Stephen Starr is an Irish journalist who lived in Syria from 2007 to 2012. He is the author of Revolt in Syria: Eye-Witness to the Uprising (Oxford University Press: 2012).

  • Ankara’s opposition to Kurdish autonomy goes beyond oil or referendum, On: Sun, 01 Oct 2017

  • The West is ignoring Turkey’s opposition, On: Sun, 17 Sep 2017

  • Quietly, the Assad regime is reshaping Syria, On: Sun, 27 Aug 2017

  • Erdogan is exploiting Turkey’s divisions, On: Sun, 23 Jul 2017

  • Have Turkey’s security failings turned a corner?, On: Sun, 25 Jun 2017

  • Islamic State has more in common with the West than we think , On: Sun, 18 Jun 2017

  • Ethics of survival rule the day in Syria, On: Sun, 21 May 2017

  • Turkey’s influence grows but Damascus lies in the long grass , On: Sun, 30 Apr 2017

  • Questions about Erdogan’s future path at home and abroad , On: Sun, 23 Apr 2017

  • Patriarchy still holds Arab women back, On: Sun, 12 Mar 2017

  • The war in Syria is essentially over , On: Sun, 12 Feb 2017

  • Wadi Barada siege shows Damascenes’ contempt for countryside , On: Sun, 29 Jan 2017

  • Assad retaking Syria would be an unbridled catastrophe , On: Sun, 11 Dec 2016

  • Middle East problems will still need local solutions , On: Sun, 20 Nov 2016

  • Post Palmyra, where is the real power in Damascus? , On: Fri, 01 Apr 2016

  • A cantonised, post-war Syria, best chance for peace, On: Fri, 25 Mar 2016

  • Kurdish problem runs generations deep, On: Fri, 18 Mar 2016

  • Russia sees ‘strategic’ value in Syria, not regime , On: Fri, 18 Mar 2016

  • Refugee problem endures in Europe, On: Fri, 26 Feb 2016

  • Turkey playing realpolitik with refugees, On: Fri, 12 Feb 2016

  • Other tragedies lurk after Madaya , On: Fri, 15 Jan 2016

  • Has Turkey gone too far with Russia?, On: Fri, 08 Jan 2016

  • Murals of Homs , On: Fri, 18 Dec 2015

  • The future of Assad, On: Fri, 18 Dec 2015

  • The European roots to today’s jihadism, On: Fri, 04 Dec 2015

  • Damascus now plays bit-part role in Syria conflict, On: Fri, 23 Oct 2015

  • Islamic State closes in on Damascus , On: Fri, 04 Sep 2015

  • Syrians are on their own , On: Fri, 28 Aug 2015

  • UN agencies are actively hurting Palestinians, On: Fri, 31 Jul 2015

  • For Syrians, truth and reconciliation must start today , On: Fri, 17 Jul 2015

  • The war will go on for Syria – and Turkey, On: Fri, 10 Jul 2015

  • Turkey’s AKP facing a watershed moment, On: Fri, 12 Jun 2015

  • The future of Syria , On: Fri, 22 May 2015

  • Have Iran and its proxies decided they can afford to drop the Assad regime? , On: Fri, 15 May 2015

  • Beyond the Gallipoli centenary, On: Fri, 08 May 2015

  • Battles of Idlib and Yarmouk not the last challenges for Assad, On: Fri, 24 Apr 2015

  • Ankara’s opposition to Kurdish autonomy goes beyond oil or referendum

    Turkey’s hostility to Kurdish independence is as strong today as at any time in decades.


    2017/10/01 Issue: 125 Page: 3



    The rise of Kurdish nationalism in northern Iraq and elsewhere is a precedent that Turkey will not tolerate, if the level of repression it has doled out to its own Kurds over the past 40 years is anything to go by.

    The September 25 non-binding “yes” referendum result in Iraqi Kurdistan may see Turkey cut off the Kurds’ pipeline to the Mediter­ranean and seal its border, through which about 70% of all Kurdistan’s imports enter. Around 90% of Iraqi Kurdistan oil exports flow in the opposite direction, north into Turkey.

    Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan claims the vote has no legitimacy and warned: “If [presi­dent of the Iraqi Kurdish region] Masoud Barzani and the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) do not go back on this mistake as soon as possible, they will go down in history with the shame of having dragged the region into an ethnic and sectarian war.”

    Baghdad has cut off Erbil from the air by blocking international flights into the city. Turkish news channels have had wall-to-wall coverage of the referendum fallout, depicting tanks driving along the border with northern Iraq and Turkish and Iraqi soldiers swap­ping flags in displays of unity. This is window dressing in opposition to what Ankara and Baghdad see as an outrageous act of defiance.

    However, because Turkey and the KRG both know there is no tak­ing back a public vote, particularly when it is non-binding, Erdogan’s words warning of a sectarian war sound particularly ominous.

    A KRG official, quoted by the pro-government Daily Sabah news­paper, admitted as much, saying: “We did not expect this much… This [referendum] has nothing to do with Turkey.”

    The Kurds — between 25 million and 35 million people — comprise one of the largest ethnic groups in the Middle East and are, by population, the largest in the world without a nation-state. They are spread out across Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey. Half of those scattered across the region live in Turkey, many in western cities such as Izmir and Istanbul though centred in the south-eastern regions bor­dering Iraq and Syria. Therefore, growing demands for Kurdish independence worry Turkey more than the others.

    Anyone who has spent time in Kurdish-majority regions of eastern Turkey in recent years will know the depth of Ankara’s hostil­ity to Kurdish self-determination.

    In 2015 and 2016, almost un­noticed by the outside world, Turkey destroyed whole towns and neighbourhoods in its south-east, making homeless more than 500,000 of its own citizens. Its aim was to root out a few hundred armed Kurdish militants, the vast majority of whom were simply disaffected young men, not the hardcore Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) fighters who have been re­sponsible for assassinating Turkish soldiers and police.

    The Kurds of northern Syria are broadly recognised as the most progressive and unified fight­ing and political entity in the Levant. Yet last year, Turkey sent thousands of troops into Syria, a war zone of such complexity and danger that no other country has dared do so on a similar scale. It was not to help unseat Syrian President Bashar Assad or to defeat the Islamic State (ISIS), the two most macabre sides in the conflict, but to stop Kurdish forces from gaining an upper hand.

    Major security threats in the region over the past two dec­ades — the war in Iraq and the emergence of ISIS — have come and gone but Turkey’s hostility to Kurdish independence is as strong today as at any time in decades. If Kurdistan takes its independence claims further, which its political leadership claims is inevitable, the consequences may be far worse.

    All bets are off on how Ankara will proceed. Turkey has been restrained in the wars in Iraq and Syria — conflicts that devastated its neighbours — but sharing a border with an independent Kurdish state is something Ankara may never be able to stomach. The KRG is play­ing with fire and Ankara is eager to add accelerants.

    Editors' Picks

    The Arab Weekly Newspaper reaches Western & Arabic audience that are influential as well as being affluent.

    From Europe to the Middle East,and North America, The Arab Weekly talks to opinion formers and influential figures, providing insight and comment on national, international and regional news through the focus of Arabic countries and community.

    Published by Al Arab Publishing House

    Publisher and Group Executive Editor: Haitham El-Zobaidi, PhD

    Editor-in-Chief: Oussama Romdhani

    Managing Editor: Iman Zayat

    Deputy Managing Editor and Online Editor: Mamoon Alabbasi

    Senior Editor: John Hendel

    Chief Copy Editor: Richard Pretorius

    Copy Editor: Stephen Quillen

    Analysis Section Editor: Ed Blanche

    East/West Section Editor: Mark Habeeb

    Gulf Section Editor: Mohammed Alkhereiji

    Society and Travel Sections Editor: Samar Kadi

    Syria and Lebanon Sections Editor: Simon Speakman Cordall

    Contributing Editor: Rashmee Roshan Lall

    Senior Correspondents: Mahmud el-Shafey (London) & Lamine Ghanmi (Tunis)

    Regular Columnists

    Claude Salhani

    Yavuz Baydar

    Correspondents

    Saad Guerraoui (Casablanca)

    Dunia El-Zobaidi (London)

    Roua Khlifi (Tunis)

    Thomas Seibert (Washington)

    Chief Designer: Marwen Hmedi

    Designers

    Ibrahim Ben Bechir

    Hanen Jebali

    Published by Al Arab Publishing House

    Contact editor at:editor@thearabweekly.com

    Subscription & Advertising: Ads@alarab.co.uk

    Tel 020 3667 7249

    Mohamed Al Mufti

    Marketing & Advertising Manager

    Tel (Main) +44 20 6702 3999

    Direct: +44 20 8742 9262

    www.alarab.co.uk

    Al Arab Publishing House

    Kensington Centre

    177-179 Hammersmith Road

    London W6 8BS , UK

    Tel: (+44) 20 7602 3999

    Fax: (+44) 20 7602 8778

    Follow Us
    © The Arab Weekly, All rights reserved