MESOP BACKGOUNDER : Does the Turkey-Russia-Iran deal mean Kurds are back to square one?

By Hemin Lihony – RUDAW – 18 Aug 2016 – Russian President Vladimir Putin was one of the first world leaders to call his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan only hours after the July failed coup attempt, expressing his full support for Ankara and his government. That phone call became the basis for a new understanding. On his visit to Moscow this month, Erdogan explicitly told Putin that his phone call on the night of the coup provided a psychological boost for him.  

An understanding on resolving the Middle East crises, especially in Iraq and Syria, is fast coming into being among Turkey, Qatar, Russia and Iran. Saudi Arabia and the United States will not play a main acting role in this scene.  With regard to the US, the Obama administration seems intent on keeping out. With built-up grievance and criticism against the West, Erdogan traveled to Moscow with a high-level delegation, where he had a day-long meeting with Putin and Russian officials.  There, it was decided that ties should return to where they were before they were soured by the shooting of a Russian fighter jet over Turkey, and that every aspect of relations should be better than ever before. Soon after this Moscow visit, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif arrived in Ankara, where he and his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu warmly embraced more than once and were all talk of a new understanding between the two countries. According to Cavusoglu, most of the calls on the night of the coup were made to Zarif.

A day after Zarif’s visit, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim invited his country’s media for a conference where he told them: “If you see significant changes in the coming months in Syria, don’t be shocked and be prepared!”

Turkey feels it is imperative to find a way to come out of the diplomatic isolation it had recently faced. Turkish leaders expected great support and sympathy from their US and NATO allies in the aftermath of the shooting down of the Russian jet. But there was no such response. The refugee and migrant crisis only further complicated Turkey’s relations with Europe.Like a wounded tiger, Erdogan is now after scoring politically against Europe and he sees no better field for that game than that of Russia. Not only has his luster for the EU vanished, even leaving NATO has now become a subject. The shooting down of the Russian jet cost Turkey $10 billion and a 43 percent decline in its trade ties with Russia.

Russia for its part is seeking to fill the vacuum left by the US, particularly its nonintervention in Syria and a similar one in Turkey. It is Putin’s dream to weaken NATO at any cost and by any means, and Turkey is a good start both as a NATO member and as a corridor for Russian natural gas.Above all, Russia and Iran must find a political settlement in Syria and save themselves from the giant expenditure they have undertaken in support of Bashar Assad’s regime. For this they need Turkey, and Ankara is more than happy to become part of this new equation and act as an envoy of the West.

The heart of the Turkey-Russia-Iran meetings is: Iraq and Syria’s territorial integrity, a political settlement for Syria, hitting ISIS and the Nusra Front (now called Jabhat Fateh Al-Sham), strengthening economic ties — especially the energy sector — and the establishment of a joint defense mechanism. As far as the Kurds are concerned, this means they will be pushed back to their state of several years ago. In Turkey the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) will be compelled to return to the peace process and quit its dream of self-rule and violence. In Syria, the Kurdish region will be seen as an inseparable part of that country: the autonomous Cantons will be dashed, entered into the political process and likely included in the Geneva talks. As a first indicator of this scenario, Salih Muslim, head of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), has already told Russian media that he is ready for friendly ties with Turkey.

This new Middle East alliance will similarly impress upon the Kurdistan Region the integrity of Iraq, and through Turkey they will apply pressure for the postponement of the referendum and Kurdish independence project. There will be pressure on Erbil to resume ties with Baghdad and keep the country’s stability. In return, Turkish companies will find themselves invited to the world of post-ISIS reconstruction.Well-placed sources have revealed that the Iranians had told a visiting KRG delegation that the new deal with Turkey is of the highest importance because they see that as the only remaining hope for stability in the region, and that they are also against an independence referendum and a Kurdish state.

Turkey is willing to help Iran keep Iraq’s territorial integrity and Iran would do the same in Syria.In realpolitik terms, central governments — weak though they may be — still have a say in their countries’ affairs and internationally they will be preferred over regional and non-state actors.

The fruit of this new rapprochement shall be seen in the next six months, and its work has already kicked off. The Ankara-Moscow operation room is active and in daily contact. Iraqi and Turkish delegations have also already met twice in a European country to normalize ties.

All eyes are now trained on the next six months because, as Iran’s Zarif said in a tweet from Ankara: “More cooperation for peace is ahead.”
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Rudaw.