Turkey Needs to Give Up Kurdistan If It Ever Wants to Join the EU

By Ozkan Kocakaya:

Turkey’s immigration deal to help the EU stem the flow of migrants has been a point of universal condemnation for many good reasons. However, the dynamics of that deal and the root causes of the migrant crisis actually highlight a possible future solution to the Middle East and the EU itself. If Turkey is to join the EU, it must give up its part of Kurdistan.

One reason for keeping Turkey out of EU has been the risks of absorbing a large, Muslim country into a union whose core values and demography are so different to Turkey’s. If the EU has been brought to a point of such crisis by the recent inflow of migrants, how would it cope with an Islamic nation of 75 million? The answer is that it can’t, but without the Kurdistan region, it is possible.

Best estimates put the population in the Kurdish regions of Turkey close to 23 million, which leaves a Turkish population close to 50 million, roughly split between two thirds conservative Muslims and the rest secularists. The other factor is the fear of mass migration due to unemployment. Given the unemployment rate in Turkey stands at around 10% of the labour force, we are talking about roughly 3 million unemployed, two million of whom are estimated to be in the Kurdish regions. Suddenly, a smaller Turkey doesn’t seem so daunting for the EU.


We also need to consider the advantages of a smaller Turkey joining to address the EU’s long term problems. One of these is the EU’s aging population. Germany’s alone declined by 2 million over the past 15 years and that country is in desperate need of a supply of labour. Given roughly half of Turkey’s population is under 30 whereas the other large EU countries like Germany, UK, France, Spain and Italy have declining birth rates, there’s a ticking time bomb that could be tackled with a more compact Turkey joining the EU. Germany would then not have to resort to opportunistic measures of plugging it’s labour gap with Syrian refugees.

It has to be pointed out also that, although Turkey suffers from religious extremism, mostly due to Erdogan’s opportunism to exploit this weakness for his political purposes, a significant proportion of the country see themselves as more European than Middle Eastern, and that is down to the legacy of Ataturk’s secular policies. If the EU doesn’t take the opportunity now to realign Turkey’s ideologies to European values, it will be side-lined to watching the likes of Erdogan push Turkey towards closer ties with its Middle Eastern counterparts. That may not bother most, but given Turkey’s reluctance to toe the Western line when it came to the Syrian issue, it would become more difficult to count on Turkey as a reliable NATO member and an EU partner in the future.

Which brings us to the continuing instability in the Middle East. The West may be benefiting hugely from the lucrative arms deals with Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, but that instability caused by sectarian divisions leading to extremism has had a profound effect on Europe.

The Brussels and Paris attacks are just the tip of the ice berg, and if two such attacks threaten the existence of the Schengen agreement and contribute to rise of extremism on such a scale, both amongst the Muslim and non-Muslim communities, what will the future look like? If security and freedom of speech in Europe are so significantly challenged by the rise of Islamic extremism, facilitated by political actors across the Middle East, is the long term price worth paying? After all, the decades long stability and economic prosperity Europe has enjoyed since World War II were based on these two fundamental human rights. If that is no longer possible without bowing to pressure from outside forces, then Europe has already lost. It is no longer about politics or diplomacy, but indicative of the need for EU to upgrade its aging system.

I believe the key to it is stability in the Middle East. That stability can be achieved if Turkey acts as the natural bridge between the two contrasting regions, and that is only possible if one of the great injustices of the 20th century in denying 45 million Kurds their own country is corrected. Or rather, stability in the Middle East is not possible without an independent Kurdistan. The fact that oppressive regimes like Iraq, Syria, Turkey and Iran have poured so much resource, and have resorted to inhumane measures on an astounding scale for a century to keep the Kurdish movement down, is nature’s indication of the need to correct this historical mistake.

What is happening now is that rather than being seen as the bastion of human rights and economic prosperity, Europe is living in fear. That fear is directly linked to the Middle East, which can only be stabilised if some of Europe’s democracy and human rights can be transferred there. Having Israel as the only nation in the region who can claim to be a democratic and an equal society in the Middle East is not enough, Israel needs another natural partner. Kurds are inherently aligned to these qualities and will act as the stabilising middle line between various warring factions in the region. Not only will the West gain a valuable ally whose natural resources need not be plundered, it will ensure Turkey’s potential for secularism and moderate Islam can be used to everyone’s advantage.

It’s a monumentally challenging, long term vision, but it provides an idea of how the EU can adapt its system to a more interconnected, global, spiritually driven state we are entering. If these steps are not taken now, we may find nature enforcing that change upon us with another World War, which neither Turkey nor Europe can handle. The regional conflict in Syria was in danger of spiralling out of control, which I believe is a warning. If the EU wants to avoid the next regional conflict being escalated into a World War, it needs to take the right steps now, and Turkey joining the EU is key. For its part, giving up Kurdistan is the price Turkey must pay to secure its own future.

Ozkan Kocakaya is originally from Turkey, of Kurdish origin. After gaining a BSc and an MSc from the University of Liverpool in IT and business related subjects, he began a career in the finance industry, where he still earns a living. Having a keen interest in literature and a passion for Kurdistan, he devotes his spare time to writing fiction to promote Kurdish history and values, as well as blogging about current affairs in his home country.

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