Serekaniye and Kurdistan Oil policy
Despite intensified economic relation KRG and Turkey may face each other in Syria
Serikaniye is situated in a strategically important location in Syrian Kurdistan, and is witnessing heavy clashes between Kurdish forces and some groups claimed to be within Free Syrian Army. Abdulhakeem Bashar, the first president of the Kurdish National Council (KNC) and the secretary of the Kurdish Democratic Party in Syria (Al Party), in an interview with Rudaw on February, 8, classified these groups as terrorist organizations associated with the Syrian Regime: ‘Serekaniye is an alarm that shows the existence of groups that are hostile towards the Kurds and want to eliminate their cause. Some terrorist groups have come to Serekaniye after the withdrawal of the Syrian regime from that town. They are easing the pressure on the Syrian regime. If these groups really care about fighting the Syrian regime, then they should go and fight in Damascus and Aleppo where the real fight is. These fighters are making a big mistake by fighting in Serekaniye, because by doing so they help the Syrian regime and create a Kurdish-Arab war. This will change the path of the Syrian revolution dramatically. There is an Alawite-Sunni conflict in Syria, and if a KurdishArab conflict is created, then the Syrian regime will never collapse. For these reasons, I believe that these groups are either very narrow-minded or they are working for the Assad regime. I hope this issue will be solved politically; otherwise, as the AI party, we will have a different reaction.’ Bashar furthermore claimed that Turkey facilitates and supports these groups in their fight against the Kurds in Serekaniye: ‘We treat Turkey as a friendly country, but unfortunately it facilitates the movement of the Arabs into Serekaniye. This means that Turkey wants to harm the Kurdish cause. But, this will only increase problems for Turkey, because it will complicate the Kurdish issue inside Turkey, and the radical Islamists will settle on the Turkish border. The Turkish government might not be involved in this, but according to the information we obtained, there are signs of involvement of the National Intelligence Organization (MIT) in this issue.’
It is ironic that Turkey acts as a force for good, and vehemently condemns the Syrian regime, led by Bashar al-Assad, while supporting militiamen who are accused of attacking Kurdish people in Syria. Turkey seems to be pursuing a contradictory, and ambiguous policy in Syria. Despite this, the Turkish government has been improving its relations with Kurdistan Region, and has been keen to act as forthcoming in the past months while intending to resolve the military conflict with PKK simultaneously.
Serekeniye is strategically important, which is why war might erupt between Kurds and Arabs in that region. Turkey supports anti-Kurdish sentiments within Serekeniye, and if this area is controlled by Arab forces it would reduce Kurdish influence in the area drastically because it separates Syrian Kurdistan into two parts, cutting communications, transportation and therefore movement between the two parts will cease. This puts things in perspective, and why this area has been given significant attention by different parties. Abdulhakeem Bashar has said, “We will send our forces to Serekeniye if necessary. This is our sacred duty, for which we are ready to sacrifice”. The Kurds are determined to not give up on Serekeniye without a fight.
Serekaniye’s ongoing violence and instability could potentially jeopardize the improved relations between Turkey and Kurdistan region. If it is proven that Turkish as- sistance is facilitating the fighting between Arabs and Kurds, it is unlikely that the economic and other benefits between Turkey and Kurdistan Region will be successful in the future. Given that Turkey does not want to rely on Russia and Iran for oil, it is likely that they will tread their steps carefully.
Political development in Syrian Kurdistan, and the status of Syrian Kurds in a post-Assad period is far more significant for the future of Kurdish people than Kurdistan region's economic relations with Turkey. Iraqi Kurdistan is closely intertwined with Syrian Kurdistan's political status. Formation of a federal structure in postAssad Syria improves the status of Kurds, and provides them with sovereign rights while reinforcing Kurdistan region.
Syrian Kurdistan is an existential question for the Kurdistan region. Any attempt to suppress the Kurds in Syria is to be considered an attempt to destroy the Kurdistan region. Turkey on the other hand has its own sensitivities in Syria. Right from the beginning Turkish policy vis-à-vis Syria was mostly determined by the Turkish concern of Syrian Kurdish potential political gains in post-Assad Syria. Turkey pursued a policy not to al- low repetition of a second Iraq. Formation of another federal structure and another Kurdish political entity by its doorstep could create serious problems for Turkey’s own Kurdish national question. Turkish policy to reduce the Kurdish national question to a question of minority rights and resolve it around the concept of citizenship will not be successful should the Kurds in Syria have national-sovereign rights.
With its rich natural resources Kurdistan region needs Turkey to export its oil and gas to the global market. Kurdistan region can become economically independent from Baghdad if its energy sources are exported. For this reason a new pipeline is under construction despite the threats from Baghdad and disapproval from the US. Both Turkey and Kurdistan Regional Government, KRG are determined to construct this pipeline. Very recently KRG’s Natural Resources Minister, Ashti Hawrami stressed that Kurdistan region will press ahead with building its own export pipeline to Turkey despite the US objections. "We want to have an oil pipeline for ourselves," Hawrami said at a news conference in the regional capital Erbil. "It is currently in the works and we will continue until it is completed."
Turkey on the other hand needs to have a secure new supply to reduce its dependence on Iran and Russia. Rich resources of Kurdistan region and its geographic location to Turkey carries potential for Turkey to be the export route to the global market. Turkey will not only have access to a secure supply but will also benefit from having a pipeline transport through its own soil.
Influential Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, recently confirmed that his country’s cooperation with Kurdistan region on energy fields will continue and enhance despite the fierce opposition from Baghdad and US objection.
Some critics stress that KRG’s close integration with Turkey on energy sector potentially makes KRG dependent solely on Turkey. US on the other hand object this energy cooperation between KRG and Turkey fearing that it may disintegrate Iraq. "If Turkey and Iraq fail to optimize their economic relations... There could be more violent conflict in Iraq and the forces of disintegration within Iraq could be emboldened," U.S. Ambassador to Turkey Francis J. Ricciardone said recently in Ankara. US urge Baghdad and Erbil to reconcile on Hydrocarbon law as solution for the tension between the two capitals. He further emphasized that "the Iraqis have been struggling to pass a hydrocarbons law. It is very important that they succeed in that." US should realize that it is not KRG’s oil policy that disintegrates Iraq but the centralized and dictatorial policy of Nuri al-Maliki that prepares the ground for Iraq’s disintegration.
Energy cooperation between KRG and Turkey may face obstacles over the parties conflicting interests over Syria. In order to further improve relations and better economic integration Turkey must respect the wish and demands of Syrian Kurds to be free from a dictatorial regime.