In the aftermath of the Gulf War, especially beginning in 1992 and until late summer of 1994, Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria have engaged in a series of (around 10) national-security consultations involving the highest government officials. The purpose of this article is to indicate the extent of their agreements and to suggest that they may augur further rapprochement among these four countries on matters other than the Kurds. This article also suggests that these agreements indicate substantial changes in the policies pursued during and after the Gulf crisis and the Gulf War.
On November 19-20, 1993,just after Turkey and Syria signed a security protocol regarding the Partiya Karkaren Kurdistan, Workers' Party of Kurdistan, the militant Kurdish nationalist organization in Turkey [PKK] and other "terrorists," Major General Adnan Badr al-Hasan, Syrian Interior Ministry chief of security, stated in an interview that Syria would not be a thoroughfare for ''those who are against Turkey's interest."1 A few days later, Nasir Kaddur, Syrian state minister for security, in a television interview referring to the security protocol, stated that Syria had ''begun to ban the PKK on President Hafiz al-Asad's orders." Kaddur added that Abdallah Ocalan, the PKK leader, and other "terrorists" would not be allowed to use Syrian territory or pass through Syria for operations against Turkey. The security chief noted that some PKK members had already been arrested. He implied further that henceforth Ocalan would be unwelcome in Syria. Kaddur concluded his interview saying, "Turkey's stability and integrity is important for Syria and the region. Therefore there is no room for any groups perpetrating terrorism and causing trouble for Turkey.''2 Turkish officials were undoubtedly delighted to hear the Syrian security chief characterize the PKK as a terrorist organization. This was the first time that a high-ranking Syrian official had done so and marked a significant departure in the foreign policy of Syria, which had supported the PKK since it began its guerrilla activities in 1984.
On August 23, 1994, Syria participated on the foreign-minister level in a summit conference with Iran and Turkey in which the Kurdish question figured prominently. The three foreign ministers, Ali Akbar Velayati of Iran, Faruk Sharaa of Syria and Miintaz Soysal of Turkey, who had only become foreign minister on August 27, expressed their unalterable opposition to the fragmentation of Iraq. They announced that they were vehemently opposed to the planned elections in 1995 in northern Iraq, which they declared would contribute to the country's fragmentation. The ministers, especially Soysal, expressed their displeasure at not being invited to attend the Kurdish Conference held on July 23 in Paris, which was attended by officials from Great Britain, France and the United States.
At the Damascus summit, Sharaa did not specifically denounce the PKK as a terrorist organization, as Turkey had demanded, but he did say that Syria was adamantly opposed to the fragmentation of Middle East countries. He was apparently referring to Turkey and the Kurdish nationalist challenge as well as to Iraq. In his tum, Soysal announced at a press conference at the summit that Turkey would soon place new restrictions on entries into Iraq at the Habur/Khabur crossing, especially on representatives of non-governmental organizations (NGOs). This crossing is the main entry point between Turkey and Iraq, located at the town of Jizre (Jazirat al-Umar) on the Turkish side of the border.3 Some two weeks later, the Turkish government did announce that it was closing the Habur crossing to representatives of human-rights organizations and members of foreign parliaments. Only personnel connected to U.N. programs in northern Iraq and Turkish and Iraqi journalists would be allowed passage. A Turkish authority was quoted as saying, "Northern Iraq is our back yard. Of course, we will control who comes and goes."4
The summit meeting in Damascus made it clear that there is a direct connection between the Kurdish question and the water question. The water question in this regard refers to the distribution of the Euphrates River waters. The Turks indicated they were unwilling to pursue earnest negotiations on the water question until it was assured that Syria was no longer supporting PKK activities or sheltering its leader Abdallah Ocalan. Until there was some agreement on this concern, Ankara indicated that it would be difficult to move forward on other problems between the two countries such as differences over the distribution of the Orontes River (Asi in Turkish and al-Asi in Arabic) whose source is in Lebanon but which flows through Syria before entering Turkey's Hatay province. The Orontes flows into the Amik basin before emptying into the Mediterranean south of Antakya. The Turks want an agreement that will prohibit the Syrians from severely restricting the Orontes flow before entering Hatay. Ankara also indicated that it sought indemnification of property in Syria belonging to Turkish citizens, some cases of which go back prior to World War I. The Syrians are also interested in putting the question of the sovereignty of Hatay/Alexandretta on the agenda. Hatay was a province of Syria prior to being annexed by Turkey in 1939 with the support of the European powers in return for Turkey's hoped-for neutrality in the increasingly bitter conflict between Germany and its European neighbors. The Turkish foreign minister stated, however, that the two countries should try to solve the least intractable problems first. A Turkish editorial writer declared that the August summit marked "a new era" in Turkish-Syrian relations. All three foreign ministers once again declared their strong opposition to the creation of an independent Kurdish state in northern Iraq. Prior to the Damascus summit and just after being appointed foreign minister, Soysal announced publicly that he believed this was the West's policy. 5
It is beyond the scope of this article to discuss all the reasons for Syria's change of policy vis-a-vis the PKK, but obviously its continued negotiation with Israel and the United States and its desire to be earnestly involved in the Middle East peace process play major roles. Such antiterrorist remarks and positions were also obviously intended to prepare for the summit meeting between President Asad and President Clinton in Geneva, Switzerland on January 16, 1994. Syria's antiterrorism remarks could well aid in the removal of Syria from the U.S. Department of State's list of those countries supporting terrorism and the benefits this entails. The removal of Syria from the list was again discussed by President Asad and U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher during meetings on July 21-22, 1994. Such discussions continued throughout 1994.
There is, however, another dimension to Syria's antiterrorism remarks with reference to the PKK. Syria realizes that Europe and the United States do not want the destabilization or weakening of Turkey by allowing external support for the PKK. By the end of 1993, relations between Syria and Turkey had improved substantially from several months earlier, when Turkish officials and parliamentarians were calling for war against Syria and threatening to inundate Syria with waters from the Turkish darns on the Euphrates. The latter threat was particularly galling to Syria, as it was the lack of water coming from Turkey that was one of the major disputes between the two countries. In another irony resulting from the consequences of the Gulf War, it may well be that Turkish-Syrian security agreements against the PKK could pave the way for improving relations on other issues as well, especially the dispute over allocations of Euphrates water. When the Arab states, the Palestinians and Israel consummate their peace negotiations, Syria may well have a role to play in the regional water-sharing schemes that now abound. Any pipeline carrying water from the upper reaches of the Euphrates and the Ceyhan and Seyhan rivers, located in south-central Turkey, would have to traverse Syrian territory. Syria will want to extract as much diplomatic, political and economic leverage as possible from such a potentiality. This role would demand, however, that it no longer pursue policies against the course of wider regional water, trade and economic agreements and geostrategic understandings. In tum, this means less support of PKK activities against Turkey. Another aspect of such policies is that Syria would also be less able to use the Kurdish card against the Baathist regime in Baghdad. In short, the emerging geopolitic and geostrategic trends in the Middle East indicate that Syria's support of the PKK is no longer conducive to its foreign-policy goals.
A continuing rapprochement between Turkey and Iran regarding the mutual challenge of Kurdish nationalism, especially from the PKK took place in 1993 and early 1994. In May and June 1994, there were frequent diplomatic and national-security meetings (by September 1, 1994, around 10 major meetings had taken place). The two countries signed a joint security protocol on November 30, 1993. The protocol stipulated that neither country would permit any terrorist organization [i.e., PKK] to exist on its territory. Golam Hosain Bolandian of the Iranian delegation and the authorized representative of President Rafsartjani, stated that Iran would take military measures against the PKK. The December 7, 1993, issue of the Turkish conservative newspaper, Sabah, had a banner headline proclaiming, ''Iran issues order for PKK members to be shot." Bolandijian was reported to have stated, "Iran has issued an order for any PKK member to be shot regardless of whether they are wearing PKK uniforms or are smugglers." The article concluded, "At the end of seven [security] meetings between the Iranian and Turkish delegations, a protocol to take action against terrorism was signed."
On May 4, 1994, Turkish Interior Minister Nahit Mentese announced that Iran had turned over to Turkey 28 members of the PKK, 10 of whom were corpses. On June 13, Ankara requested of visiting Iranian Interior Minister Mohammad Besharati that Turkey be allowed to bomb PKK bases located around the areas of mounts Ararat and Tendiirek in and near Iranian territory. On June 14, President Suleyman Demirel even took time out from his summer vacation to announce that Ankara and Tehran had agreed to cooperate against the PKK. The Turkish press announced on June 16 that Iran had given permission to Turkey to bomb PKK bases located in Iranian territory. The June 16 declaration centered on three major points of agreement: 1) to prevent the passage of PKK members from northern Iraq to Iran, 2) to prevent PKK passage to Armenia and hence to Russia and 3) a Turkish request to bomb roads in Iranian territory that were used by the PKK to replenish supplies for camps in Iran from which it launched attacks against Turkey. In a press conference Besharati did not officially acknowledge that Iran would give permission to Turkey to bomb PKK bases located in Iranian territory, but he did state that Iran would cooperate with Turkey in every way against "their common enemies." In return Ankara announced that it would move "against" the Mojahedin-e Khalq opposition-in Turkey-to the Iranian government. Mentese stated that Turkey would not allow any group operating from Turkey's territory "to give harm" to the Iranian government.
The national-security concerns between Turkey and Iran concerning the Kurds were given prominence when President Siileyman Demirel met with President Hashimi Rafsanjani July 15-27. It was the first visit in decades by a Turkish president to Iran. In press interviews prior to the meeting, Rafsanjani gave assurances that Iran was fully cooperative with Turkey against the PKK. He stated that the creation of a Kurdish state was "impossible."6 But Rafsanjani did make a point of stating that the Islamic Republic had solved its Kurdish problem with the "spirit of Islam." This reply was also probably meant to imply his approval of the religiously oriented Welfare (Refah) party (WP) in Turkey, which is in opposition to Demirel's True Path (Dogu Yolu) party (TPP). The Demirel-Rafsanjani meeting received wide coverage in both the Iranian and Turkish press. The coverage of the meeting was more limited in Turkey only because of the hullabaloo there over the disclosure of the personal wealth of Prime Minister Tansu Ciller and her husband and the fact that the couple had some $4-5 million invested in real estate in the United States. Foreign Minister Hikmet Cetin was also forced to resign during Demirel's visit to Tehran. While it is still unclear as to all of the reasons compelling
Cetin's resignation, his handling of the Kurdish question and Turkey's Kurdish problem and its many manifestations may well have played a role. Nahit Mentese, the Turkish interior minister, stated that he was confident the new security agreements between the two countries as well as agreements with Syria would lead to the capture of PKK leader Ocalan, who, like the recently captured Carlos the Jackal, could not escape justice forever.7
The national-security agreements between Turkey and Iran are important in several ways: 1) They indicate the serious challenge to both countries of Kurdish nationalism, especially of the PKK to Turkey; 2) The agreements suggest that Ankara and Tehran are probably more willing than heretofore to cooperate regarding their respective policies toward countries in the Caucasus, especially Armenia and Azerbaijan and the accompanying problem of Nagorno-Karabakh and, by extension, the increasingly strong role and presence of Russia in the region; 3) The agreements may indicate that the two countries are also prepared to be more cooperative than previously in their policies toward the Central Asian states; 4) The security agreements indicate that Turkey is distancing itself further from the policies that it pursued during the Gulf War and its aftermath, representing a further unraveling of the pro-West and pro-American policies it pursued during that conflict; and 5) The security agreements between Ankara and Tehran against the PKK serve to strengthen the Baghdad government against its Kurdish challenge in northern Iraq.
The security agreements between Turkey and Iran and similar agreements between Turkey and Syria indicate that the policies these three countries, especially the first two, pursued during the Gulf War and its aftermath are changing. This, in turn, means the policies that Europe, and especially the United States, pursued during the Gulf War are also unraveling. This suggests that European and U.S. support for Kurdish nationalism, especially the militant brand, is dwindling. The unprecedented onslaught of Turkish armed forces against the PKK and other Kurdish nationalist movements in the summer of 1994, which some estimates put as high as 300,000 troops, is stark evidence of this diminishing support. The cost of Turkey's war against the Kurds is, of course, unknown; speculations run wild-from $1 billion a year to the charges of Cem Boyner, the leader of the New Democratic Movement (NDM) in Turkey, who throughout the summer of 1994 repeatedly stated that half of Turkey's budget was going to fight the Kurds in southeastern Turkey.8
Turkey's relations with Baghdad also improved in 1993 and have gained momentum throughout 1994. As early as December 1992, Bolent Ecevit, the Democratic Left party (OLP) head, conducted talks with Iraqi leaders in Baghdad. This is the same Ecevit who announced on August 1, 1994, that ·'the fundamental goal of the United States was to create an autonomous (ozerk) region in southeastern Turkey.''9 In April 1993, Ankara established diplomatic relations with Iraq at the level of charge d'affaires with ambassadorial rank. Economic, business and even military delegations, both official and unofficial, came and went continuously between the two capitals in 1993 and 1994. Even the assassination of Caglar Yucel, administrative attached of the Turkish embassy, in Baghdad on December 11, 1993, did not affect developing relations between the two governments. There were no allegations by Ankara that the Iraqi government was involved in the assassination. Neither government wanted the assassination to impede ongoing negotiations to improve trading and economic cooperation. By early 1994, both capitals were pressing the United Nations and other governments, including the United States, to allow the reopening of the two oil pipelines from Iraq that traverse Turkey.
Prime Minister Tansu Ciller pushed hard in her talks with U.S. officials during her October 1993 visit to Washington to allow the pipelines to be reopened under some formula allowed by the U.N. sanctions. In spite of U.S. reluctance to grant such permission, negotiations between Ankara and Baghdad and other parties regarding the reopening of the pipelines continued throughout 1994. These talks suggest a possibility the pipelines might be reopened, at least for cleaning, in 1995. Negotiations to open the pipelines will undoubtedly lead to better relations between the two countries on a host of other issues in spite of profound Iraqi resentment of Turkey's influence in northern Iraq and its deep suspicions of Turkey's intentions. The most pressing problem between the countries is, of course, the Kurdish question.
By summer 1994, meetings and consultations between Baghdad and Ankara were becoming daily events. In late June, Murat Karayalcin, assistant prime minister and leader of the Social Democrat party (SOP), the main coalition partner with Ciller's TPP, visited Baghdad and had extensive talks with the highest-level Iraqi officials, including Saddam Hussein.10 Karayalcin undertook the visit in spite of opposition from members of his own party, especially those from Turkey's east and southeastern provinces, some of whom are of Kurdish ethnicity. Some six weeks after Karayalcin's visit, the Habur crossing, as mentioned earlier, was officially reopened. (Turkey officially announced its reopening on August 28. While trucks from Turkey going to Iraq were declared to be carrying only food and medicine, as allowed by U.N. sanctions, it was widely reported that they were transporting other goods and materials as well. The Turkish press reported that the trucks were returning from Iraq carrying two tons of oil per truck.)
From August 28 to September 1, there were more high-level meetings between Turkish officials including powerful members of Turkey's business community. The late-August meeting was of particular importance because the Turkish delegation was led by Yalim Erez, president of Turkey's chambers of commerce and commodities markets, and a close adviser to Prime Minister Ciller. This suggested that the trip had the blessing of the government. Erez was accompanied by 77 well-connected businessmen, which implied the Turkish government's conviction that Saddam Hussein was going to remain in power for the foreseeable future, contrary to the U.S. position. This U.S. position was the officially proclaimed reason for maintaining the Provide Comfort force in southeastern Turkey monitoring the U.N. imposed "no-fly" zone over northern Iraq.
The Brez delegation came to significant understandings with Iraq, and the two governments signed a protocol stipulating the following: 1) Turkish businessmen would be given every opportunity to do business in Iraq; 2) Iraq would buy all kinds of goods and materials from Turkey; 3) the bulk of the trade would be barter because of lraq's lack of hard currency and funds and 4) acceptance of the above was dependent on Turkish government approval. It also seemed clear that Iraqi oil would be bartered for Turkish goods. At the conclusion of Erez's stay, Prime Minister Ciller was invited to visit Iraq. Taha Yasin Ramadan, one of Saddam Hussein's chief advisers and the person who extended the invitation, indicated his desire to visit Turkey, the sooner the better.11
In another goodwill gesture to Baghdad, Turkey's foreign ministry announced on September 11 that all persons entering Iraq from Turkey with the exception of U.N. personnel involved in the distribution of aid in northern Iraq, diplomats, foreign journalists in Turkey, Turkish and Iraqi journalists, and Turkish and Iraqi citizens would have to obtain visas from Iraqi authorities. Kurds who are able to be identified as being from Iraq would also be allowed passage. In those cases in which Iraq was unable to grant a visa, right of entry is to be determined by Turkish authorities.12
Ankara's opening to Baghdad was met with approval in the media. Editorial writers proclaimed that by its actions Ankara was sending the strong signal that Baghdad was "the owner" of northern Iraq. It was another in a series of actions to persuade the Kurds to abandon their attempts to establish an independent state in northern Iraq. The editorials stated Ankara's actions were also a signal to the Western countries to abandon their support for the establishment of an independent state in northern Iraq and, furthermore, to cease their aid to the PKK. In addition Turkey claimed that it had lost $20 billion in trade as a result of the U.N. sanctions.
Approval was especially strong on both the left and the right. Bolent Ecevit, leader of the DLP, and Necmettin Erbakan, leader of the WP, voiced their strong approval of the government's new policy. But Undersecretary of State Ozdem Sanberk, government-spokesman and one of the principal architects of the opening to Baghad, stressed that Turkey's negotiations with Baghdad were "conducted in close consultation with our Western allies . . . . Turkey is acting as a catalyst and is in a unique position to play such a regional role."13 Sanberk's remarks suggested that Europe and the United States were at least informed of the content of the negotiations if not privy to every detail. He further implied that most countries in Europe were not opposed to an easing of the sanctions.
Sanberk was echoing Eric Rouleau, a respected commentator on Middle Eastern affairs and a former French ambassador to Tunis and Ankara. In a statement to the Turkish media in early September, Rouleau stated that Turkey's policy of easing the embargo against Iraq was not contrary to the policy that the United Nations and its Provide Comfort force were pursuing in northern Iraq. Rouleau stated that Turkey's policy was aimed at preventing the balkanization of the countries of the Middle East and that this policy had the support of most European countries and others as well. The former ambassador suggested that the main purpose of Provide Comfort was largely to reduce the influence of Baghdad in northern Iraq. Rouleau stressed the fact that Provide Comfort did nothing but watch the fierce fighting in August among contending Kurdish forces, especially those of Jalal Talabani and Masud Barzani, in which hundreds had been killed. Rouleau speculated that the strong U.S. position against the easing or lifting of sanctions was no longer solely aimed at toppling Saddam Hussein from power, but rather indicated U.S. anxiety that the reentry of Iraqi oil into the world oil market would cause prices to fall and that this would make it difficult for the two major producers, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, to repay the $30-some billion they owed the United States for arms purchased after the Gulf War.
Another reason for U.S. opposition, in Rouleau's view, was that lower oil prices would increase the competitiveness of the two major U.S. economic rivals: Germany and Japan, both of which lack oil resources of their own.14 Given the fact that Turkey and the United States have close political relations and cooperate on intelligence matters concerning the Middle East, it seems likely that the United States was informed of Turkish intentions to substantially reduce the embargo against Iraq. This, in turn, makes Rouleau's comments credible. The improvement of relations with Turkey on the part of Saddam Hussein's regime may indicate that while Baghdad is resentful of Turkey's relationship with the leaders of the Kurdish Federated State (KFS) and its influence in northern Iraq, Baghdad does not think Turkey wants to annex or permanently militarily occupy northern Iraq, but does want to remain the dominant political influence there.
If this is Baghdad's position, it may mean that the Iraqi leadership thinks it can conduct negotiations with Turkey on a number of issues other than the political status of northern Iraq. A further improvement in relations between the two countries could well mean that Ankara would tolerate the Iraqi regime's incremental attempts to regain territory on the southern fringes of the KFS as long as Turkey's dominant political and military position in the north and its relationship with the KFS leadership of Barzani and Talabani is not jeopardized. Such an understanding between Turkey and Iraq would mean that the leadership of Talabani and Barzani would be effectively neutralized. This would imply recognition on the part of Baghdad that Turkey's position in northern Iraq was dictated by its need to control the Kurdish national movement within Turkey rather than a desire on the part of Turkey to permanently militarily occupy northern Iraq.15 Thus the policies of Turkey since the Gulf War have come full circle: from unequivocal support for the West and the United States to a rapprochement with Iraq as well as with Syria and Iran. The driving force of this change of policy was the threat of the Kurdish nationalist movement in Turkey to the sovereignty and stability of the Turkish state. It is ironic that Turkey is compelled to favor a policy of lifting the sanctions against Saddam Hussein whom it tried, along with its Western allies, to topple from power during the course of the Gulf War. But the increased activities of the PKK after the war and the great expense of combatting the Kurdish nationalists in Turkey, many of whom find sanctuary in northern Iraq and Iran, have forced Turkey to seek accommodation with its former adversary. An easing of the sanctions against Iraq by Turkey as well as other countries will enable Baghdad to more effectively challenge the KFS in the north. Turkey's rapprochement with Iraq may well indicate that the Turkish parliament will not approve the renewal of the Provide Comfort force stationed in southeastern Turkey when it comes up for consideration in December 1994.16
Another irony is that the very Kurdish question that was exacerbated by the consequences of the Gulf War has also been the major factor compelling rapprochement among those neighbors of Iraq who share its Kurdish problem. This suggests that the policies pursued by the West after the Gulf War have come substantially unraveled and have been, or need to be, abandoned.
This article with the exception of the last paragraph was written prior to the Iraqi government's concentration of troops near Kuwait's border in mid-October and the strong U.N. and U.S. response to that action. The sharp U.S. reaction suggests that rapprochement in the short term, especially between Turkey and Iraq, will be slowed. Negotiations between Ankara and Baghdad to open the oil pipelines will necessarily be delayed, and it seems likely that the Turkish parliament will vote, however narrowly and with the pressure of the Ciller administration, to extend the Provide Comfort mandate for another six months. It seems unlikely, however, that the Iraqi massing of troops on Kuwait's border, the main objective of which seemed to be to compel the U.N. into more serious consideration of easing the economic sanctions, and the strong U.N. and especially U.S. reaction to Baghdad's action will be unable to prevent continuing rapprochement among Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Iran, and even Baghdad and Ankara, with regard to the Kurdish question.
1 Newspot no. 93/24 December 2, 1993, p. 4.
2 Newspot , no. 93/25, December 21, 1993, p. 4.
3 Hurriyet , August 23, 1994.
4 Hurriyet, September 11, 1994.
5 Hurriyet , August 24, 1994.
6 Hurriyet, July 22, 1994.
7 The well-known terrorist Carlos the Jackal, the pseudonym of Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, was delivered to the French government by the government of Sudan on August 15.
8 Boyner made these charges almost daily in the Turkish media.
9 Hurriyet , August 1, 1994.
10 Hurriyet, June 28, 1994.
11 Hurriyet, August 30, 1994.
1 2 Hurriyet , September 15, 1994.
13The Christian Science Monitor, September 8, 1994.
14 Hurriyet , September 2, 1994.
15 Such a development of relations between Ankara and Baghdad would imply that the future of Iraq vis-a-vis its Kurdish problem and the Kurdish question is not as dire as some have predicted. In this regard, see, Graham Fuller, "Iraq in the Next Decade: Will Iraq Survive until 2002?" Rand, N-3591-DAG, 1993 (Santa Monica, CA: The Rand Corporation, 1993).
16 When the Provide Comfort force was created after the Gulf War, the Turkish parliament approved its stationing in southeastern Turkey with the stipulation that it be resubmitted to parliament every six months. Its six-month mandate runs out in December.