In the past, you’ve spoken of a sort of “permeable frontier” between Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan that would allow for the free flow of information, people, goods, and investment. Do you think that this has been established?
Yes. It’s part of our regional strategy, and, I should add, is not my own personal idea that I developed. Our Foreign Minister, Mr. Ahmet Davuto?lu, has repeated this concept time and time again, not only with Iraq but also with all of our neighbors. We would like to render these frontiers meaningless, especially with Syria and Iraq because of our common histories. This is particularly true with the Kurds of Iraq. We lived under the same roof for longer than we lived under different roofs. By all means, we respect political boundaries. However, as our Prime Minister, Mr. Tayyip Erdo?an, stated in a speech here in Erbil, our goal is full economic and social integration. This is of course for all of Iraq, but right now with our immediate neighbor, Iraqi Kurdistan. We have so many things in common; not only a common frontier, but also a common history, a common cultural base, a common language, and even a common vision for our future together. So, we are able to talk about all subjects with the Iraqi Kurdish leadership and the government, and I believe this fact demonstrates the health of our relations. However, Turkey did not discover Iraqi Kurdistan or Iraqi Kurds yesterday, and the same is valid for them as well. We know each other well, so that even at the top levels, there are many robust personal friendships that were established decades ago.
Turkish companies have obviously been very involved in the Kurdistan Region. Is it fair to say that they have been instrumental in furthering Kurdish-Turkish relations?
Definitely. I always openly thank our private sector representatives for their work here because, in this particular case, we diplomats followed our businessmen here. Now, of course, we have taken the lead in opening doors for them, and we are protecting their interests, as we should. However, I am grateful to every single construction contractor, businessmen involved in trade, or energy entrepreneur that established himself here. They opened the path, in a way. In those difficult years, especially between 2003 and 2007, they really kept our relationship warm with the Iraqi Kurdistan government. So I am very grateful on behalf of my government to all of our entrepreneurs. Today, almost half of all the registered foreign companies here in Iraqi Kurdistan are from Turkey. We have almost 1,100 companies here, and we have 30,000 citizens registered here with a residency permit. We also have banks and airlines, and there is heavy traffic and trade between Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan.
Today, almost half of all the registered foreign companies here in Iraqi Kurdistan are from Turkey. We have almost 1,100 companies here and we have 30,000 citizens registered here with a residency permit.
With so many companies already active in the region, do you believe there is still room for Turkish companies to get involved? How else do you think Turkish companies could benefit the region?
Definitely, especially when you look at the energy sector. We have Genel Energy, Petroquest, Bogan Energy, and Pet Oil. All these companies are delivering social corporate responsibility projects. Turkish companies are willing to teach their Kurdistani partners how to operate and how to build. They are sharing information and technology, which is definitely a good thing. They’re acting in a socially responsible way. More importantly, they are willing to do this; they are not forced to do this. On the other hand, I believe there is of course lots of room in other sectors. There is always plenty of availability in terms of financing these large-scale projects. Then there is the technology sector. Turkish companies can enter into the more difficult or demanding technology projects, perhaps with other partners. Of course, there are numerous opportunities to work as subcontractors. This is especially true for smaller companies who wish to get involved with larger ones. The biggest areas are of course in oil exploration, which I think we will start to see more of in the coming year and beyond. I believe we will see an increased number of service companies from Turkey as well, particularly in that sector.
How important do you think Turkish involvement in the Oil and Gas sector will be for both Iraqi Kurdistan and for Turkey? I think it’s vital. We are next door: Erbil is less than 185 kilometers by flight from the Turkish border. I believe the super majors (Exxon, Chevron, Gazprom, Total) are here of course for profit, but also because they have already bought the future of Turkey’s relations with the Iraqi Kurdistan Region. They believe in the future of these relations, and they are not wrong to do so. One way or the other, this oil will always find its way to the world market. So, we will work in unison, hand in hand, with the KRG and its leadership so that oil and gas flows to Turkey and other world markets.
We’ve heard Kurdistan described as “The Final Frontier” or “The New Dubai”. Do you think that these are fitting titles, or do you think that there’s another that is more apt?
They actually coined a new one in a conference entitled “The Exploration Capital of the World”. This is obviously for the oil mandate. If you look at the onshore reserves, I think these epitaphs are fitting. This is the last frontier. It is the exploration capital of the world.
The New Dubai? I don’t know. The social structure is very different here. Definitely, the backbone of all this development is oil and gas. Once the wealth is pumped into the lifelines of this region, I think the development rate will accelerate geometrically. We are happy about this because we will grow together.