Energy Security, Turkey, and the PKK or Obama, Erdogan, and Ocalan, by Mustafa Demir


26 March 2013 , Keele University



March 2013 has witnessed very remarkable developments in Turkey with respect to its Kurdish problem. First some MPs from pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) met with Abdullah Ocalan, imprisoned leader of the PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party), at the Imrali island where Ocalan prisoned. Then Ocalan announced ceasefire, sent a letter and asked PKK to lay down the guns and withdraw the militias from Turkey.


When I heard Ocalan’s letter vocalized by Sirri Sureyya Onder, MP from pro-Kurdish BDP (Peace and Democracy Party) to almost one million gathered for celeberation of Nawruz in Diyarbekir I recalled Erdogan’s talk given in August 2009 as starting of his government’s “Kurdish Opening”. In this piece I aim at revealing similarities between both these addresses. However, before doing this, I would like to draw the attentions to the dynamics at global level, which paved the way for emergence of the recent picture in Turkey with reference to peace talk between Turkish Government and the PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan. In a nutshell, I argue that to understand the context, which gave this picture as fruit, we need to look at emerging and overlapping interest of Turkey and the United States with reference to energy security.


When Obama came to power he announced removal of its military existence in Iraq. The deportation started in July 2009 and completed by December 2011. Hundreds thousands U.S. soldiers have left Iraq. The decision was reflection of Obama administration’s approach to the world politics. In order to recover the loss of the war and remove the burden of the cost of thousands of soldiers deployed oversea on the retrogressive U.S. economy the decision was taken. The main concern of the US related to the Middle East has been energy security, sustainable easy and cheap oil flow to the Western market. Since the Cold War to maintain this security the US relied on its military might. Now Obama has noticed that the US economy can’t afford to fund hundreds thousands soldiers appearance across the world. However energy security is still on the agenda of the Obama administration. To secure energy flow Obama administration has sought to find a partner in the region, which can be bridge between the US and the oil-rich Middle Eastern countries, the main expectation from this partner is to oversee security of energy flow.


Turkey has been the needed actor in the region with its Muslim identity that Obama’s first oversea trip as U.S. President has been to Turkey. At his speech in the Turkish Parliament Obama regarded Turkey as “a critical ally. Turkey is an important part of Europe. And Turkey and the United States must stand together-and work together-to overcome the challenges of our time.” With reference to energy security he stated that:

“…the United States and Turkey can pursue many opportunities to serve prosperity for our people, particularly when it comes to energy. To expand markets and create jobs, we can increase trade and investment between our countries. To develop new sources of energy and combat climate change, we should build on our Clean Technology Fund to leverage efficiency and renewable energy investment in Turkey. And to power markets in Turkey and Europe, the United States will continue to support your central role as an East-West corridor for oil and natural gas.”


As seen above in his address to Turkish parliament he touches upon both countries increasing dependency on oil as source of energy via mentioning attempts for renewable energy investments. Then he comes to main point he wanted to put stress on by pointing out Turkey’s “role as an East-West corridor for oil and natural gas”. It is a requirement to remind that security of the geography, which has been thought as route of transportation, is an absolute must for energy security. At this point it is necessary to mention estimated reserves on the land of Kurdistan Regional Government. According to some official sources of Kurdistan Regional Government, the land the entity located on reserves at least 45 billions barrels of oil and around 100-200trillion cubic feet of gas. Comparing other entities, which have reserves this amount makes/places Kurdish entity on the agenda of powers their economy rely on oil and the powers/actors want to increase their influence in the region. Ashti Hawrami. Minister for Natural Resources in Kurdistan’s regional government, in an occasion points out that the KRG’s estimated gas reserve is enough for European countries for more than 80 years.


With reference to famous quote from Churchill about security of energy; “Safety and certainty in oil lie in variety and variety alone” and this fact push EU countries to seek for alternative roots alongside Russia. Thus, the recent context increases the significance of Nabucco project in the eyes of EU countries so that they would support positive engagement of Turkey with the region. Specifying Turkey as corridor for oil and natural gas pushes the U.S. and oil dependent Western countries to be active in security of Turkey as corridor with reference to PKK problem.


Just 4 mounts after Obamas’ visit on August 2009 during party group meeting Erdogan gave a historical speech. He talked about Kurds and their sufferings. Also pointed out commonalities between Turks and Kurds. He stated that:


“When Neşet Ertaş says “Gönül Dağı” (Heart Mountain), each of us shudders … Likewise, we plunge into the depth of our souls when Shevan Perwer says “Halepçe” or “Hazal….. As Yunus Emre, Mevlana Rumi, Hacı Bektaş-ı Veli, Karacaoğlan, and Pir Sultan laid the foundations of Turkish culture, Dengbejs, who lived outside Munzur, were sowing the seeds of fellowship in the same lands”


The AKP Government took numbers of historical steps. First of all Erdogan made his supporters believe that the rights of the Kurds coming from being human were violated by the state, a Kurdish TV channel was founded. However, existence and activity of the PKK continued, the organisation and its supporters could not be persuaded. The regional developments such as Arab uprisings, which have started in 2011, increasing influence of Shia/Iran in the Middle East, polarization within Iraq have also effected the context of the region. The context that is in favour of Western interests required positive engagement of Turkey with the oil rich Kurdistan Regional Government. Turkey also enjoyed from this engagement economically and decided to construct a direct pipeline from the Kurdistan Region of Iraq to Ceyhan port of Turkey with the capacity of transporting 1 million barrels oil per day. On the other hand recently Ashti Havrami pointed out that the estimated gas reserves in Kurdistan is about meeting the need of all European countries for 80 years.


After a period of silence a new step came from Imrali. It was a fact that for a while the government has been trying to convince jailed PKK leader Ocalan to play an active role in the process of persuading the PKK militia to lay down the weapons. It seems in the end the government persuaded Ocalan to call for laying down the guns. Following the meeting with MPs from pro-Kurdish BDP Ocalan sent several letters to different actors. In the end he send a message to Nawroz celebration in Diyarbekir on March 21, 2013. The message read by Onder was astonishingly similar to the Erdogan’s historical talk in 2009. As Erdogan, in his message Ocalan stress on communalities and similarities. For example he states that:


“…Tigris and Euphrates are siblings with Sakarya and Maritsa rivers. Mount Ararat and Cudi Mountain are friends of Kachkar and Erciyes Mountains. Halay and Delilo dances are relatives with Horan and Zeybek dances.”


In the end it must be noted that the Western energy security in the context of 21th century requires a secure and powerful partner in the region, which has the capacity to be corridor for oil and gas alongside having good relations with the people of the region.

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