ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – The head of the Kurdistan Islamic Union Salahadin Bahadin who visited Turkey last week in an attempt to normalize the strained relations between Ankara and Erbil post-referendum met with senior Turkish officials including the country’s intelligence chief Hakan Fidan, a KIU source with knowledge of the visit revealed to Rudaw.
The source said that the KIU Secretary General met with Turkey’s National Security Advisor Hakan Fidan twice, the first time very briefly “But then [Fidan] met with him for a lengthy meeting on another day.”He also said that Bahadin met with Mehdi Eker, Vice-President of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and head of the party’s relations office.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is AKP’s president. The Turkish party enjoys close relations with the KIU.
The source explained that although President Erdogan himself did not want to meet with any Kurdish leader from the Kurdistan Region including the KIU leader, he allowed officials from the AKP and the government to meet with the Kurdish delegation.
Bahadin told reporters upon his return to Kurdistan that he met with decision makers within the AKP and the government but said it was not necessary to name those he met when asked whether he met with President Erdogan or not.
The source said Turkey is particularly unhappy about the decision to hold the referendum for independence in September. Erbil did not inform Ankara that it was going to hold the vote until it was made public.
Nasradin Sindi, the head of the KIU relations, told Rudaw that it was important for the KIU delegation to convey a message from Erbil that a “weakened” Kurdistan Region is not in favor of Turkey.
He added the message to Ankara and the AKP officials was clear, that “this separation and distance between Kurdistan and Turkey is not in their favor. We have common interests which we should protect.”
Turkey opposed the Kurdish vote on independence held on September 25, following which Ankara stated they will cooperate with the government of Iraq to impose its federal authority on Kurdistan’s international border with Turkey– Ibrahim Khalil– and the issue of oil exports.
Now more than two months on, not only is the KRG in control of the border crossing and exports oil to international markets through Turkey’s Ceyhan port, it appears that Turkey is reluctant to take any practical steps against Erbil.
Bahadin told Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency last week that the Kurdish people have to be thankful that Turkey did not take any actions despite the harsh criticism against the vote.
The only measure Turkey took against Erbil is the decision to close its airspace to international flights to and from the Kurdistan Region, a step that was Iraqi-imposed and at the request of the Iraqi government, Bahadin told Anadolu.
As he cast his vote on the day of the independence referendum, PM Barzani said that he had tried to visit Turkey for months to explain the position of the KRG in person with Turkish officials, but the Turkish side declined his visit requests.
The Iraqi-imposed ban on international flights means that KRG officials have to either travel through Baghdad airport or by land to Turkey and then head to their destination. PM Barzani chose the latter when he visited France
last week, a diplomatic visit that would have been almost impossible if Turkey had not given consent.
Sindi, from the KIU, said that their visit has “thawed the ice” as it comes to the relationship between Erbil and Ankara while noting that PM Barzani’s Paris visit came after Bahadin’s meetings with Turkish officials.
KRG Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani last Monday praised the Islamic leader for his trip to Turkey.
"He has done everything in his power as the Secretary General of the Kurdistan Islamic Union to normalize the current situation. We see his visit to Turkey within this framework. It will definitely be helpful for the situation of the Kurdistan Region," Barzani said at the time.
The KIU has its origins in the global Muslim Brotherhood movement and has friendly ties with other Islamic parties across the Middle East including the AKP. The party used its network of relations with parties based in Turkey to push for mending ties between Erbil and Ankara.
The source said that Bahadin has sent two letters to President Erdogan urging him not to take punitive measures against the Kurdistan Region such as on the issue of Ibrahim Khalil border crossing.
He added that Bahadin used his close relation with the head of the Tunisian Islamic party of Ennahda, Rached Ghannouchi. Bahadin asked Ghannouchi to use his personal relationship with Erdogan so that Turkey will be “soft” on the Kurdistan Region.