Israel Has Said Kurdish State İs A “foregone conclusion.”
The Turkish-Syrian border region has become a source of financial support for Syrian rebels as they seek to smuggle diesel to southern Turkey in return for cash to finance their fight against the regime.
The thousands of liters of diesel that makes their way in the dark of night to southern Turkey’s Hatay province are a huge source of financial support for the rebels in Syria, and also for Syrians who have been left jobless by the war and Turkish middlemen.
Most of the diesel is sourced from Deir al-Zor, a province in eastern Syria and is often sold to smugglers in Marra, a small town in Idlib province, in the northwest of the country.
The diesel travels safely through Syria thanks to a network of middlemen who charge a fee to let the cargo through their territory.
Anand, who is one of thousands of smugglers, buys one liter of diesel for $0.70 cents a liter and sells it to the Turkish smugglers for $0.90 cents.
But the thriving illegal trade has become just another problem for southern Turkey’s border region, which has been marred by bombings, fighting, and the influx of hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees.
The trade has become increasingly dangerous, with the Turkish military deploying troops and tanks to monitor the border for illegal activities.
Locals in Hacipasa said clashes between smugglers and the military had become a common occurrence.
“Now anything can happen at the border,” Anand said. “The Turkish Army shoots at us – they shoot at anyone, including women and children crossing the river. They’re killing refugees from Aleppo, Hama and Homs and the reason: diesel smuggling.”
Despite the dangers, Anand, who crossed the border illegally for this interview, said he would continue to work.
“The first reason we do this is because we need the money. The situation in Syria is very bad. We are desperate and need the money.”
Copyright: Sophie Cousins,
Fuelling the rebels’ cause
Bond of trust
Back in Hacipasa, middle-aged Turkish smuggler Hakan sits on a couch next to Anand, chain-smoking. His eyes are noticeably bloodshot from exhaustion.
“There is trust among us Syrians and Turks in this business,” he said.
Behind the living room is a warehouse filled with containers of diesel that he sells to truck drivers.
“I buy the diesel from Syria because it is much cheaper than here in Turkey, where one liter costs $2.15. I buy one liter for $0.90 and sell it for $1 a liter. I sell it to truck drivers who transport goods and merchandise around the country. Diesel is also transported to Izmir, Ankara and Istanbul.”
Fueling the trade
Economist and energy expert Dr Cemil Ertem said the heavy taxing of fuel in Turkey and the monopolization of petrol and distributing companies was fueling the trade.
“Turkey’s Energy Market Regulatory Authority is presently in the process of passing new legislations and regulations to control and limit monopol pricing,” he told DW. “It is expected that the retail prices for diesel and petrol will cheapen somewhat. Smuggling is of course an unacceptable situation, however, this can be prevented by the implementation of the free market arrangements which would allow price equality. This is what the Turkish government is presently trying to establish. This issue cannot be resolved by shooting smugglers or by the use of military measures.”
There are 15 villages along the border riddled with shops that sell diesel, which is also smuggled through the Bab al-Hawa and Tel Abyad border posts. According to Ertem many trucks have had spare storage tanks built in for this reason.
While the Iraqi army struggles to contain the ISIS advance in the country’s northwest, the Kurds have been successful at heading off the Sunni insurgents. Israel has now openly stated that an independent Kurdish state is a “foregone conclusion.”
“Iraq is breaking up before our eyes and it would appear that the creation of an independent Kurdish state is a foregone conclusion,” Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman told US Secretary of State John Kerry as the two discussed the Iraqi crisis in Paris on Thursday.
Israeli President Shimon Peres had a similar message for US President Barack Obama. “The Kurds have, de facto, created their own state, which is democratic. One of the signs of a democracy is the granting of equality to women,” Peres said on Wednesday.
While forces from the Islamist State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS or ISIL) were advancing towards the capital Baghdad, the Iraqi army abandoned the city of Kirkuk. The Kurds have seized on the chaos to expand their autonomous northern territory to include the strategic city.
Besides being considered by Kurds as their historical capital, Kirkuk sits on vast oil deposits – a stable financial base for any possible statehood.
“Kirkuk will finally produce oil for the Kurds,” Muhama Khalil, the Kurdish head of the economic committee in Iraq’s national parliament, told the Guardian.
“For 70 years oil has been used to buy weapons to kill us. Finally we have our own oil and it will only be for the Kurds,” he said.
The Kurds now control the oil hub, and there were numerous reports that they sold a tanker full of oil to Israel – a country that their Arab neighbors maintain a boycott of crude sales to.
Israel keeps quiet about its ties with the Kurds, allegedly at the request of the latter. Israel’s Foreign Ministry said there were currently no formal diplomatic relations with the Kurds, but Eliezer Tsafrir – a former Mossad station chief in Kurdish northern Iraq – told Reuters that “we’d love it to be out in the open, to have an embassy there, to have normal relations. But we keep it clandestine because that’s what they want.”
The Israelis may see the Kurds as a natural ally in the Arab-dominated region where both feel they are threatened minorities.
In an interview to CNN, Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani also commented on the possibility of an independent state, saying that “The time is here for the Kurdistan people to determine their future and the decision of the people is what we are going to uphold.”
In a reverse to decades of mistrust, the Kurds might find another country supporting their independence – Turkey. It now has a 50-year deal to send Kurdish oil by pipeline to Ceyhan and has been investing in Iraq’s increasingly autonomous Kurdish region in recent years.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan voiced support for the Kurds’ right to self-determination. “The Kurds of Iraq can decide for themselves the name and type of entity they are living in,” Erdogan said last week.
Meanwhile, the US urges Kurdish leaders to support Baghdad in its fight against ISIS. Washington also assured the Kurds they would participate in the next Iraqi government.
For thousands of years, the majority of Kurds – who are an Iranian people – have lived in the Kurdistan region, an area along the border of four Middle Eastern countries. Now the Kurdish population is scattered between northern Iraq, eastern Syria, southeastern Turkey, and western Iran. They total up to 40 million people – making the Kurds one of the world’s largest ethnic groups without its own state.