Iraqi Kurds boycott Turkish products after assault on Syria

SULAIMANIYAH: Merchants in the Kurdish region of Iraq have been responding to calls from activists to boycott Turkish products in protest of Ankara's assault on Kurdish forces in neighboring Syria.

From pomegranates to plastic buckets, yogurt and beauty products, Iraq imports more than USD 8 billion in Turkish products a year through its autonomous Kurdish north.

But activists have set their sights on those imports in response to Turkey The controversial two-week offensive against the Kurdish administration in northern Syria.

The assault has left dozens dead and displaced hundreds of thousands, including more than 12,000 who fled to the neighboring part of northern Iraq, led by the Kurds.

We cannot get to the front to fight the Turkish government with weapons, so our weapon is a boycott of Turkish products, said Hamid Banyee, an Iraqi Kurdish singer and one of the organizers of the boycott.

We are looking to expand the campaign to include all parts of society, which will be a fatal blow to the Turkish economy, he told AFP in Sulaimaniyah.

Activists in the northeastern city have distributed flyers in the markets to encourage consumers to transmit Turkish products and are pressing retailers to stop those imports altogether.

They have even explored a possible ban on Turkish movies and songs in the region.

Zana Ahmad, 28, gestured to the well-stocked shelves of facial creams, gels and eyeliners in her shop, including Turkish, American and European brands.

After the Turkish attack on Syria, we decided to stop importing Turkish products and we are trying to find alternatives, he said.

The Kurdish-led , which hold the territory attacked by Turkey , have backed boycotts.

Every penny you spend on goods, products and tourism in Turkey becomes a bullet or bombs that kill our children in northeastern Syria, said SDF spokesman Mustefa. Bali said.

The Kurdish region spans most of Iraq's north, including a 350 kilometre (220 mile) border with Turkey to the north and around 500 kilometres (310 miles) with Iran to the east.

Those two neighbors are Iraq's main trading partners and their products mostly outweigh locally produced products in the market.

Karwan Jamal, a 45-year-old driver who lives in Sulaimaniyah, said he was now opting for Iranian products, even if they were more expensive.

I just bought a bottle of Iranian cooking oil, which costs 10,500 Iraqi dinars (USD 8) compared to 6,000 for a Turkish bottle, he told AFP.

Jamal said changing food was easy, but the clothes were more complicated.

"Unfortunately, the Iranian-made clothes in the market are not as beautiful nor as widely available as Turkish ones," he said.

Nasireddin Mahmud, owner of a dairy and biscuit retailer, said the boycott had meant that demand for Turkish products has halved.

Store owners refuse to buy Turkish products and ask for Iranian products or try to exchange them with local products, Mahmud told AFP.

He said he wanted the boycott to become an official policy, so that the big Turkish companies lose their right to import.

Sirwan Mohammad, who heads the Sulaimaniyah Chamber of Commerce, said business owners were entering his office to ask how they could be affected.

"I believe continuing this campaign will hurt Turkish companies, as well as local businesses that bring those goods into the region," he said.

Decreasing the amount of Turkish products in the markets will not affect citizens because there are still goods from the Gulf, Iran and Europe, in addition to the region and the rest of Iraq, Mohammad added.

The autonomous region is split on Turkey , with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and its stronghold of Sulaimaniyah opposing Ankara.

The ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), based in the region's capital Arbil, has meanwhile built close economic and political ties with Turkey .

But even there, the boycott has been gaining ground.

Hogir Ali, 31, toured the aisles of a supermarket and carefully inspected the labels on the cookie packages.

The father of three used to buy a particular brand made in Turkey to enjoy with his family at tea time, but has joined the boycott since the assault on Syria began.

I am doing my part to take responsibility, he said, and finally decided on a brand made in Spain.

"From now on, I will refuse to support the Turkish economy by any way possible because Turkey not only does not believe in Kurdish rights, it does not even believe in Kurdish existence."