Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim. File photo: Adem Altan/AFP
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Turkey has hinted at plans to impose sanctions on the Kurdistan Region if it proceeds with the independence referendum on September 25, the prime minister has stated.
“We don’t want to impose sanctions. But if we arrive at that point, there are steps that have already been planned that Turkey can take,” Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim told reporters in Ankara on Friday, according to Hurriyet Daily News.
Yildirim said he was making a “friendly appeal” to Kurdistan Region President Masoud Barzani to cancel the planned vote, “while there is still time.”
He did not detail what possible sanctions were being considered.
Good relations with Turkey are key to the Kurdistan Region’s economy. Kurdistan exports its oil through Turkey’s Ceyhan port. Turkey also buys oil and natural gas from Kurdistan.
In the first half of 2017, $5 billion worth of trade passed between Turkey and Kurdistan, a 20 percent increase over the same period the year before.
Officials in Ankara have previously said they would not consider closing their borders with the landlocked Kurdistan Region, saying the referendum has no bearing on their trade.
"This is nothing to do with our trade with this Region," Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said during a visit to Erbil in August. "We have been supporting the KRG [Kurdistan Regional Government] and the Kurdish brothers and sisters here in Iraq as well as others. So we have not put any condition and we do not want to come to this stage.”
While leaders in Europe and the US have called on the Kurdistan Region to postpone the vote, Turkish leaders want to see it cancelled.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a live TV broadcast that the referendum “is beyond abdication of reasons; this is critically political inexperience, there cannot be such an understanding of politics,” according to state-run Anadolu Agency.
He said that Ankara will announce its official position after a September 22 meeting of its National Security Council, but stressed that Turkey would not allow Iraq’s territorial integrity to be threatened.
Yildirim had similar words for Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi in a telephone call on Friday. He expressed Turkey’s support for all steps taken by Baghdad to preserve Iraq’s unity, detailed a statement from Abadi’s office.
The two agreed to work together to prevent the referendum, according to Anadolu.
The Kurdistan Region parliament voted on Friday evening to hold the referendum as planned on September 25. Earlier in the day, Kurdistan President Masoud Barzani said the vote would go ahead because no viable alternative had been presented, implying a rejection of a proposal from the US, UK, and UN to postpone the vote.