Further extensions of ban expected

Sulaymaniyah marks one year anniversary of Turkish airspace ban

SULAYMANIYAH — Today marks a year since Turkish Airlines suspended its flights to and from Sulaymaniyah International Airport. The Turkish government has also closed its airspace to flights from Turkey to Sulaymaniyah. A year has passed since the ban was implemented, with no flights between Sulaymaniyah and Turkey.

The suspension was in response to alleged links between the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, known by its Kurdish acronym PKK.

The PUK, one of the two major parties in the Kurdistan Region, governs the Sulaymaniyah governorate. Although the PUK denies Turkish claims of supporting the PKK, Bafel Talabani, the party’s leader, has stated that “the PKK is not my enemy” and that they have a “legal status” in the Kurdistan Region.

Initially, the flight ban was supposed to end after a month but was extended to Dec. 22, 2023, and then again for six more months.

The ban is scheduled to lift on June 22, 2024, but there is no guarantee against a new extension as Turkish officials still cite their initial concerns.

At that time, Sulaymaniyah International Airport Director Handren Hiwa Mufti told 964media that the flight ban is political, “We are aware of efforts at the governmental and political levels to lift the travel bans, which have not satisfied Turkey. All technical and service operations at the airport are running smoothly, and all other airlines continue their operations as usual. It is up to Turkey to reach the necessary conviction to resume flights, considering the political reasons behind the halt.”

Previously, on Sept. 29, 2017, Turkey closed its airspace to both Erbil and Sulaymaniyah international airports, four days following the independence referendum in the Kurdistan region. However, Turkey lifted the ban on Erbil Airport in July 2018. The ban on Sulaymaniyah Airport was extended and lasted another 16 months before being lifted on Jan. 26, 2019. At the time, the PUK resorted to imposing a crackdown in Sulaymaniyah on PKK activities, including raids on Tavgari Azadi, a political movement reportedly linked to the PKK.

In April last year, Sulaimaniyah International Airport was hit by a strike while the Syrian Democratic Forces commander was present, alongside US military personnel. Turkey, which accuses the Syrian Democratic Forces of ties with the PKK, a group Ankara labels as terrorist, denied its involvement in the airstrike.

Last September, a drone attack targeted the Arbat airport near Sulaymaniyah, killing at least three members of PUK-linked security forces. The facility, used by anti-terrorism units.

Since 2017, excluding the period when flights were halted due to COVID-19, Turkey’s airspace has been closed to Sulaymaniyah for a total of 28 months.

Officials from Sulaymaniyah International Airport previously announced that due to Turkey’s flight suspensions, the airport’s traffic decreased by 36%, resulting in a daily loss of $15,000.

Turkey extends flight ban to Sulaymaniyah Airport for additional six months

Turkey extends flight ban to Sulaymaniyah Airport for additional six months