Creating new perspectives since 2009

Turkiye extends flight ban on Kurdistan’s Sulaymaniyah Airport to December

June 12, 2024 at 1:28 pm

Outside Sulaymaniyah International Airport [SHWAN MOHAMMED/AFP via Getty Images]

Turkiye has extended its flight ban on Iraqi Kurdistan’s Sulaymaniyah International Airport until 7 December. This move, announced by Handren Mufti, the airport’s director, is seen as Ankara’s attempt to pressure the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) to distance itself from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is designated as a terrorist group by Turkiye, the US and the EU. The PUK, which controls Sulaymaniyah, is accused by Ankara of supporting the separatist group.

Mufti said that the airport received official notification via email but lacked details on Turkiye’s motives. “We haven’t received any explanation for the extension or the Turkish perspective on the matter,” he told Shafaq News Agency.

The flight ban, imposed initially in April 2023, was cited by the Turkish Foreign Ministry as a response to “increasing PKK activity at the airport.” This was followed by a drone attack in the vicinity of the airport attributed to Turkiye. Turkish Airlines also suspended its flights to and from Sulaymaniyah. The latest extension, reported by Rudaw on Saturday, marks the third time that the ban has been prolonged.

The ban has had a significant impact on Sulaymaniyah’s economy, reducing airport traffic by up to 40 per cent and forcing travellers to reroute through Doha and Dubai. Despite this, six airlines, including Iraqi Airways and Qatar Airways, continue to operate flights to the airport.

Efforts to resolve the dispute during Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s visit to Erbil in April failed. Last month, Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan emphasised the need for the PUK to cease PKK support, stating, “Don’t let them come to your city, don’t let them use the airport.”

The Iraqi central government in Baghdad has labelled the PKK as a banned organisation but stopped short of declaring it to be a terrorist group, a long-standing demand from Ankara.

READ: Turkiye arrests pro-Kurdish mayor 2 months after election