A Turkish viewpoint on the Kirkuk issue. A vote is to be held this year on the status of the city. Kurds hope it will become part of the Kurdish area and are doing everything they can to influence the outcome.
Turkey's proactive initiative on Kirkuk
Friday, February 9, 2007
The seminars held in major US cities on Kirkuk are a manifestation of a new diplomacy effort by Ankara
There has recently been a growing interest in the U.S. media over the issue of Kirkuk, with the Los Angeles Times naming the city as the next front in the war.
“American officials, regional leaders and residents are increasingly worried that this northern oil-rich city could develop into a third front in the country's civil war just as additional U.S. troops arrive in Baghdad and Al Anbar province as reinforcements for battles there,” read the LA Times of Feb. 1.
The Executive Director of the Institute of Turkish Studies David Cuthell elucidates: “Unfortunately the subject of Turkmens, like many of the subjects that have to do with Turkey or the Middle East, only seems to come up into the focus of the American public and government in times of crises. Now there is potential crisis in the case of Turkmens with respect to events taking place in Kirkuk.”
It is clear that Ankara is very concerned that the planned referendum this year would bring Kirkuk under Kurdish rule, since hundreds of thousands of Kurds have moved to the city in recent years. Turkey sees this population movement as a systematic campaign to change the demographic structure of the city to guarantee an outcome favoring the Kurds in the upcoming referendum.
“There are 10 billion barrels of oil underneath Kirkuk. That is almost 6 percent of the world's known oil reserves” said Cuthell, explaining the economic element that lies alongside the political one in Ankara's concern. Such an economic independence would boost prospects for the Kurds to establish an independent state next to Turkey's southeastern borders. Yet, on the other hand, the White House signals that it will not heed Turkey's demands for postponement of a planned referendum on the fate of the city to a later date.
Ankara, after a four-year roller coaster ride in Turkish-U.S. relations, now knows that the Bush government is not willing to risk their relationship with the Kurds to ease Turkey's concern over an independent Kurdistan. Thus there is a growing interest on the Turkish side to bring the issue of Kirkuk and the situation of Turkmens in the region to the U.S. public.
The Turkish outreach to US public opinion:
While Foreign Minister Abdullah Gül's visit to the United States continues, the Institute of Turkish Studies and the New York Turkmen Institute together organized a series of talks both in New York and Washington. Justice and Development Party (AKP) Balıkesir deputy Turhan Çömez and main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) Tokat deputy Orhan Ziya Diren attended these seminars as guess speakers.
Cuthell expressed his appreciation for their visit. “I have to applaud both parliamentarians Çömez and Diren for their effort to bring this issue to the American public.”
Çömez, in a private interview with the Turkish Daily News, stated that the aim of their visit is to change U.S. public opinion about Kirkuk and Turkmens. “I believe that Turkey should verbalize her main concerns at civil society platforms,” he said. “In this respect we will attend several conferences at universities and meet representatives of some nongovernmental organizations. We will explain Turkey's stance and expectations about Iraq and Kirkuk.”
Analysts say that the seminars on Kirkuk held in major U.S. cities are a manifestation of a new diplomacy effort to put a face to Turkey's regional claims that she can not stand by idly and watch a referendum disfranchise the Turkmen population.
Gül's proactive policy is successful:
“One of the things I find rather heartening is that under this current administration the Turkish diplomacy has become very proactive,” Cuthell says. The foreign minister has been to the U.S. on numerous occasions in the last year. I think this is reflective of basically a new foreign ministry and much more activist one. I believe that there is much better job [being done]… one being communicating concerns”
He also states that many U.S. politicians, academics and businessmen started to see that there is a new relationship developing between Turkey and United States that is no longer a younger brother-older brother one. “We are moving into an era of bilateral equality.”
Time will show if the United States will ever accept bilateral equality with Turkey. In the meantime though, the analysts say that Washington has found the AKP a party it can work with and that there is still no alternative at this point in Turkish politics.