Turkey has had a tenuous relationship with Kurds for decades. Although Moustafa Kamel deserves a lot of credit for moving Turkey onto the path of democracy and secularism, he did also crush the previously diverse Ottoman nationalism – as it were – and entrench a very narrow and often racist Turkish nationalism. The Kurds in Turkey – today 14 million strong – naturally felt excluded from Ankara and an independence movement – of which the PKK is most famous – started to erect a Kurdistan reacher from south-east Turkey, norther Iraq, western Syria, and north-east Iran.
In their efforts to crush the movement, Turkey’s generals have killed at least if not more Kurds than Saddam Hussein. And up until most recently Turkish airplanes were bombing PKK bases in Iraqi Kurdistan.
But relations between Ankara and the Kurds may be changing for the better. First of all, the AK party has sought to reach out to the Kurdish minority not only through visits to Kurdish cities in Turkey, but also through increasing federal aid to those cities and even through cosmetic measures as in the case of allowing a 24/7 Kurdish language channel.
With relations improving with its own Kurds, the Turkish government is also reaching out to Iraqi Kurds. Recently a Turkish delegation spoke to Iraqi Kurds in the Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan’s capital. The delegation stressed friendship between Turkey and the Kurds, but it’s also cautious about Kurdish autonomy. So as not to endorse autonomy, the Turkish consult to Iraqi Kurdistan isn’t even in the province, but, rather, in the Arab town of Mosul in north-central Iraq.
Although not everything is pacified between Turkey and the Kurds, economic trade is usually a good indicator of relations. And if that proves to be the case this time, then Turkey and the Kurds might very well become quite good friends. Trade between Iraqi Kurdistan and Turkey is estimated at $7 billion a year and 50,000 Turks and 1,200 Turkish firms are doing business in Iraqi Kurdistan. Such mutually beneficial circumstances may very well speed up reconciliation.
Further, the Kurds have so far had an American security umbrella that guarantees them some degree of independence from Baghdad, as American troops leave the country Turkey could then take on that role.
And a new relationship that enriches all parties may be cemented.