During meeting with Turkish President Erdogan

Kurdistan Deputy PM calls on Turkey to lift flight ban on Sulaymaniyah airport

ERBIL — Deputy Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government, Qubad Talabani, has called on Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to reassess the decision to close Turkish airspace to Sulaymaniyah International Airport.

Talabani, in a Facebook post, revealed details of his participation in a meeting with President Erdogan and his delegation on April 22. “During the meeting with President Erdogan and his accompanying delegation, I requested a review of the decision to close Turkish airspace to Sulaymaniyah International Airport,” he stated.

Turkey has extended its flight ban on Sulaymaniyah International Airport until June 22, 2024, marking the second prolongation of the measure. Initially imposed for three months starting on April 3, 2023, the ban was extended in July 2023 until January 3, 2024, according to then-Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesperson Tanju Bilgic.

The restriction is reportedly in response to what Turkey describes as an “intensification” of Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) activities in Sulaymaniyah province. This action follows an incident in March 2023, where two helicopters carrying members of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) crashed inside the Kurdistan Region’s territory, resulting in the deaths of nine SDF fighters, including their commander. These helicopters were en route to Sulaymaniyah.

During Erdogan’s visit to Iraq, securing the Iraqi-Turkish border became a primary focus of his discussions with Iraqi and Kurdish officials. Turkey is gearing up for an extensive military operation into the Kurdistan Region to target PKK guerrillas. Media reports in Turkey suggest that the Turkish army aims to establish a 40-kilometer-deep security buffer zone along its border with Iraqi Kurdistan, a demand persisting since the 1990s when the Kurdistan Region gained autonomy from the Iraqi government. The subsequent Iraqi Kurdish civil war and turmoil provided the PKK with an opportunity to entrench itself in the Kurdistan Region and expand its operational capabilities.

Turkey has consistently accused the Sulaymaniyah authorities, particularly the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), of supporting the PKK. This accusation has led to several punitive measures against the province, including the flight ban.

Ankara expelled the PUK’s representative in Turkey following the Kurdistan Region’s independence referendum in 2017 after the PKK captured two Turkish intelligence agents in the province.
Turkish forces have conducted frequent aerial attacks in Sulaymaniyah province, targeting PKK positions. The ongoing closure of Turkish airspace to flights to and from Sulaymaniyah is part of broader security measures citing increased PKK activities that allegedly threaten flight safety.

The PUK refutes Turkish allegations of supporting the PKK or having knowledge of PKK elements operating in Sulaymaniyah and its surroundings. However, in recent years, the PUK has strengthened its connections with the SDF in Syria, an entity Turkey perceives as an extension of the PKK.