The Tide Is Finally Turning For The Kurds -- Especially In Turkey

Kurds, kurdish flagAPKurds rally in the Iraqi city of Zaxo, by the border with Turkey

Turkey has been dropping some serious hints that it could recognise an independent Kurdish state, and by extension the dissolution of the current Iraqi state, Marc Champion writes for Bloomberg View.

On Sunday, Huseyin Celik, a top Erdogan official, said that Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) would be ready to accept Kurdish independence in northern Iraq. The AKP has also submitted a parliamentary bill that would grant clemency to Kurdish militants as well as granting immunity to Turks who took part in the Kurdish-Turkish peace process.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has not directly supported the idea of Kurdish independence himself, although he has given signs that he is warming to the idea. Last November, Erdogan met with Massoud Barzani, the president of the Kurdish Autonomous Region. During the meeting, Erdogan referred to directly to Kurdistan, something that was generally unthinkable for a Turkish prime minister.

Turkey’s about-face on Kurdish independence could tie directly into Erdogan’s political ambitions. Erdogan is expected to become the first president of Turkey selected through a popular vote. In desperation, the two main opposition parties have put forward a joint candidate to try to win the election themselves. However, both the AKP and the opposition parties have roughly equal shares of the electorate.

Due to this electoral split, the Kurds will likely function as political “kingmakers,” according to Champion. Kurds compose roughly 20% of Turkey’s population, and a substantial percentage of Kurds do not belong to either of the three main parties.

To ensure political victory, Erdogan and the AKP are courting Kurdish votes through their stance on Iraqi Kurdistan. Any semblances of supporting Kurdish independence in Iraq will likely rally Kurdish votes towards the AKP in August.

The idea that Turkey could be a champion of Kurdish independence in Iraq is a titanic shift. Since the 1980s, Turkey has battled the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), an outlawed Kurdish terrorist group that advocates for greater Kurdish cultural rights and autonomy. Turkey has bombed northern Iraq before in operations aimed against the PKK.

Kurdish President Barzani has announced that a referendum on Kurdish independence will be held within months.

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