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Turkey and Syria
Turkey is one of NATO’s strongest members, and has for many years been a traditional US ally. However Turkey’s ambitious energy policy is putting this relationship to the test. Turkey is fighting with all its might, in order to become the absolute energy hub between the Middle East and Europe.
That was clear from the way Erdogan slammed Israel, a former ally, when Israel, together with Cyprus, started exploiting its natural gas reserves in the Mediterranean Sea, which could provide Europe with an alternative source of energy, which would bypass Turkey.
Turkey’s ambitions became even clearer when Erdogan became one of the most enthusiastic supporters of the overthrown of another former ally, the Syrian dictator Bashar al- Assad. Erdogan became one of the major enemies of the Assad regime, after the Syrian dictator agreed in 2011 for the construction of the Iran-Iraq-Syria pipeline, which would transfer Iranian natural gas and oil to the Mediterranean Sea, and which would bypass Turkey (see green line on the following map). The end of this pipeline would also be near the Turkish port of Ceyhan in the Mediterranean Sea, which is the end of the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline that brings Azeri oil to the Mediterranean Sea through Turkey.
Previously, in 2009, Assad had refused to allow the Qatar-Turkey pipeline, which would transfer Qatari gas to Europe through Turkey, to pass through Syrian territories, because as he said this would harm the interests of Russia and Gazprom. The truth is that the Qatar-Turkey pipeline would harm the interests of both Assad’s allies, i.e. the interests of both Russia and Iran.
In the following article of the Turkish Weekly, titled “Turkey and Qatar Agree to Build a Natural Gas Pipeline”, you can read that Qatar and Turkey agreed on 2009 to a Qatar-Turkey natural gas pipeline that would transfer Qatari natural gas to Europe. However they needed Syria.
In the 2nd line of the 5th paragraph before the end of the following Guardian article, titled “Syria intervention plan fueled by oil interests, not chemical weapon concern”, August 2013, you can read the following:
“In 2009 – the same year former French foreign minister Dumas alleges the British began planning operations in Syria – Assad refused to sign a proposed agreement with Qatar that would run a pipeline from the latter’s North field, contiguous with Iran’s South Pars field, through Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria and on to Turkey, with a view to supply European markets – albeit crucially bypassing Russia. Assad’s rationale was “to protect the interests of [his] Russian ally, which is Europe’s top supplier of natural gas”.
At the following article of Today’s Zaman, a Turkish newspaper, titled “Erdogan: Assad is a good friend, but he delayed reform efforts”, dated May 2011, you can read that in May 2011 the first strains in the Erdogan-Assad relationship had already appeared, but Erdogan was still calling Assad a friend.
What Erdogan meant by ‘reforms’ in Syria, was for Assad to go to elections. What Erdogan meant by ‘reforms’ in Syria, was for Assad to go to elections. Note that Sunni Muslims account for about 65% of the Syrian population. Therefore if Bashar al-Assad, the Iranian ally, was to go to elections, it should be easier for Sunni Turkey and Sunni Qatar, than for Shiite Iran, to gain influence in Syria. Assad is an Alawi Muslim. Alawi Muslims are an off shot of Shiite Muslims. Note that Shiite Muslims are also called Shia Muslims. However at this point Erdogan had not openly asked for Assad to step down, and he was calling him a friend.
At the following Wall Street Journal article, titled “Iraq, Iran, Syria Sign $10 Billion Gas-Pipeline Deal”, June 2011, you can read about the Iranian-Iraqi-Syrian pipeline deal in June 2011, which infuriated Erdogan.
As you can read at the following Reuters article, titled “Turkish Prime Minister calls on Syria’s Assad to quit”, November 2011, a few months after the agreement for the Iran-Iraq-Syria pipeline was signed, Erdogan openly asked for Assad to step down.
Of course Erdogan will never openly admit that his problem with the Assad regime is the Iran-Iraq-Syria and the Qatar-Turkey pipelines. He will pretend that their differences are based on human right violations in Syria, as it usually happens in the international arena. More specifically, Erdogan claims that Assad’s human right violations cause Syrian people to flee the country, and these people enter Turkey, and therefore Assad has to go, in order for these people to stop leaving Syria and entering Turkey.
Turkey and Iran
As it was expected, the Turkish attack on Assad, who had previously agreed on the Iranian pipeline project, infuriated the Iranians, since the Turkish attack on Assad was an attack on the Iran-Iraq-Syria pipeline too, and a support to the Qatar-Turkey pipeline. Iranians were so furious with Erdogan, that a few months later, in 2012, they rejected Constantinople (Istanbul), as the proposed venue for the nuclear talks between the great powers and Iran.
Given that it was Turkey and Brazil who had made huge efforts in the previous years, for an agreement between Iran and the West, over the Iranian nuclear program, the Iranians must have been extremely angry with Erdogan in order to reject Instabul as the proposed venue for the event, something that would be very prestigious for Erdogan’s role as an international mediator.
Obviously Erdogan was not trying to lift the sanctions against Iran due to his love for Iran. Instead, Erdogan wanted the sanctions lifted, so that the Iranians could send their natural gas to Europe through Turkey, something that cannot be done as long as there are economic sanctions against Iran. What Erdogan wants in return for his intermediation between Iran and the West, is that the Iranian energy passes through Turkey and not through Syria.
At the following Reuters article, titled “Turkey, Brazil seal deal on Iran nuclear fuel swap”, May 2010, you can read how Turkey and Brazil, as mediators between the West and Iran, almost cut a deal on behalf of Iran with the major world powers, over the Iranian nuclear program in 2010.
In the first and the second paragraphs of the following Bloomberg article, titled “Iran Officials Reject Istanbul as Talks Venue Over Syria”, April 2012, which is about the Iranian rejection of Instabul as the proposed venue for the international talks over the Iranian nuclear program due to Erdogan’s actions against Assad, you can read the following:
“Iranian officials say Turkey isn’t a suitable location for nuclear talks expected in mid-April as the neighbors clash over unrest in Syria, Iran’s ally.
“Given Turkey’s unprincipled policies, it isn’t beneficial for the upcoming negotiations between Iran and the 5+1 countries to be held in Istanbul,” said Alaeddin Boroujerdi, head of parliament’s national security and foreign policy committee. “Iranian lawmakers have many times said that negotiations need to take place in another spot and in a country that is a friend of Iran,” he told the Tehran-based Etemaad newspaper in a report published today”.
I have to say that the Turkish attack on Assad and the Iran-Iraq-Syria pipeline was not personal or irrational. It was simply a business decision. Erdgogan is doing everything he can to lure the Iranians to send their energy to Europe through Turkey. Erdogan follows a stick and carrot policy towards the Iranians.
In the 8th and 9th paragraph of the following BBC article, titled “Iran nuclear programme ‘solely civilian’ – Turkish Prime Minister”, dated March 2010, you can read the following:
“In an interview with the BBC’s Nik Gowing, Mr Erdogan said he believed it was Iran’s “most natural right” to develop a nuclear programme for civilian purposes.
It was, he added, “unfair” of nuclear-armed countries to “manipulate the facts” about Turkey’s neighbour while at the same time not telling Israel to dispose of its nuclear weapons”.
How could Erdogan do it better for the Iranians? He said that the Iranian nuclear program was not dangerous, and he blamed Israel. He couldn’t make it any sweeter for the Iranians. And yet in 2012 the Iranians rejected Istanbul as the venue for the international talks over the Iranian nuclear program, because the Iran-Iraq-Syria and the Qatar-Turkey pipelines are very important for the Iranians and the Iranian economy. For the Iran-Iraq-Syria pipeline see also Wikipedia at the following link.
One of the reasons that Turkey is so tough in its energy policy, and she is willing to even risk her friendship with the Americans for its shake, is that she is very poor in energy resources, and she has to import most of her energy. Turkey currently imports most of her energy from Russia.
However she is hoping that if Iran is dependent on Turkey, that is if Turkey is the shortest way through which Iran can send its oil and natural gas to Europe, Iran will be forced to offer discount energy prices to Turkey. The increase in Turkey’s geopolitical significance as the region’s only energy hub is obviously a very important factor too. As long as Assad, an Iranian ally, rules in Syria, Iran will have more bargaining power. And as I already said, the Iran-Iraq-Syria pipeline would be very close to the end of the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline, which would mean lower revenues for Turkey, and a decrease in her geopolitical significance.
Controlling Iraq and Syria is also very important for Iran, in order to block the Qatar-Turkey pipeline. Actually in case Iran reaches an agreement with the West, blocking the Qatar-Turkey pipeline will be more important than constructing the Iran-Iraq-Syria pipeline for the Iranians, since Iran will be able to send its energy to Europe through Turkey. At the end of the day every Middle East battle for an energy corridor has two purposes. The first one is to sell your own energy, and the second one is to block the sales of your competitors.
Which of the two is more important depends on the individual cases and it also depends on how things are going to evolve. For instance if Iran reaches an agreement with the West, controlling Syria and Iraq will be more important for the Iranians in order to block the Qatar-Turkey pipeline. If the Iranians do not reach an agreement with the West, controlling Syria and Iraq will be more important for the Iranians in order to construct the Iran-Iraq-Syria pipeline.
That’s the reason Turkey and Iran are in bad terms, since Turkey is fighting Iran’s major ally in Syria, and also Iran’s friends in Iraq, in order to block Iran’s exit to the Mediterranean Sea, and to open the corridor for the Qatar-Turkey pipeline. However at the same time the two countries are trying to have a working relationship, since Turkey needs the Iranian energy to pass through Turkey, for the reasons I already mentioned, and in order to decrease Turkish dependency on Russian energy, and Iran needs Turkey to send its natural gas to Europe through a pipeline network. The Turkey-Iran relationship is a “love to hate” relationship. Or to be more accurate it is a “hate and business” relationship because there isn’t much love in it.
If Iran wants to send its natural gas to Europe through a pipeline network and not through the sea, the only other option besides Turkey would be Russia. However Russia is the larger exporter of natural gas in the world, and Iran would not want its main competitor to control its natural gas. The problem is that Turkey does not want Iran to have any other alternatives, and it also wants the Qatar-Turkey pipeline, and the Iranians do not like Erdogan bullying them.
In the following Reuters article, titled “Turkey’s Erdogan visits Iran to improve ties after split over Syria”, January 2014, you can read the following:
First and Second Paragraphs
“Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan visited Iran on Wednesday to bolster trade and energy ties, state TV said, in what also looked like a bid to defuse tensions over Syria by capitalizing on Tehran’s diplomatic opening to regional rivals and the West.
Iran has been a strong strategic ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad since the start of the uprising against him, while Turkey has been one of his fiercest critics, supporting his opponents and giving refuge to rebel fighters.
Fourteenth and Fifteenth Paragraph
“Erdogan’s delegation repeated Turkey’s demand for a discount on the price of natural gas from Iran, a senior Turkish official said. A senior Iranian official then told Reuters: “This issue was discussed but further talks will take place on the issue of discount. No decision has been made yet.
Turkey depends on imports for almost all of its natural gas needs and the $60 billion energy bill Ankara must foot annually has been the biggest driver of its ballooning current account deficit, regarded as the main weakness of its economy.”
As I said Erdogan has also very good relations with Qatar, and they both support the Muslim Brotherhood. If the Sunni Muslims of the ISIS army win enough regions in Syria and Iraq, so that they manage to create a connection between Qatar and Turkey, Qatar and Turkey should be able to construct the Qatar-Turkey natural gas pipeline, which would transfer Qatari natural gas to Europe through Turkey, if of course Saudi Arabia or Kuwait agree to that too.
At the same time they can block the Iran-Iraq-Syria pipeline. Turkey would again receive lots of money in transit fees, and maybe discount energy prices from Qatar. The following map shows what ISIS would need to achieve, in order to enhance the Qatar-Turkey pipeline and to block the Iran-Iraq-Syria one. If you google a map with the areas controlled by ISIS today, you will see that this has almost been achieved.
We therefore see that Turkey follows a very aggressive and ambitious energy policy, and she is almost an independent regional power. Turkey attacks anyone who dares to overcome her as an energy hub between Middle East and Europe, and she is in a constant bargaining process with the rich in energy countries. However the Americans and the Europeans do not seem to feel comfortable with having to rely on Turkey for the energy supply of Europe.
Turkey and the United States
Turkey is indeed a country with great strategic significance for Europe and the US, since it is only through Turkey that a pipeline carrying Iranian, Qatari or Turkmen natural gas can reach Europe, offering and alternative to Gazprom, something that would reduce the Russian influence over Europe (red, yellow and white lines). Note that Iran, Qatar and Turkmenistan are the 2nd, 3rd and 4th richest countries in the world respectively, in terms of natural gas reserves, with Russia being the richest. For the richest countries in natural gas reserves see page 21, of the following U.S. Energy Information Administration report, titled “Country Analysis Brief : Iran”.
The problem for the Americans is that Turkey has become too important and too powerful, and it is an independent regional power, and not an ally of the West. Therefore the West cannot rely on Turkey in the same way it used to do in the past.
The Assad regime, is a major dispute not only between Turkey and Iran, but also between USA and Turkey. Assad is a traditional Russian ally, and he is not the best option for the Americans. Actually the Americans were very positive towards his overthrown sometime ago. However I do not thing that the replacement of Assad by a Sunni candidate who would be controlled by Turkey would be a better solution for the US. It would probably be worse, given that the United States have managed to significantly improve their relations with Iran, which is Assad’s major ally. If the United States normalize their relations with Iran, Assad should not be a big problem for them even though he is very close to Russia.
As you can read in the following Wall Street Journal article, titled “U.S., Iran Relations Move to Détente”, October 2014, the American-Iranian relation have significantly improved. More specifically, in the 8th paragraph of the following article you can read the following:
“This shows that although we see Turkey and Arab states as our closest allies, our interests and policies are converging with Iran’s,” said Vali Nasr, dean of the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University and a former Obama administration official. “This is a geostrategic reality at this moment, more than a conscious U.S. policy.”
The relationship between Iran and the West is far from perfect. But it seems that the West is ready to overlook some things in order to buy Iranian oil and natural gas. And as you can read at the following Telegraph article, titled “Iran offers Europe gas amid Russian energy embargo fears”, May 2014, the Iranians seem ready to supply this natural gas to Europe.
Therefore if the US-Iranian relations normalize, it would be much better for the US to have an option for providing energy to Europe, which would not involve Turkey, otherwise Turkey could become extremely demanding. And if Turkey controls Syria, this alternative will be gone. That should explain why the US is reluctant to overthrow Assad. Besides the Americans cannot hope to normalize their relations with Iran while they are chopping their major allies in Iraq and Syria.
I am not saying that this is the only reason. The Americans would also have to go against the Russians and many Europeans in order to overthrow Assad, but I believe that these considerations are of secondary importance to explain the change in the Obama policy towards Assad.
In the 7th paragraph of the following article of Public Radio International, titled “Did Barack Obama just signal a shift in US policy toward Syria?”, May 2014, you can read the following:
“He (Obama) seems to be signaling a potentially significant change in Syrian policy,” said Fredric Hof, who served as President Obama’s special representative for Syria in 2012. “But without spelling out in great detail what that change is exactly, or pledging that he would try to do something big enough to alter the situation on the ground decisively in Syria.”
What we read in most newspapers is that Obama needs Iran and Assad in order to combat the Jihadists of the ISIS army in Syria and Iraq. That can’t be true. ISIS and the Islamic State are mainly funded and supported by American allies i.e. by Qatar and Turkey, even though Qatar and Turkey would not admit so. But it is mainly in the Qatari, Saudi and Turkish interests to break Iran’s influence in Syria and Iraq, since that would stop the Iran-Iraq-Syria pipeline, and would also allow the construction of the Qatar-Turkey pipeline. For the Qatar-Turkey pipeline see the following Wikipedia link.
Moreover when they are telling us that they are bombing ISIS, we do not know what exactly they are bombing, and if ISIS has or has not been informed before hand about the strikes. I am not saying that everything is a theater. I am saying that the Americans might be simply controlling ISIS with their strikes. If the Americans really wanted to take ISIS out they should have been able to do so by now. In the 3rd paragraph of the following article of the Telegraph, titled “How our allies in Kuwait and Qatar funded Islamic State”, September 2014, you can read the following:
“Islamic State (Isil), with its newly conquered territory, oilfields and bank vaults, no longer needs much foreign money. But its extraordinarily swift rise to this point, a place where it threatens the entire region and the West, was substantially paid for by the allies of the West. Isil’s cash was raised in, or channelled through, Kuwait and Qatar, with the tacit approval and sometimes active support of their governments”.
At the following Reuters article, titled “Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki says Saudi, Qatar openly funding violence in Anbar”, March 2014, you can read about the Iraqi president accusing Saudi Arabia and Qatar for funding ISIS.
If you google “ISIS funding” you will find many sources arguing that it is the Persian Gulf States that are funding ISIS. Actually it is these states that have the economic incentive to destroy the Iranian zone of influence i.e. Iran-Iraq-Syria-Lebanon, which is actually what ISIS is doing. When Saddam Hussein was ruling Iraq, Iraq and Iran were in very bad terms. After the US attack on Iraq on 2003, and the overthrown of Saddam Hussein, Iraq came increasingly under Iranian influence, with Nouri al Maliki, the Prime Minister of Iraq from 2006 to 2014, being a man very close to Iran.
However until now the Americans have been very tolerant towards ISIS. ISIS makes the Qatar-Turkey pipeline possible, and also until very recently the Americans considered Iran as an enemy. The Qatar-Pipeline can send Qatari natural gas to Europe, if the US-Iranian rapprochement does not work out, in order to reduce the Russian influence. Under different scenarios, ISIS, the Kurds, Turkey, Qatar, Iran, they could all help to reduce Russian influence, and maybe Chinese influence, and the Americans are not closing any doors. The problem is that there are so many conflicting interests in this region, that it is very difficult for the Americans to keep all doors open at the same time.
I believe this is the main reason of the American-Turkish conflict. The Americans want to have all doors open, while the Turks want the Americans to overthrow Assad and put all their bets on Turkey, something that both the Americans and the Europeans do not want. Moreover there is a lot of trade between the Turks and the Russians.
At the following Deutsche Welle article, “Russia and Turkey agree on South Stream pipeline project”, August 2009, you can also read that in 2009, Erdogan singed an agreement with the Russian President Putin, in order to allow the South Stream, a Russian natural gas pipeline, to pass from Turkish waters in order to reach Europe.
The Russians wanted to avoid Ukrainian waters, since the Russian-Ukrainian relationship is very problematic. The Russian pipeline South Stream (red line), was in 2009 the competitor of the Nabucco pipeline. The Nabucco pipeline (black line) was the pipeline supported by the Americans and the Europeans. I guess that Turkey would receive transit fees and even discounted energy prices from both the Russians and the Americans for accepting their pipelines, or maybe that’s what the Turks were hoping for.
However the geopolitical shifts are very quick nowadays, and tomorrow the US-Turkish relations might improve, while the US-Iranian ones might collapse. If the American-Iranian rapprochement effort collapses, the Americans might have to turn against Assad again. But the West needs Iran’s energy, and Iran wants to sell this energy to the West, so it is difficult to see how in the end they will not manage to find a way to work things out.
And if the US-Iran relations do not deteriorate, it is difficult to see how the US-Turkey relations will improve, unless Turkey accepts that it will not be the one and only energy hub of the region. Many analysts say that this is not the first crisis between US and Turkey, and that the two countries can overcome it as they have done in the past.
I also want to include a few articles that describe the deteriorating relation between the Americans and the Turks. The following RT (Russian Today) article, titled “Turkey disappointed that Obama does not overturn Assad”, describes Erdogan’s frustration about the American refusal to overthrow Assad.
To emphasize the deterioration between the US-Turkish relations I will also mention the following Financial Times article, titled “Turkey to buy $4 billion air defense system from China”, September 2013. In the 6th and 7th paragraph of the article you can read the following:
“Western diplomats said they were surprised and disappointed by Ankara’s preference of the Chinese group…..and emphasised their worries that the system would not be interoperable with Nato’s defence architecture.”
The following article of CBC says that Turkey, a prominent NATO member, was very silent during the crisis in Ukraine, and it mentions the large sums that are involved in the Russian-Turkish energy trade.
In the 3rd paragraph of the following Guardian article, titled “Turkey denies new deal reached to open airbases to US in fight against Isis”, October 2014, you can read the following:
“On Sunday, the US said Turkey had agreed to let US and coalition forces use its military bases, including the key Incirlik airbase close to the southern city of Adana…But Turkish officials insisted that no decision had been taken on Incirlik”
At the following CNN article, titled “Russia to build first nuclear plant for Turkey”, May 2010, you can read that Russia and Turkey agreed to build a nuclear plant in Turkey.
I must also say that the shift in the Obama policy towards Assad, which is a byproduct of the US-Iran rapprochement, is not harming only the US-Turkish relations. Qatar, who hosts the American bases in the Persian Gulf, has spent approximately 3 billion dollars hopping to overthrow the Assad regime.
In the first paragraph of the following Financial Times article, titled “Qatar bankrolls Syrian revolt with cash and arms”, May 2013, you can read the following:
“The gas-rich state of Qatar has spent as much as $3bn over the past two years supporting the rebellion in Syria, far exceeding any other government, but is now being nudged aside by Saudi Arabia as the prime source of arms to rebels”.
Therefore even though Qatar wants badly to overthrow Assad, their partner, the United States, will not do them the favor for the moment. However the trauma in the American-Qatari relations due to the American-Iranian rapprochement is nothing compare to the trauma of the American-Saudi relations. After all the Qataris are hopping to find a solutions with the Iranians, in order to jointly exploit the South Pars/ North Field natural gas filed, that lies in the Persian Gulf between Iran and Qatar. This is the largest natural gas field in the world, and you can see a rough sketch at the following map (red diagram).
As I said the problems between the Saudis and the Iranians is much more severe, because Iran is the main economic competitor of Saudi Arabia, a traditional US ally since 1945. The American-Iranian rapprochement is causing Saudi Arabia to look eastwards, towards its best client i.e. China. In the first paragraph of the following Reuters article, titled “Saudi Arabia warns of shift away from U.S. over Syria, Iran”, October 2013 you can read the following:
“Upset at President Barack Obama’s policies on Iran and Syria, members of Saudi Arabia’s ruling family are threatening a rift with the United States that could take the alliance between Washington and the kingdom to its lowest point in years”.
The US-Israel relations are another victim of the change of the American policy in the Middle East. The Israelis do not really mind whether Syria is under the influence of Iran or under the influence of Turkey and Qatar, since in both cases it would have to face a very hostile regime. However what really matters for the Israelis, is the rapprochement between USA and Iran, which is the true cause for the tolerance of the Assad regime on behalf of the USA.
The American-Israeli relations are at their lowest point in decades, and the Israelis are looking towards Russia. Russia has very good relations with Iran, but if Iran makes peace with the West and start selling its natural gas to Europe through Turkey, it would be tough competition for Russia’s Gazprom, and therefore the Russian-Iranian relations should deteriorate.
Therefore the tolerance towards the Assad regime is a byproduct of the American effort to reach an agreement with Iran. The fact that the Americans overlook the problems their rapprochement with Iran is causing in their relationships with their traditional allies in the region, shows how important Iran is for the US.
The deterioration in the American-Turkish relations make the Americans and the Europeans to see very positively the establishment of an independent Kurdistan. Which are the exact borders of Kurdistan is an open question, but as you can see on the following Wikipedia map, the regions that historically have large Kurdish populations, expand from Iran to almost the Mediterranean Sea. However the Kurds are not the majority of the population in all these regions.
The Kurds are probably the West’s best friend in the Muslim world. Kurdistan lies in four countries, Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran. None of these countries want an independent Kurdistan, which makes the Kurds a natural ally for the Western world. There are 30 million Kurds in the world, and they are the largest ethnic group without a homeland, which gives rational for an independent Kurdistan, which is something that seems to suit western interests.
An independent Kurdistan would not be as big as the one on the above maps of course, but it would greatly strengthen the presence of the West in the region, especially in case the relations between US and Turkey at some point collapse. Moreover Kurdistan is next to Iran, which would again be a great help for the West in case the rapprochement between Iran and the West does not bear fruits. Moreover the Kurds would be extremely happy to have American military bases in their territories.
In the first paragraph of the following Reuters article, titled “Turkey’s U.S. relations show strain as Washington’s patience wears thin”, October 2014, you can read the following:
“The U.S. decision to air-drop weapons to Kurdish forces in Syria on the same day Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan dismissed them as terrorists is the latest false note in the increasingly discordant mood music coming out of Washington and Ankara.”
Erdogan calls the Kurds terrorists, and the Americans drop weapons at them. At the following Wall Street Journal article, titled “Building the U.S.-Kurdistan Special Relationship”, July 2014, you can read the following:
2nd and 3rd Paragraph
“The time has come for America and the West to support Kurdish independence and, simultaneously, to set up U.S. bases in Iraqi Kurdistan that would make it America’s military hub in the region.
After all, this country-in-the-making has proved to be a haven of stability, relative security and pro-American, pro-Western sentiment ever since it broke free from Saddam’s misrule.”
And the article continues in the 12th and 13th paragraphs
“U.S. military planners can’t assume that our alliance with Turkey won’t decline further. Nor should they assume as given Turkey’s military cooperation with NATO for missions against adversaries in places like Syria and Iran.
And it would be even more foolish for American policy makers to assume that U.S. forces will always be able to use bases in Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain. All three countries are dictatorships vulnerable to upheaval. So far, adroit use of their fantastic wealth has protected these countries’ rulers against the resentments of their subjects, but this may not always be the case.”
Finally the title of the following Guardian article says it all. The title of the article is “US and Turkey’s push and shove diplomacy has Kurds in the middle. Washington wants Erdogan to do more to back the Kurds in Kobane, while Ankara insists Assad should be removed first”.
The title says the whole story, because what Erdogan is really saying to the Americans is the following:
“I am willing to help the Kurds, I am willing to help you with ISIS, but Assad, which is the Iranian ally in Syria, must go first. Only if Syria is controlled by me (Erdogan), and Iran is totally dependent on me (Erdogan again), I can fight ISIS and help the Kurds”. Of course Erdogan does not say that openly, but that’s what he is thinking and everybody knows it. The problem is that the West does not like the way he is thinking, and it does not like that Turkey has become such an important player.
In the following Financial times article, titled “Turkey demands US target Assad as price of co-operation”, October 2014, you can read that Erdogan demands Assad’s overturn in order to help the Americans with the Kurds.
A natural question is why would Erdogan help the Kurds at all, given that there are millions of Kurds in Turkey asking for an independent Kurdistan? Obviously Erdogan would not like to help the Kurds at all, but he simply can’t ignore them, especially when the West sees them favorably. But we should not see the Kurds as one solid group. The two main Kurdish political parties are Ocalan’s PKK in Northern Kurdistan (Turkey), and the Barzani’s KDP in Southern Kurdistan (Iraq).
These two groups are competing for influence and in the past they have actually been fighting each other. Erdogan is obviously favoring Barzani’s KDP in Northern Iraq, and not Ocalan’s PKK in Turkey. Actually to make things worse for the Kurds, Erdogan is helping the Iraqi Kurds of KDP to export oil from the oil fields they control in Northern Iraq. He does so in order to make it harder for Iraqi Kurds to unite with Turkish Kurds. In the first two paragraphs of the following France 24 article, titled “Kurdish factions unite in fight against jihadists in Iraq”, August 2014, you can read the following:
“Fighters from the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), a Kurdish guerilla faction in Turkey, joined forces with the regular Peshmerga forces of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq to oust radical Sunni extremists from the town of Makhmour. FRANCE 24’s special correspondents in Iraq report that the battle of Makhmour marks the first time the PKK and KRG forces have fought side by side. Despite years of infighting, both factions want to prevent Islamist militants from gaining a foothold in Kurdish territories and redrawing the borders of the region”.
In the first and second paragraphs of the following American Center of Democracy article, titled “Kurdistan Oil Export: A game changer”, June 2014, you can read the following:
“In late May 2014 Turkish officials announced that oil from Iraqi Kurdistan had just been exported to international markets……..The May 2014 announcement that a million barrels of Kurdish oil had been exported to Europe through Ceyhan seems to have caught everyone by surprise”.
In the first paragraph of the following article of the Kurdistan Tribune, titled “Ocalan v. Barzani: Two contradictory worlds”, May 2013, you can read the following:
“The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and its legendary leader, Abdulla Ocalan, pose a strong challenge to the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and its leader, Masoud Barzani. The PKK is no longer a party just for northern Kurdistan: Today it also impacts significantly on the other parts of Kurdistan – something the KDP cannot tolerate”.
Therefore we should not see the Kurds as a solid group, because they have their differences and Erdogan is trying to make it harder for them to unite, by having Iraqi Kurds to depend on him for exporting their oil, through the Turkish port of Ceyhan in the Mediterranean Sea. If Iraqi Kurdistan was an independent country, it would be approximately the 10th richest region in the world in terms of oil reserves (not oil production). The red diagram in the following map is a very rough sketch of Kurdistan, and the export route for Kurdish oil in Northern Iraq.
However even though the Kurds are not as solid as a rock, it seems that the conditions for the establishment of an independent Kurdistan are very favorable since the Western countries see them very positively.
The Kurds have also Israel on their side. The Kurds are for Israel a natural ally, because the Kurds are not Arabs, they are not Persians, they are not Turks, and they are moderate Muslims. Ocalan’s PKK is a Marxist Leninist party, and religion should not be important at all.
Moreover the Kurds can take lands, and therefore weaken, four of Israel’s greatest enemies i.e. Iran, Syria, Turkey, Iraq. That’s the reason Israel is openly asking for an independent Kurdistan. For the Kurds too, even though they are Muslims in a Muslim region, Israel should be a natural ally, since the countries that surround them do not see an independent Kurdistan positively. And if in the past, the excellent relations between Israel and Turkey prevented Israel to openly support an independent Kurdistan, now there is nothing to stop them.
At the following two articles, one from the Guardian, titled “Israel’s prime minister backs Kurdish independence”, June 2014, and one from Reuters, titled “Israel’s Netanyahu calls for supporting Kurdish independence”, June 2014, you can read that the Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu openly asks for Kurdish independence and Kurdish statehood.