costas mavrides

Opinion: How the Iraqi Kurdistan referendum could teach us a lesson on the Cyprus issue

written by Costas Mavrides MEP   (S&D &DIKO)
The Kurds, an ancient people of more than 30 million,  who have been aggrieved many times and have been subject to massive crimes and displacements are still today persecuted by Erdogan’s regime in Turkey. Due to bitter historical experience, the Kurds repeat a proverb “No friends but the mountains”… where they find shelter.

kurds map
Kurdish-inhabited area, by CIA (1992)
Last July, after a meeting held in the European Parliament with Mr Barzani- who has been President of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region  since 2005- we were writing about the upcoming turmoil  ahead of Kurdistan referendum which took place on Monday, 25th of September. The Iraqi Kurdistan Region shares a border with Turkey, Syria and Iran.  Since, the referendum has been a major issue of debate at the international level. In Turkey,  the Kurdish referendum has featured prominently in view of  responsive measures against  Barzani who  has been a close ally of Erdogan.
Over the last 20 years, Iraqi Kurdistan has been an obedient partner of Turkey. Iraq’s landlocked, Kurdistan gained its financial autonomy because of crude oil exports through Turkey, the main outlet regarding these exports while Turkish companies undertook various projects within Iraqi Kurdistan.
iraq kurdistan oil pipelines map
Credit: @Reuters
KRG’s roughly 600,000 barrels per day of oil exports are piped almost exclusively through Turkey to the port of Ceyhan. As soon as the Barzani government went a step further without the approval by Ankara, Turkey turned  into deadly enemy. On September 22, Turkey has vowed for measures against Iraqi Kurds’ independence referendum from economic pressure to military undertakings (very unlikely). Imposing an economic embargo upon Kurdish crude oil exports through Turkey would likely strangle Kurdistan but turkish interests will be penalised also. However, turkish threats did not prevent Mr Barzani to hold his referendum who sees his popularity growing inside and outside the Iraqi Kurdistan.
The conflicting interests in this region of the world are changing rapidly. Turkey is afraid that after the referendum for the independence of Iraqi Kurdistan, it is possible to experience a domino effect regarding the Kurdish populations living especially in the South-Eastern Kurdish provinces of Turkey. Similarly, Assad’s regime in Syria has the same fears as  the Kurdish YPG controls a semi-autonomous region in the North.
At the same time, the United States seek to stabilize the situation in Iraq by exploiting country’s energy sources and continuing the offensive against the Islamic State along with the Kurds. That’s the reason why they armed and protected the Kurds, despite the disagreement of their NATO ally, Turkey. Russia is in favor of a Kurdish state as it intensifies the rupture between Turkey and NATO, so it is approaching Barzani to fill any gap created by Turkish reactions, while Israel has been openly in favor of an independent Kurdish state.
The UN security council issued a statement (Sept. 21st) “to express  concern over the “potentially destabilizing impact” of the Kurdistan Regional Government’s plans to unilaterally hold a referendum for its independence while operations to counter Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) – in which Kurdish forces have played a critical role – are ongoing, while reaffirming its full respect for the Iraqi sovereignty.”
Regarding now the Cyprus issue, there is at least one lesson. It’s a fatal error for a small country as Cyprus to be dependent on Turkey.  Until just a few months ago, Barzani’s government was still working closely with Erdogan’s government, but now there is an increased resentment as the Barzani government didn’t follow the turkish orders and Turkey threatens to choke Kurdish exports and cutting the only way of their crude oil exports. In Cyprus, President Anastasiades and the ruling party have been in favor of constructing a pipeline from Cyprus through Turkey in order to export the  gas reserves of the Eastern Mediterrenean towards Europe. At a time when the European Union encourages the construction of an East-Med pipeline (that would bypass Turkey), the supporters of constructing a  pipeline through Turkey remain silent but the lesson about this fatal error is still a vivid memory.
the east med pipeline and possible connections
*Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the  position of Eyes on Europe & the Middle East.



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