PUK confident Turkey to open airspace for Sulaimani by end of month

Sulaymaniyah International Airport is one of two commercial airports in the Kurdistan Region. File photo: Sulaimani airport

Sulaymaniyah International Airport is one of two commercial airports in the Kurdistan Region. File photo: Sulaimani airport

ERBIL, Kurdistan Region — Turkey could open its airspace to flights to and from the Sulaimani airport by the end of January, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) has said.

“Efforts to lift the flight ban on the Sulaimani airport have yielded good results,” said Saadi Pira, the PUK spokesperson. “Undoubtedly, flights from Sulaimani to Turkey’s cities will resume by the end of this month and at the beginning of next month.”

Another PUK official who did not want to be named said the possibility of the reopening of the airspace comes amid efforts made by party leaders to normalize relations with Ankara and after the visit to the Turkish capital by Iraqi President Barham Salih, a PUK member. 

“Barham Salih, the president of Iraq, was assured by [Recep Tayyip] Erdogan to reopen Turkey’s airspace to flights made from Sulaimani airport,” said the PUK official. 

“Barham Salih never talked about PUK’s relations with Ankara, but just asked for the resumption of flights between Turkey and Sulaimani, this was particularly so, because he is the president of Iraq and has responsibilities,” added the official.

Ankara, after opening its airspace to flights to and from Erbil, refused to lift the ban for Sulaimani after accusing the PUK of supporting the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). 

Sulaymaniyah International Airport officials say the continued Turkey’s flight ban has caused millions of dollars in damage. 

The ban forces travelers to drive nearly three hours to Erbil International Airport or first fly to another Iraqi airport like Baghdad. 

As PUK is trying to placate Turkey’s concerns over pro-PKK activities in Sulaimani region, in recent days, Asayesh (Security forces) loyal to the PUK have raided offices of Tavgari Azadi, arrested members, and banned the screening of a film about the life of an assassinated PKK founder. 

Tavgari Azadi accused the PUK of cracking down on their party in order to curry favor with Turkey. 

The PUK leader dismissed the claims saying the recent crackdown on the Tavgari Azadi is because they do not carry a license in the Kurdistan Region.

“Tavgari Azadi’s problem is that they do not possess a license,” said the leader. “If the KRG interior ministry licenses this party, they can do activities normally in Sulaimani.”

The party is licensed by the Iraqi federal government. 

Turkey’s relations had deteriorated with the PUK long before the flight ban after the arrest of Turkish MIT agents by the PKK in the PUK’s heartland of Sulaimani in August 2017.  Ankara then expelled the PUK’s representative to Turkey. 

“The PUK wants to tell Turkey that it had no role in the disappearance of the two Turkish MIT members on Dukan road,” the source said. 

The PKK’s headquarters is in the Qandil Mountains situated at the borders of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, Turkey, and Iran. Turkey regularly targets the PKK with air and artillery strikes.