Thursday,21 February, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1363, (5 - 11 October 2017)
Thursday,21 February, 2019
Issue 1363, (5 - 11 October 2017)

Ahram Weekly

After the referendum

Despite a reduction in the sabre-rattling in Ankara, there is widespread anxiety in Turkey about the consequences of last week’s Iraqi Kurdish referendum, writes Sayed Abdel-Meguid


After the referendum
After the referendum

اقرأ باللغة العربية

The whirlwinds from Iraqi Kurdistan are still sweeping Turkey and its allies Iran and Iraq in the wake of the 25 September referendum on the Iraqi Kurdish Region’s independence from Iraq.

However, at the decision-making levels in these three countries, the rhetoric of intimidation and sabre-rattling is not as raucous as it was before the referendum took place. All three had warned that “all options were open,” including military force. But now although they continue to fume loudly, the language of bellicosity has subsided, at least for now.

On Friday, Turkish Prime Minister Benali Yildirim said that the actions his government would take would only target those who had taken the decision to hold the referendum. His country would not make “civilians living in northern Iraq” pay for the decision, he said.

Turkish officials led by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and echoed by his propaganda machine have been whipping up the ultra-nationalist spirit of the Turkish people. Turkish territory will remain united, they have proclaimed, vowing never to permit a repetition of the secessionist scenario in northern Syria or in the predominantly Kurdish-populated areas of south-eastern Turkey.

At the grassroots level, however, the Turkish people are increasingly anxious about an uncertain future, one indicator of which is the exchange rate of the Turkish lira against the US dollar. While the lira has stood its ground for several weeks, perhaps thanks to interventions by the Turkish central bank and inspiring a degree of optimism, the currency has now once more begun to slide.

To average Turks, this can only mean one thing: further waves of inflation. The prices of goods and services in Turkey have already begun to soar, starting with a 40 per cent hike in the cost of vehicle licences. The business sector is nervous, fearing the violent tremors that could ricochet through the markets in the event of instability, especially given the already shaky economic circumstances.

The international community has largely condemned the referendum in the strongest terms. However, the post-referendum phase remains a problem, though it may be that over time the storm will die down and the Europeans and Americans will do their best to make sure things do not flare up again.

Western officials have urged all sides to exercise restraint, to act responsibly, not to escalate the situation, and to avoid any recourse to violence. French President Emmanuel Macron is expected to ask Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar Al-Abbadi to recognise the rights of the Kurdish people in a forthcoming meeting. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has urged the parties to engage in dialogue and to avoid escalatory language.

This has come as music to the ears of Masoud Barzani, ruler of the Kurdish Region of northern Iraq. It signifies that the referendum is irreversible and that all the parties will have to deal with its results.

But this is precisely the problem for Iraq’s neighbours. Even if the results are not binding, the process is a model that could be emulated in other areas seething with ethnic and sectarian problems and perfectly primed for adventures that could erupt into armed violence or even escalate into civil war.

Erdogan was only stating the obvious when he said that “our region has become more fragile in recent times,” adding that “no one has the right to set our region on fire and escalate tensions for the sake of short-term personal interests.”

The question is whether that “no one” applies to Barzani alone. Many people in Turkey are convinced that there is a hidden “Western hand” behind the referendum and that regardless of what the West says it is preparing for a new wave of intervention in northern Iraq and Syria.

Erdogan’s former media adviser, still close to the president, has voiced this opinion, suggesting that plans for a “new Treaty of Sevres” are on the table and that coalitions to “shrink existing states” are now working in the open. (The Treaty of Sevres was one of the treaties dividing up the former Ottoman Empire after the First World War.)

These coalitions have already drawn up a new map of the region, he has said, with Barzani and the Kurdish party the PKK working to create a “foreign protectorate” in the region for the first time since the creation of the state of Israel in 1948. Foreign forces are stationed on Turkish borders, and the next step will be to launch an “anti-Turkish” front to divide and fragment Turkey itself.

Moscow, another critical player in the balance of power in the region, has followed the European and US lead on the Kurdish referendum. Despite its rapprochement with Ankara after many frigid months, it too had nodded towards the Kurdish Regional capital Irbil.

While reaffirming the unity of Iraq, Russia has stressed the need to respect Kurdish aspirations, with Russian President Vladimir Putin saying as much during a quick visit to Ankara on Thursday. While there, Putin rubbed salt into his Turkish host’s wounds, caused by the fact that Erdogan’s neo-Ottoman ambitions in neighbouring Syria had collapsed.

In a press conference in Ankara, Putin said the de-escalation zones in Syria “have de facto created the necessary conditions for the end of the fratricidal war in Syria and the final defeat of the terrorists as well as for the Syrian people’s return to normal life.”

In addition to giving impetus to the UN-sponsored Geneva talks, the measures had created the necessary climate for Syrian refugees to return home, Putin commented.


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