that the areas can turn into a destination for trade and tourism," Selcen added.

Turkey sees potential for strategic partnership between themselves and Kurdistan and the economic benefits of a close relationship are obvious to both parties.

“Turkey knows very well that Kurdistan is not a sea of oil, it is an ocean of oil," said Musa Muhammad, an economics lecturer at Salahuddin University in Erbil.

He continued to remark that the Kurdistan Region needs Turkey to build the region and as an export partner for its oil and gas. And if Turkey joins the European Union, Kurdistan can be the gateway between the Arab Gulf Countries and Europe, since Kurdistan Region has a 700km borderline with Turkey.

As for Turkey, Muhammad added, Turkey wants to become the main route for export of Iraqi oil and gas, especially for the proposed Nabucco Pipeline, which takes Iraqi gas to Europe. The pipeline goes through Kurdistan to Turkey. Turkey also sees the Kurdistan Region as a possible gateway to better links with the rest of Iraq and other Arab countries in the region.

According to Muhammad, there is a huge competition between Turkey and Iran for dominance in the Kurdish economy. Turkey currently has a lead and is better placed to win the competition because Kurdistan has more joint interests with Turkey than with Iran and Turkish products tend to be of higher quality than Iranian products.

"If we look at the big picture, we see the situation is more in the interest of Turkey than Kurdistan Region," Muhammad concluded, suggesting a reason for why relations have imrproved.

While the relations between Turkey and Kurdistan Region are advancing very fast, the Turkish Military continues a near constant bombardment of their border with Kurdistan, accusing members of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) of hiding in the mountainous region. There have been more clashes recently, almost certainly a response to the warming-up of the official relationship.

Jawad Qadir, a member of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), led by Massoud Barzani, says the economy is not the only reason that makes Turkey and Kurdistan Region eager to develop the relations.

"The issue of the PKK is one of the most important reasons," He said "Turkey believes the Kurdistan Region can be a mediator to solve the PKK issue. Barzani has an important influence on PKK.

"President Barzani told the Turkish government that if they make any effort to talk with the PKK, he will try to convince the PKK to disarm."

Recently, Qadir was invited by Turkey along with a number of Kurdish intellectuals and writers with the aim of talking with the Turkish Media to end the hostile statements between both sides. He said Turkey has changed its behavior toward the Kurdistan Region and some high-ranking Turkish officials recognise the Kurdistan Region as a distinct "federal region in Iraq”, also using the term "Kurdistan Region" instead of "Northern Iraq."

However, Qadir believes there are some elements inside the PKK and the Turkish Army who do not want to see good relations between Turkey and the Kurdistan Region and they try to hinder it.

"The PKK and Turkish Army can have a positive or negative role in Turkey and Kurdistan Region relations," he said.

No date has yet been set for Barzani’s visit to Turkey. With the recent improvements in the relationship between the two parties, though, expectations among the population, especially within Kurdistan are likely to be high.