By Abdul-Qahar Mustafa:
The rivalry between Turkey and Iran over dominating the Middle East is not something new. It is in fact the legacy of the historical conflict between two empires, the Persians and Turks who dominated Middle East several times and under different names and ideologies in history. However, these two ethnicities have developed their empires and expanded their interests at the cost of violating human rights of other ethnic minority groups such as the Kurds, Baloches, Arabs, Assyrians, Armenians, Alawis, Yazidis and Greeks.
Today I see that the Turkish and Iranian governments, the offsprings and inheritors of the Ottoman and Safavid empires are carrying out the same mission of their forefathers. They are trying to use the Kurdish population again and again as a tool to undermine the power and influence of one another and expand their own interests in the Middle East.
Just like in past centuries, these two undemocratic regimes are using all possible means, starting from their superior military and economic capabilities, Islamic religion, to the use of force, threats, coercion, abuse, intimidation, illegal arrests, aggression and the exploitation of powerless minority ethnic groups such as the Kurds, in order to challenge one another politically, economically and militarily in the region.
Looking at their policies, you can easily notice that both fascist regimes, Turkey and Iran, are fighting a cold war with one another. Their first major battle is being fought in Iraq and Syria, where their traditional rivalry and interest conflicts can be seen in full force. However, the problem here is that both Turkey and Iran are trying to involve Kurds in this. They are dragging Kurds into their conflicts by using the carrot and stick approach with Kurdish minorities of Iraq, Syria, Iran and Turkey and have gotten them to cooperate and take sides in their conflicts.
There are times when they use deceptive promises of rewarding Kurds with protection, economic incentives, independence, autonomy and freedom if they cooperate. However, when Kurds refuse to cooperate with either side, they take punitive measures against Kurds such as economic sanctions, military aggression, arbitrary arrests, torture and killings.
Obviously there are many reasons for the rivalry and cold war between Turks and Persians in the Middle East. First, Iran considers Turkey as an ally of Israel and the USA, because Turkey has already recognized Israel as a state and it has all kind of relations with Israel. Therefore, Iran perceives Turkey as a threat to its security and economic interests in the Middle East, while Turkey thinks of Iran as a state that can be both good and bad for Turkey because, when the interests of Turkey come into conflict with the USA, Israel or EU countries, Turkey changes its course right away and stretches out its hands towards countries like Iran who are at odd with Israel, the US and EU countries.
Turkey finds Iran as an effective chip for bargaining some deals with Israel and Saudi Arabia. Turkey offers deals to work with both Israel and the Saudis and help them challenge the political power and influence of Iran in the Middle East, and possibly get Sunnis, Kurds and Turkmens to unify their voice in the Iraqi and Syrian future parliaments and vote for recognizing the state of Israel. But in return, Turkey expects the US, EU, Saudis and Israelis to live up to its own demands and expectations as well.
Furthermore, Turkey wants the US and EU to first drop their so-called political, military and economic support for Kurds in Iraq, Syria and Turkey, and second, to press the Greek Cypriots hard enough to share their wealth of natural resources with the Turkish Cypriot population, and third, to let Turkey have access to the benefits of the world’s biggest market of Europe, and fourth, to grant Turkish citizens free visas to travel to Europe. Turkey promises the US and EU to distance itself from Russia and Iran as well if they agree to the political and economical demands of Turkey within Europe and the Middle East.
To achieve success in her plan, Turkey needs the support of Kurds and other Sunnis and Turkmens to make her plans turn into reality. Turkey is currently putting pressure on Iraqi Kurds to drop their support for the Shia government in Baghdad and rather make a united political front with Turkmens and Sunni blocs so as to shift the balance of political power in Baghdad in favor of Sunnis. However, Kurds want to remain neutral in these conflicts. But Turkey is dragging Kurds to support its plan. It is using the approach of punishment and rewards with Kurds in Iraq, Turkey and Syria in order to get them to help Turkey and support its political, economical and security deal with Israel and Saudi Arabia in the region.
For example, Turkey has recently arrested several Kurdish politicians of the HDP party and sent them to jail. It has also issued an arrest warrant for the Syrian Kurdish leader of the PYD party Saleh Moslem. More Turkish military forces have been deployed to southeastern districts near the Iraqi border, on top of other military bases that have already existed in the north of Iraq since 1997.
Moreover, in the recent visit of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) delegation to Turkey, the Turkish prime minister told the KRG prime minister Nechirvan Barzani that Turkey would help Kurds financially in the future, while it continues to bomb the border areas of Iraqi Kurdistan under the pretext of fighting the PKK, but in reality harassing the Iraqi Kurdish population who live along that border area. The bombing has resulted in making hundreds of Kurdish villagers and farmers abandon their homes and farms and flee towards town and cities in the north of Iraq. It is clear that Turkey is using the approach of reward and punishment in order to get Kurds to drop their ambitions and efforts towards getting independence, or their support for Shia blocs. Turkey, instead, wants Kurds to listen and cooperate with Turkey to achieve its strategic plans in the Middle East.
I believe the hidden agenda of Turkey is this: it wants not only to bring the Kurds of Turkey, Syria and Iraq under its control, but also to use them to achieve its goals in the region. Turks in general do not want to see any kind of Kurdish autonomous area or independent Kurdistan. They want Kurds to be subservient to them. They want to use Kurds to fight for their interests against their rival countries in the Middle East. They tried everything to stop the US and Iraqi government, to prevent Kurds from having autonomy in the north of Iraq, and they are doing it again now to try and stop the Kurds from developing an autonomous area in Syria.
Turkey also tries to exploit the issue of Iran’s hegemony in the Middle East as an opportunity to make a deal with the US, Israel and EU and get concessions out of them. What this means in my opinion is that Turkey wants to become a powerful independent country in the world free from the influence and orders of outsiders. It also means that Turkey wants to feed its Turkish population at the expense of Kurds and Iranians. However, Iran is challenging Turkey in this regard. Iran is playing the same game with Turkey.
Iran wants Kurds to work with all the Shiite forces in Iraq, Syria and Iran, in order to deny Turkey the chance of challenging the power of Shia blocs in the Middle East or gaining any concessions from Israel and Saudi Arabia at Iran’s expense. In fact, Iran is already dealing with the security threats of Saudi Arabia, Israel and ISIS, and so it wants to make as many allies as it can in the Middle East to strengthen itself against these threats and make sure its Islamic regime survives.
Iran reportedly has promised the Kurds of Syria and Iran protection, financial aid and autonomy as long as they do not fight the Assad regime or rebel against the Islamic regime in Tehran and its allies in Lebanon and Iraq. Iran has also demanded Kurds remain its ally in the fight against ISIS. It promised Iraqi and Syrian Kurds economic help and political support if Kurds do not go against its interests in Middle East. However, it also warned Kurds to refrain from showing any support for or establishing any kind of relations with Israel, or else they (the Kurds) will face harsh punishment by Iran.
Iran wants to do business with Iraqi Kurds, but under the condition that Kurds take their side in any conflict with Turkey. In fact, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has reportedly agreed on a plan to build two pipelines for crude oil from Kirkuk to Iran so that it would become less dependent on Turkey.However,both Turkey and Israel are not happy about such a deal because, first, Israel is a buyer of the KRG oil that is sent through Turkey to the Ceyhan port, and secondly, Turkey makes revenues out of the pipeline that goes through its soil, and third, Israel does not want Iran to benefit from the oil of the KRG, and fourth, Turkey knows that the more dependent Kurds are on Turkey economically, the more control Turkey can have over them in all possible ways.
When Kurds remain neutral in their interest conflicts or when they do business with the opponents of Iran, such as Turkey and Israel, Iran turns against the interests of Kurds and it uses its superior military and economic strength and influence in Iraq and Syria to harass Kurds by bombing the Kurdish border areas with Iran, or ordering Assad’s forces to bomb the Kurdish civilian areas in Syria, or Baghdad to withhold the annual budget of Kurds, to typically make Kurds move with their line of dictation.
These two fascist regimes know very well that Kurds do not have strong enough economic and military capabilities to resist their political and economic pressure, nor can they defend themselves against any military aggression of Turkey or Iran, and so they take advantage of the weak points of Kurds and blackmail them until they force them to give in to their demands and work for them. They see Kurds as an inferior race that is good for nothing except for serving the interests of Persians and Turks, as if their own multi-million populations of Persians and Turks, and their superior economic and military powers are not enough to carry out their missions on their own, without victimizing Kurds in their interest conflicts and struggles in the Middle East.
There is no doubt that Kurds do not want at all to be blackmailed or bullied to work for one side against the other. Iraqi Kurds have tried every possible means to remain neutral in the rivalry and cold war between Shias and Sunnis in the Middle East. Kurds have already been paying a high price, losing thousands of lives in the fight against ISIS and they have been suffering from the economic crisis. They certainly do not need to be dragged into another conflict in the Middle East.
The policies of Kurds seem to be clear and fair towards its neighbors. You can tell from the friendly attitude and reasonable actions that they take when dealing with their neighbors. I strongly believe that Kurds do not want to take sides or favor Shia over the Sunni or vice versa. They rather want to have good relations with both Turkey and Iran without discrimination.
Kurds of Turkey, and Syria also, want to remain neutral in the conflict and clashes between Assad’s army and the Free Syrian Army. In fact all Kurdish parties, from Iraq, Turkey, Iran and Syria have the same opinion to not take one side or the other in the cold war between Shia and Sunni or between Iran and Turkey. Kurds are rather focused on having a peaceful coexistence with Arabs, Turks and Persians equally.
I do not find it reasonable at all if Kurds take the side of either of these two regimes, Turkey or Iran, especially when you know that these two regimes are not only undemocratic, but also have long records and history of violating human right of Kurds and all other minorty ethnic groups.
If Europe and the US really stand for democracy, human rights rather than personal interests, they should not let Turkey or Iran sacrifice Kurds or any other ethnic minorty for their own illegitimate political and economic interests in the Middle East. And if they truly believe in justice, they should put harsh economic sanctions and a tourism boycott on both Iran and Turkey immediately, terminate EU membership negotiations and freeze Turkey out of NATO until it reverts to democracy and respects the democratic rights of all minorities.
Abdul-Qahar Mustafa is a graduate student from Saint Louis high school in Canada. He is advocate of justice, democracy and human rights. He currently lives in Sarsang/Duhok, Iraqi Kurdistan