ANKARA â€” The decision by northern Iraqâ€™s Kurdish leaders to ban the national flag and hoist their own has increased disquiet in Turkey about the prospect of a de facto Kurdish statelet on its doorstep, diplomats and analysts here say.
With a large Kurdish population and a violent separatist movement on its own territory, Ankara is leery about any moves towards independence across the border that might encourage Kurdish nationalists at home.
â€œIt is obvious that this incident constitutes a new step towards Kurdish independence,â€ said Sedat Laciner, a specialist on the region at the Institute for Strategic Studies in Ankara, of the flag ruling.
â€œEven if they have stepped back from their original position, by provoking the controversy they have succeeded in focusing world attention on their emblem and their independence struggle,â€ he said.
Reaction in Ankara has nonetheless been muted since the president of Iraqâ€™s autonomous Kurdish region, Massoud Barzani, ordered earlier this month that all offices and government institutions â€œhoist the flag of Iraqi Kurdistanâ€, though the decree touched off a firestorm of controversy in Iraq itself.
â€œIt is first and foremost the Iraqis that should be worrying about this turn of eventsâ€ was all that Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul would say in a comment broadcast on television. A Turkish diplomat who asked not to be identified expanded on the ministerâ€™s statement: â€œThe Iraqis must understand how dangerous it is for the unity of their country to play with the national emblem.â€ Kurds in northern Iraq, recently unified under a single leadership, already enjoy quasi-independence under the protective umbrella of the United States, much to the chagrin of Ankara, Laciner said.
Making a point of flying Kurdistanâ€™s red, white and green banner emblazoned with a golden sun motif, he added, is simply another part of their separatist campaign.
In Lacinerâ€™s view, Iraqi Kurds will never openly declare independence for fear of provoking strong reactions from the governments of neighbouring countries â€” Turkey, Iran and Syria â€” who worry that such a step could stir unrest among their own Kurdish minorities.