ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Kurdistan President Masoud Barzani told the visiting Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu that Kurdistan lost hope in Iraq and therefore they can become “two good neighbours” following the referendum, according to a statement from his office. Cavusoglu meanwhile ruled out that Turkey intends to impose blockade on Kurdistan Region in response to the referendum.
Barzani welcomed Cavusoglu to the Kurdistan Region capital Wednesday evening where they held a meeting largely focused on the upcoming independence referendum.
"The decision of the referendum for a separation is not a good idea. This is nothing to do with our trade with this Region," Cavusoglu said. "We have been supporting the KRG and the Kurdish brothers and sisters here in Iraq as well as others. So we have not put any condition or we do not wanna come to this stage," he continued.
Kurdistan is landlocked, and relies on Turkey’s Ceyhan pipeline to export oil, the main source of its revenues.
The presidency’s statement, released in Kurdish, said Cavusoglu praised the contribution of the Kurdish Peshmerga force in the fight against ISIS and highlighted the “friendship and good relationship between Turkey and the Kurdistan Region.”
“With regard to the referendum [Cavusoglu] emphasized that his country believes in the rights of the people of Kurdistan... but is of a view that a referendum at this time might result in problems and damage the stability in the region, and he expressed the concerns of Turkey to President Barzani,” the statement continued.
The Turkish foreign minister was also quoted as saying that they are prepared to take part in international efforts to resolve outstanding issues between Erbil and Baghdad.
Barzani thanked Turkey for its help to the Kurdistan Region in the fight against ISIS.
Barzani explained the position of Erbil “openly” to the Turkish minister, saying that the Kurdistan Region worked hard to make the partnership between it and Iraq work after the US-led invasion in 2003, despite a history of genocide by the former Iraqi regime, but that it did not work out as wished and this pushed “the people of Kurdistan to lose hope in the state of Iraq.”
“Since partnership failed, we can live together as two good neighbours,” Barzani said.
The Kurdistan president also reassured the Turkish side that Erbil is a factor for stability, meaning that relations with Kurdistan’s northern neighbour stand strong.
“The past experience has proved that the Kurdistan is a factor for stability, and that stability and peace in the region is important for the people of Kurdistan,” Barzani said.
Cavusoglu met with his Iraqi counterpart Ibrahim al-Jaafari on Wednesday in Baghdad where the two held a joint press conference.
Cavusoglu told Rudaw's reporter there that the Erbil-Baghdad dispute could be solved within the framework of a “united” Iraq, adding that Erbil has a set of rights within the Iraqi constitution and providing these rights to them is important in itself.
He said that he will reiterate the Turkish position to the Kurdish leadership that the decision to hold the referendum to call for the vote is the “wrong step."
Before meeting with the Turkish FM, Barzani headed a meeting of the High Referendum Council that among others decided to stick to the September 25 vote and to form a committee to launch a yes-vote campaign.
Erbil and Anakara have enjoyed close security and economic relations with the trade exchange between the two sides hitting a record high of $12 billion dollars in early 2014, before the war against ISIS began. A drop in oil prices and budget cuts by Baghdad contributed to the now ongoing financial crisis that also resulted in a significant decrease in trade exchange.
Assuaging fears that neighbouring states could close their borders with Kurdistan if the referendum goes ahead, Barzani said Monday that the era of the 1960s and 1970s is over and today neighbours such as Turkey have great interests in Kurdistan. He predicted borders, if closed at all, would be shut for just a matter of days.
Turkey is also concerned about areas it calls Turkmen, such as Kirkuk where a sizable Turkmen population live.
Some Turkmens support the independence vote, while the Iraqi Turkmen Front, the largest Turkmen party in Iraq, say they want the disputed or Kurdistani areas that are claimed both by Erbil and Baghdad to be excluded from the vote.
Erbil says that they are ready to offer guarantees to reassure that the rights of minorities, such as Turkmens, are protected in a future independent Kurdistan.
Khalil Ibrahim, a member of the Referendum Council who attended the Wednesday meeting, told Rudaw that the council has appointed a coordinator to work with minorities to prepare a document that sets out a list of the rights they want to have in a future independent Kurdistan.
The statement from the Council, that also includes members of some minorities, said that they are prepared to offer guarantees to secure minority rights.
“The meeting fully believes in a real partnership between the national and religious components of Kurdistan and supports all types of guarantees to secure their rights,” the statement read.
Barzani addressed a gathering of various minorities in Erbil on Tuesday where he said an independent Kurdistan will not be a “Kurdish state,” but will be a country for all, also offering to make changes to the national anthem and the Kurdish flag.
Erbil is adamant that the vote will go ahead as planned unless a “stronger alternative” is offered, despite a request by the United States, the neighboring countries such Iran and Turkey.