A Kurdish state of some form in northern Iraq is unavoidable and is also in Turkey’s interests, according to a former Swedish diplomat.
Ingmar Karlsson, who served as the Swedish consul general to Istanbul between 2001 and 2008, argued Monday that Turkey’s perception of a Kurdish state in northern Iraq as a direct threat to its integrity is based on unsubstantiated suppositions.
“One is that there exists a monolithic Kurdish identity embracing both southeastern Turkey and northern Iraq,” he said at a roundtable meeting organized by Kültür University’s Global Politics Trends Center, or GPOT. “Another one is that the Iraqi Kurds would be in favor of ‘re-unification’ with the Kurds in Turkey.”
A Kurdish state founded in northern Iraq would not prefer unification over good neighborly relations with Turkey, a country on which it would be strongly dependent economically, strategically and geopolitically, said the former ambassador.
“There is really no reason to suppose that the 4-5 million Kurds in Iraq would be interested in uniting with and sharing their oil resources with 15 million Turkish Kurds,” Karlsson said.
According to Karlsson any unification of Kurds into a kind of “Greater Kurdish State” is an impossibility not only due to the economic and geopolitical realities in the region but also since there is no monolithic Kurdish identity. “The Kurds in Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey do not have common national awareness or strategies for political mobilization,” he said. “Moreover, they use four languages with different alphabets. The internal political power struggles in such an entity would be enormous.”
But on the other hand, a Kurdish state in northern Iraq is unavoidable, said the former diplomat, and it is also in Turkey’s interests. A stable Kurdish state there would be more favorable for Turkey from economic, national and strategic points of view, and it would also lead to the economic development of eastern and southeastern Turkey, Karlsson argued.
“Turkey could be the ideal partner for the Kurds in Iraq,” he said. “It is not a pariah-state as the other neighbors but a NATO member and an EU membership candidate. Thus it would be an opening out of the geo-strategic isolation the region is now suffering from.”
Karlsson also believes that a Kurdish state in northern Iraq would better serve Turkey’s interests. “Whom does Turkey favor as its neighbor?” he asked. “A new Lebanon in the form of an Iraqi state filled with anarchy, or an independent Kurdish state that could even serve as a buffer state against an Arabic Iraq with brutal conflicts between Sunnis and Shiites.”
If Turkey solves its Kurdish problem and grants Kurds full cultural rights, it will diminish the attraction of a de facto Kurdish state, said Karlsson, adding that to convert this scenario into reality, it is necessary that the EU process acquires new momentum and that EU membership does not seem unattainable for Kurds in Turkey.