Former Turkish Foreign Minister Yasar Yakis.
Yasar Yakis, who became the first Turkish foreign minister in the Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) government after the 2000 election, says there is no better time for Turkey to make peace with its Kurds, and that if this opportunity is missed another one may not come for a very long time. He also told Rudaw that whether or not Syrian Kurds declare autonomy is up to them alone, and Ankara must not look at any option but to have good relations with the Kurds both in Iraq and Syria. Here is his interview:
Rudaw: As you know the Syrian Kurds are attempting to establish an independent administration in Syrian Kurdistan. Do you think such a step is a threat to the neighboring countries in the region?
Yasar Yakis: This would mainly depend on how they implement the process. The Syrian Kurds and the neighboring countries can use this opportunity to serve the peace process in the region. By doing so, both the Syrian Kurds and the neighboring countries would benefit from the process.
Rudaw: Why do you think the meetings between the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) co-leader Salih Muslim and the Turkish officials in Istanbul are underway secretly?
The Turkish officials’ meeting with Mr. Muslim must be conducted according to the diplomatic measures.
Yasar Yakis: The Turkish officials’ meeting with Mr. Muslim must be conducted according to the diplomatic measures. Discussing such sensitive issues should be revealed to the media. Otherwise it could restrict the freedom of all involved and eventually lead to abolishment of the whole process. Anyway, everything will be revealed to the public at the right time.
Rudaw: With the establishment of an administration in Syrian Kurdistan, Turkey will become the neighbor of two Kurdish regions instead of one. How do you think this will work out for Turkey?
Yasar Yakis: It is obvious to everyone that Turkey has improved its relations with Iraqi Kurdistan. I want to discuss something that I suggested 13 years ago. Before AKP came to power in 2000, the Turkish government officials were discussing how to oppose the establishment of an autonomous region in Iraqi Kurdistan. They were saying, the Iraqi Kurds were establishing an autonomous region. Their attitude was, “let them do it then we shall show them what we would about it.”
Right before the 2000 elections, one day I walked in to Abdullah Gul’s office with a newspaper in my hand with the headline, “We shall show them what we would do about it”. I told Mr. Gul that what happens in Iraq should be a decision for the Iraqis. The ability of Turkey to influence the future of Iraq is limited. If the Iraqis decide to create an autonomous region in northern Iraq or an independent state then it is their decision. If such a thing happened, the Kurds and Turkey will be legally neighbors forever. So we need to improve our relations with them.
I also told him we would win the election for sure we need to pursue this policy and make it public now. We, the AKP, cannot deny this truth. Mr. Gul supported the idea. After the election, Gul became the prime minister and I the foreign minister. One day, Gul and I were discussing northern Iraq. He told me that I made my case two years ago and as a foreign minister I could now pursue my idea. My response to Gul was that the US was about to invade Iraq and things were changing fast so it was not possible to pursue what I believed. I believed whatever happened in Iraqi Kurdistan, Turkey must still work to improve its relations with the Kurdish people there.
I told Mr. Gul that what happens in Iraq should be a decision for the Iraqis.
Thirteen years have passed since my conversation with Mr. Gul and I am glad to see what I suggested a long time ago has come true today. Turkey and the Kurdistan Region have strong relations today and both sides have benefited from this friendship.
It is too early to predict what the Syrian Kurds will achieve in the future. However, it is for the Syrians to decide that. Turkey must aim for friendship with the Syrian Kurds no matter what administration they establish. Turkey must send a clear message to the Syrian Kurds that it has no problem with them. In the meantime, the Syrian Kurds shouldn’t implement a policy to create headaches for Turkey.
Rudaw: Are you saying the establishment of the second Kurdish region is equal to the establishment of the new Turkey?
Yasar Yakis: These two processes are the outcomes of two different dynamics. The process of openness toward the Kurds in Turkey is different from the one in northern Syria that aims to achieve an independent administration. Each one has its own background. The Syrian Kurds made demands for an autonomous Kurdish region back in 1930 during the French colonial rule, but the French rejected their demands, while the process of openness is the result of an issue that had first emerged in 1830.
These two issues with two different dynamics, if wisely dealt with, can result in benefits for both Turkey and northern Syria.
It is too early to predict what the Syrian Kurds will achieve in the future.
Rudaw: If the Kurdish National Conference succeeds in achieving its goal, which is a political unity for the Kurds throughout the Middle East, don’t you think it would be easier to deal with one voice when resolving Kurdish issue?
Yasar Yakis: It is still unclear whether the Kurds, who live in four different countries of the Middle East, would want to separate. The Kurdish regions in Syria and Iraq are still represented by the Arab nationalists and Ba’ath party, among whom there are some who believe that even some of the Kurdish region in Turkey is part of the Arab states. If these regions declared statehood, they face strong opposition from the Arab states. In addition, we don’t know if these independent regions can become united because, when words are put into practice, it is hard to predict where the competition and ambitions of the leaders will head. All the Arabs speak the same language, but are divided into many countries, so sharing same culture and language is not enough to create unity. Let’s say that the Kurds would overcome all of these obstacles and create a political unity. It still is unclear to say that it is easier to hold discussion with one side.
Rudaw: what are the differences between the current and past peace attempts to resolve the Kurdish issue in Turkey?
Yasar Yakis: Here are the differences: the AKP government is the strongest government in the history of Turkey; it enjoys three seats out of every five parliamentary seats. If AKP and Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) reached an agreement with BDP, they can decide the referendum on the constitution. Also, the prime minister has a very strong personality. He is willing to take risks if necessary. (Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip) Erdogan has invested all of his energy to make sure the process would succeed. Erdogan is the right leader to resolve the Kurdish issue.
the AKP government is the strongest government in the history of Turkey; it enjoys three seats out of every five parliamentary seats.
Another important factor is that the society has come to believe in the process. Negotiation with the PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party) jailed leader (Abdullah Ocalan) is a right step. Ocalan also supports the process. The PKK’s armed wing in the Qandil mountain supports Ccalan’s decisions, and decided to implement them.
Today is the day that the Kurdish issue must be resolved in Turkey. If this process fails, then Turkey must wait a long time for another opportunity to come about.