Skip to comments.Turkey on a hair-trigger to fight Kurds
Posted on 04/04/2003 8:13:44 AM PST by Destro
Turkey on a hair-trigger to fight Kurds
April 5 2003
Turks never wanted this war, but they will do what they must to look after their own interests in the region, writes Peter Fray, Herald correspondent in Diyarbakir, south-east Turkey.
Turkish F-16 fighters constantly fly over the city of Diyarbakir, low enough to rattle the windows of shops and factories. Out in the country, armed village guards, notorious for the torture and murder of local Kurds, are being mobilised, say human rights groups. Near the border, the state of emergency, lifted recently to appease the West, has been unofficially reimposed. At roadside checkpoints, soldiers give the twice-over to non-locals.
The real war is happening just across the hills and mountains, on the other side of the 330-kilometre border with Iraq. But there's no mistaking the state of readiness - and anxiety: Turkey, with its 600,000 standing army, is prepared to fight, whether the US and the rest of the West like it or not.
From Ankara, where the new government led by Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been exposed as politically naive (or, as US Deputy Defence Secretary Paul Wolfowitz put it, capable of making a "big, big mistake" by bucking the US), the message has been loud and clear: Turkey didn't want the war, doesn't want to be part of it, but will, if pushed, look after its own interests.
The trouble is, what Turkey wants - no Kurdish state in northern Iraq based on Kirkuk, no refugees across its border, and no bloodshed between their Turkomen cousins in Iraq and the Kurds - may be difficult, if not impossible, for the US to deliver in the weeks ahead.
There are no refugees as yet, but the other two issues remain unclear. "The situation in northern Iraq is so messy that you would be dumb to make predictions," a Turkey-based senior Western official said. "The bottom line [to the Iraqi Kurds] is: don't do anything dumb or the Turks will go in."
For now, the situation has been defused with whirlwind diplomacy by the US Secretary of State Colin Powell. By agreeing this week to allow US troops in northern Iraq to be resupplied via Turkey, the Erdogan Government has gone some way to putting its relations with Washington back in working order. But key tests, each with a capacity to unhinge the fragile situation, are coming quick and fast.
The US Congress is now considering the Bush Administration's request for $US1 billion ($1.66 billion) in aid to Turkey to offset the economic fallout from the war. With the Erdogan Government up to its ears in debt and a $US3 billion repayment due on April 9, the money is desperately needed.
But having knocked back the US request to send troops into the northern front - and thus, according to Mr Wolfowitz, prolonging the war - the Turkish Government may well find that its stocks are not high in Congress. The money may be cut, a move which would harm what little investor confidence is left in the Turkish economy. Henry Hyde, an influential Republican from Illinois, has talked about a "modest reduction" in the aid and linking it to "Turkey's economic policies and its role as an ally".
The next step will be how Turkey - and the Kurds - behave in the US-proposed "early warning" commission, aimed primarily at keeping the Turks out of northern Iraq. The commission, expected to meet for the first time in the next week or so, will have representatives from all the main parties involved in northern Iraq, including the Turkomen, the US, Turkey and the Iraqi Kurds.
What power it will have to stop a Turkish incursion is not clear, despite Mr Powell's assurances to Ankara that the situation in northern Iraq has been "stabilised".
Professor Soli Ozel, a political science professor at Istanbul's Bilge University, doubts the US will be able to control the northern Iraqi Kurds, especially given it has nowhere near the firepower and military muscle in the north that it has in the south of Iraq.
Like many Turks, including senior military officers, he feels Turkey is unable to fully trust the Americans, its closest ally, or the Kurds. "If the Kurds go into Kirkuk, how do we know they are not going to start massive deportations of Arabs or massacre the Turkomen? The fact there are no US forces to speak of makes it a very tenuous situation. I don't think Turkey will ever give up its right to intervene in northern Iraq should it see fit."
Many Turks feel their country has been bullied and unfairly vilified by the West. For them, the past few weeks has only reinforced how little the rest of the world knows about the 80-year-old Turkish republic and its recent struggles.
The bloody civil war with the Kurdish Workers Party (the PKK), which cost more than 30,000 lives and put the country's south-east under siege, is barely four years over; fanned by the prospect of a Kurdish state, its reprisal is a constant fear.
"Our argument is that the Europeans and the West in general have been through this difficult experience [of world wars] but it took 200 years for them to get organised," says a senior Turkish government official, who declined to be named. "But people expect us to do it in two years. This is impossible."
The country's 12 million Kurds see it differently, of course. While their main political party, HADEP, and many Kurdish people see the war as an act of American imperialist aggression, many believe it will not only deliver autonomy to the Iraqi Kurds but ensure Turkey does not lapse into its bad old ways - insular, intolerant and a democracy in name only. "From this war there will be a new country in northern Iraq," says Sefa, 30, a Diyarbakir businessman. "This would be brilliant for us."
Such optimism is tempered by the day-to-day reality of being a Turkish Kurd. Reforms last year gave Kurds the right to learn their own language in school and opened the way for Kurdish broadcasting. However, in recent weeks, DEHAP, the predecessor to HADEP, has been outlawed and within hours, similar action was launched by the country's powerful judiciary against HADEP.
This week, the national Kurdish newspaper, Ozgur Gundem, was banned from printing for five days for publishing statements by the PKK's jailed leader, Abdullah Ocalan. Little wonder, then, that when Turkey played England in the European championship soccer on Wednesday night, many Kurds cheered for the English. "I am Kurdish," said Sinan, 25, over tea and soccer. "I am supporting English. I am not Turkish."
The Turkish Government has no chance of controlling a few undisciplined sport fans. But, as it has proved in the past, it will have greater success in quelling true rebellion. Faced with threats from in or outside its border, the Turks will act.
For once, an honestly named university. :)
Kurds friends! Turks not! Kurds welcome, love and help Americans! Turks not!
I don't trust the U.N. in this matter, nor do I trust our own State Department. Whether it's regarding Israel or the Kurds.
The great dark fear Turks dare not mention is their real identity.