Posted by: Frangipani | January 1, 2012

A Pipeline to Peace?

Oil and Peace are not two words that normally run together. But could new found hydrocarbons in Northern Iraq be a route to peace for one of the most intractable issues in the region, that of the “Kurdish Issue” of South Eastern Turkey?

As part of the economic development of Iraq, large reserves of oil and gas in Northern Iraq are due to be developed. Northern Iraq is well placed to serve the hungry oil and gas markets of Europe.  The building of  a major gas pipeline and the related infrastructure through Turkey would provide Europe with diversity to the large  supply of pipeline gas that it currently receives from Russia. It would provide Turkey with a healthy revenue stream from tariffs that are paid to throughput countries. And a northern gas export route will provide diversity of export routes for some of Iraq’s vast gas reserves.

However, without a solution to the Kurdish issue in South Eastern Turkey, any pipeline is likely to be repeatedly sabotaged, as was the small line from Iran through South Eastern Turkey in summer 2010. Unfortunately, politically motivated sabotage of oil and gas pipelines is becoming more commonplace, with the Arab gas pipeline from Egypt to Israel/Levant sabotaged 10 times in 2011. Without highlighting the issue explicitly, this would appear to provide some good economic motivation for Turkey to find a peaceful solution to the long running Kurdish Issue in SE Turkey.

Erdogan’s desire that he and his party AKP will be re-elected with a large majority would be bolstered by coming up with some real content in the promised package for the Kurds in the run up to the June 11 elections. Many Kurds voted for AKP; they would only vote for him again if he actually delivered on that promise. He could do this by offering the previously laid down 7 point peace plan that was agreed by the main Kurdish parties and the PKK (the ’98 Ocalan proposal):

– The end of military operations against Kurdish villages;
– The return of forcibly displaced Kurdish refugees to their villages;
– The abolition of  the village guard system;
– Autonomy for the Kurdish region within Turkey’s existing borders;
– The granting to the Kurdish people all democratic rights enjoyed by Turks;
– Official recognition of Kurdish identity, language and culture;
– Freedom of religion and pluralism.

In return, the main Kurdish groups would need to support the implementation of the peace plan such that it could finally become a reality.

After decades of hostilities, a carefully managed period of disarmament and reintegration of the PKK would be required. The peaceful passage of gas from Iraq Kurdistan to the EU via Turkey could then also become a reality.

It appears of course as a very simplistic route to peace for an issue that is one of the most intractable in the region. The issue of autonomy would be the likely blocker (the Kurds not wanting to drop it and the Turkish government not agreeing to anything that included any form of autonomy for SE Turkey). Also, TAK may never agree to lay down arms- a PKK splinter group.

I still cannot help but wonder whether this could this be the time to ride the tidal wave that has travelled from Tunisia, to Libya and Egypt, to Syria and reached right up to Turkey’s southern border. Turkey is neither Arab nor a dictatorship. But there is a long standing human rights issue that is crying out for a solution in SE Turkey. As Erdogan  said in his speech to the UN in 2011, ‘Oppression and suppression of one’s own people is unacceptable’ and ‘Real security is built on real peace.’

Could this be the time for Erdogan to step up his leadership in facilitating this peace for Turkey?

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