Bill Park, King’s College, April 6, 2016

On April 6, 2016, Mr. Bill Park, Senior Lecturer at the Defence Studies Department, King’s College, addressed a Bilkent International Security and Strategy Seminar (BISSS) at the Bilkent Hotel.

In his presentation entitled “Turkey-KRG Relations in the Context of the Multiple Crises in the Middle East”, Mr. Park analyzed recent developments and presented possible future outcomes with regard to this relationship. He started by explaining how Turkey constructed a strategic and a deinstitutionalized relationship with a quasi-state—the KRG—based on trade relations, in particular on the oil pipeline and cooperation against the PKK. However, Turkey’s miscalculation on the Syrian regime’s durability, complex relations with the Kurdish issue, and being not alert to radicalization, he claimed, moved Turkey away from its ‘zero problems’ foreign policy, and from the KRG as well.

Mr. Park stated that the deterioration of the relationship had started by 2014 along with the threat posed by ISIS to the KRG. Turkey has been less cooperative than many of its NATO allies and even Iran in the military assistance it has made available to the KRG. Mr. Park also put forward that Turkey’s decreasing economic assistance to the troubled KRG economy disappointed the KRG.

On the Syrian issue, Mr. Park argued, Ankara’s relationship with Syrian jihadi groups, refusal to join the US-led anti-ISIS campaign until July 2015, its opposition to Kurdish autonomy in Syria, and its crackdown even on the Kurdish-populated southeast region of Turkey, all caused discomfort to the KRG’s leadership. As the Kurdish peace process has also come to an end and Turkey has become entangled in the region’s tensions, such as in the disputes over Rojova, the depth of Turkish concern for Kurdish aspirations even in Iraq came to be questioned.

Mr. Park concluded that considering the rapidly changing regional environment together with the unstable nature of Turkish foreign policy decision making, it is more difficult than ever to predict the future, especially if conflicts between Erbil and Baghdad over territorial issues and the KRG’s energy policy re-emerge.