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Turkey dares to dream again of greater sway in oil-rich lands 20 mars 2013

Posted by Acturca in Energy / Energie, Middle East / Moyen Orient, Turkey / Turquie.
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Financial Times (UK) Wednesday, March 20, 2013, p. 2

By Daniel Dombey in Istanbul

President Lyndon Baines Johnson used to say he had one great skill: an understanding of power, « where to look for it and how to use it ». As events this week are likely to demonstrate, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s prime minister, believes he has the same gift.

Mr Erdogan is on a northern European swing this week, but in the southeast of Turkey history is on the march.

Tomorrow, before thousands of celebrants, Leyla Zana, an icon of the Kurdish movement, is due to read out a message proclaiming a ceasefire in a conflict that has killed 35,000 over 30 years and a road map for the months ahead. The road map was drawn up by Abdullah Ocalan , the imprisoned leader of the Kurdistan Workers party, or PKK, an organisation the US, EU and Turkey classify as terrorist.

The plan has received the green light from the pro-Kurdish party in parliament, the PKK’s wing in western Europe and the military arm in the northern Iraqi mountains. More importantly, the plan is being issued following extensive contacts – or negotiations – with Mr Erdogan’s government.

It is here that Mr Erdogan sees his Johnsonian opportunity to find and use power. If all goes to plan, the events in Diyarbakir, styled as the Kurdish capital of Turkey, will turn internal and external politics inside out.

Turkey’s geopolitical position has been transformed as the Arab revolutions have rocked the region. Once a country intent on having zero problems with its neighbours, the Sunni-majority state finds itself in bitter rivalry with the Shia (and Alawite)-led central governments of Iran, Iraq and Syria.

In this context, achieving peace at home and removing a strategic point of vulnerability becomes all the more imperative and an old Turkish dream has reappeared. That is the ambition to extend Turkish sway into the oil- and gas-rich lands of Kurdish northern Iraq, a mouthwatering goal at a time when Turkey pays Russia $2bn a month for fuel and when Ankara’s energy needs are increasing. A deal with Turkey’s Kurdish minority, in which the Kurdish language is used in schools and courts and local government is enhanced, could propel the process while reducing the risk that the greater autonomy of neighbouring northern Iraq would boost separatist demands in Turkey.

About one of every two foreign businesses in the north of Iraq is Turkish owned, but the economic interdependence between Turkey and the region could go further. Ankara has been negotiating a deal in which state-owned companies could take big stakes in the region’s oil and gasfields despite furious objections by Baghdad and warnings from the US. Peace with the PKK could eliminate another weak spot.

Ankara is painfully aware that a PKK affiliate has established a strong presence in the border lands of Syria: that may be all the more reason for coming to an agreement with the mother organisation.

Then there is the situation at home. Mr Erdogan has suggested and Mr Ocalan accepted a virtual quid pro quo in which Kurdish linguistic and political rights would be accepted in return for a fresh constitution creating a powerful new presidency – which Mr Erdogan himself is all but certain to occupy.

Old alliances are being undone. Mr Erdogan had already been at odds with the movement of Fethullah Gulen, a Pennsylvania-based preacher, whose followers are present throughout Turkish life.

The Kurdish talks increase tensions. Many Gulenists are aghast at the negotiations with Mr Ocalan, an enemy of their movement, which the PKK chief calls « counter-guerrillas ». These are not the misgivings of a marginal group. The columnist Kadri Gursel says that there are three main actors in Turkish politics – the prime minister, the prisoner and the preacher.

The realignment of these forces is a momentous one. But although the Kurdish peace process has many obstacles ahead it is but a part of an outsize ambition that might have impressed even LBJ.

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