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HomeExpertsTurkey, the Barzani Family, and Shifting Dynamics in Kurdistan's Political Landscape

Turkey, the Barzani Family, and Shifting Dynamics in Kurdistan’s Political Landscape


The 2018 Kurdistan parliamentary elections marked the end of an era and the beginning of a new one. Nechirvan Barzani’s efforts to save the sinking ship had paid off. On the other hand, the opposition leader Noşirvan Mustafa was on his deathbed, as was Talabani. Both passed away within a few months of each other in the same year.

The KDP emerged as the victor of the election and for the first time seized the majority in parliament. However, the conditions that gave the KDP an advantage were a disadvantage for Nechirvan Barzani personally. Nechirvan Barzani had lost two powerful leaders who had been externally adjusting the KDP. Masoud Barzani ended Nechirvan Barzani’s 20-year prime ministerial journey by stating, “I want to see my son in the prime minister’s chair with the world’s eyes,” and nominated Masrour Barzani to form the cabinet.

Nechirvan Barzani was to be the regional president, and the government was to be handed over to Barzani’s son. However, forming a cabinet was not so easy for Masrour Barzani. After more than a year of negotiations, a tripartite coalition was formed consisting of the KDP, PUK, and Gorran Movement. From day one, Masrour Barzani’s security-focused approach manifested itself by jailing journalists and viewing anyone who criticized him as a traitor. His promises regarding civil servant salaries also fell through. A revolution had taken place in Kurdistan, and everything and everyone associated with Nechirvan Barzani had become a thing of the past. From the beginning, everyone said the cabinet would not last a year. The polarization between Nechirvan Barzani and Masrour Barzani had surfaced, and everyone could see it.

During Masrour Barzani’s term, the semi-independent Kurdistan started losing even the rights it had obtained in the Iraqi constitution. Relations with the world were bad, and Baghdad was seeking revenge on him and his father, Masoud Barzani. Iran and America may have agreed on only one thing regarding the Kurds in Iraq: if Masrour Barzani’s cabinet had not left. Therefore, Iran encircled Masoud and Masrour Barzani. From 2020, Erbil became the target of Iranian ballistic missiles and Shiite militia drones. The Americans did nothing but condemn this situation. At last year’s 14th Congress, Nechirvan Barzani was announced by Masoud Barzani as the first deputy of the president, and his son Masrour Barzani as the second deputy. But this was not satisfactory for the crowds supporting Nechirvan Barzani. From the perspective of Masoud Barzani and his son, Nechirvan Barzani was heading towards a crossroads, potentially gaining support from Iran or America. The Barzani family’s vision had been greatly damaged with Masrour Barzani. They knew they needed to return to Nechirvan Barzani again and again to repair this vision and continue their path, but this meant accepting defeat.

The pressure Iran exerted on the Kurdistan region, especially on Masoud Barzani and Masrour Barzani, with the US turning a blind eye, must have greatly disturbed Turkey, leading to a meeting between MİT Director İbrahim Kalın and Masoud Barzani after many years. Indeed, for Masoud Barzani and his son, Turkey’s support under these conditions became a lifeline for the future. Perhaps Erdoğan had another “megri megri” (peace call) in mind before the municipal elections, but there were other issues as well. Issues like the management of Kirkuk and pre-election operations against the PKK expected on the field. There are a few issues on which İbrahim Kalın and Barzani agree regarding Kirkuk. One is that the Governor of Kirkuk will be someone approved by Turkey and Barzani, even if not from Talabani’s party. It will either be an independent Kurd (which is impossible) or the former governor continuing in an acting capacity. The visit was made interesting not only by the topics discussed. There was no meeting between Nechirvan Barzani, the regional president, and MİT Director Kalın. But this does not mean Turkey wants to sideline Nechirvan Barzani.

Nechirvan Barzani is the architect of the good relations established between Turkey and the Barzani family in recent times. The visit of MİT Director Kalın is more a message to Iran that, despite the referendum, Turkey has not erased Masoud Barzani. Of course, Turkey will have its demands from Barzani, but Turkey’s support in these difficult conditions is invaluable. This support or protection will affect internal and external balances. The region is realigning, and while the crossroads between the Barzanis may seem difficult, the new realities brought by the emerging conditions in the region will decide the new direction.


Rebwar Kerim Veli is a Kurdish journalist of Iraqi origin. He was born on October 16, 1974, in Iran. He lived as a refugee in Iran with his family for 18 years. After the First Gulf War in 1992, he returned to Iraqi Kurdistan. He started working as a translator at Gulan Media Group in 1995. From the 2000s, he wrote articles for various magazines and newspapers. In August 2001, he was imprisoned by security forces affiliated with the KDP due to an article he wrote. He became a correspondent for French radio in 2002. In 2004, he founded Iraq and Kurdistan’s first news agency, which was shut down two years later. He founded Zagros TV in 2005 and became its first editor-in-chief. He established Hewler Post newspaper in 2006. He joined Rudaw newspaper in 2008 and was the chief columnist of the weekly newspaper. Between 2009-2020, he wrote about Kurdistan’s internal politics. He was the founder of Rudaw TV, which started broadcasting in 2013. Fluent in Kurdish, Persian, Turkish, Arabic, and English, Rebwar Kerim Veli has made both oral and written comments for many Kurdish, Turkish, Arab, and Persian media outlets. He is one of the most prominent and well-known writers in Kurdistan. He has been living in exile since 2019 due to lawsuits against him and settled in Sweden from 2015.

This article originally was published in Kronos News in Turkish and translated into English by Politurco.

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