Anyone who has spent time in Turkey
will find its people civil, generous, educated, and open-minded. Just don't
mention the Kurds. The day after I zigzagged through a sloped, ramshackle enclave
to reach the ancient Alexandrian fort of Kadifekale overlooking the port city
of Izmir, I received a stern lecture on this sinister group. While waving at
little boys greeting me from the escarpment, I had wandered unwittingly into
a ferment of terrorism.
Although the struggle has claimed 30,000 civilian and military deaths mostly
in southeastern Turkey over the last 15 years, the Kurds are not just an internal
problem. From Turkey's perspective, they are an Iraqi problem. Kurdish rebels
use Iraq as a springboard
for their terrorist activities, causing Prime Minister Erdogan to line up 250,000
troops, a number nearly twice as large as the American contingent, along
the Iraq border. Last weekend, 14 soldiers were killed by Kurdish guerillas.
And now, eyeing the Bush doctrine at work in the Israeli bombing of Lebanon,
Erdogan strains at the bit to enter the war.
Blasting Bush's double
standard on the sovereign use of force to combat terrorism, Erdogan has
announced troop "contingency plans" to storm over the border. The
U.S. has been warning Turkey to restrain itself, but the alliance between the
two nations is in shambles. Three years ago, former Defense Deputy Secretary
Paul Wolfowitz chided
Turkey when its parliament refused to allow the U.S. to use its country as a
transit point for the Iraq invasion, and even suggested that the military should
the government into complying with U.S. edicts. Adding double insult to
injury, he pledged to root the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) out of northern Iraq,
but instead directed the U.S. to bolster the autonomy of the Kurdish region.
Defense Secretary Rumsfeld last year, in one of his more risible
statements, blamed the Iraqi insurgency on Turkey.
Denied a homeland in the 1923 carve-up of the Ottoman Empire, Kurds are one
of the largest ethnic groups in the world to be stateless. Turkey's founding
father Mustafa Kemal Atatürk prohibited the outward signs of Kurdish culture
from his newly formed democratic state, banning Kurdish schools, music, dress,
and language. To this date, overt support for Kurdish causes is criminalized.
The two factions reached a fragile truce after the capture of Abdullah Ocalan
(head of the PKK) in 1999, but over the past two years Kurdish groups have claimed
responsibility for bombings in Istanbul, resort towns, and elsewhere. Turkey's
biggest nightmare is a growing separatist movement for an autonomous Kurdish
Complicating this matter is Iranian activity against the Kurds. Iran has supposedly
shelled some Kurdish
enclaves in Iraq making it a complicit partner with Turkey in Kurdish eradication.
The ramifications of Turkey waging war against the PKK in Iraq amid the chaos
of so many armed soldiers could certainly lead to confrontation and skirmishes
between U.S. and Turkish forces, similar to what happened in Sulaymaniyah
in 2003. The Turkish army is no ragtag outfit, having forcibly ousted four governments
in the last 45 years. The scenario of pitting two supposed democratic allies,
both members of NATO, against each other was already laid out in the Anatolian
best-selling book Metal
Storm, in which Turkey, allied with its former nemesis Russia, ended
up detonating a nuclear suitcase bomb in Washington, D.C.
When Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul visited Washington earlier this
month, he met with Condoleezza Rice in a canned TV appearance to announce a
document." The president was too busy to meet with him. Apparently,
a country that's 98 percent Muslim but officially a secular democratic republic
since 1923 and shares borders with Iraq, Iran, Syria, Armenia, and Georgia doesn't
merit his attention. And let's not forget that it hosts oil pipelines that skirt
beyond Russian territories and terminate at the Mediterranean – one pumping
from the Caspian port of Baku, the other from Kirkuk.
On Saturday, the White House announced Bush had phoned Erdogan and promised
help in some sort of tripartite alliance of U.S., Iraqi, and Turkish forces
in dealing with the PKK. How Kurdish civilians get spared in this venture is
anybody's guess. Unfortunately, the Bush administration may be unaware that
Turkey views the whole Kurdish population as a terrorist nest.
Thirty thousand dead have seemingly failed to satisfy the blood lust between
Turks and Kurds. The Turks proved their ferocity in World War I when they repelled
the Allies at Gallipoli, a battle that resulted in 250,000 dead. Armed with
the Bush doctrine of taking the fight to the enemy, Turkey, by adding a new
staging area to the conflict, could be pouring an inextinguishable accelerant
upon the region.