U.S. hangs Kurds out to dry — again

These years: 1975. 1988. 1991. 1995. And now 2003.

Those dates will be burned in the collective memory of Iraq’s Kurdish population, which, for the past 12 years, has built a nascent democracy in the very face of Saddam’s tyranny. But now, it seems, that the experiment will be strangled in the crib because the United States is negotiating with Turkey to occupy the Kurdish area in northern Iraq.

The plan, which is being negotiated in closed-door meetings in Ankara, the Turkish capital, is being bitterly resisted by at least some leaders of Iraq’s Kurdish groups, who fear that Turkey’s leaders may be trying to realize a historic desire to dominate the region in a post-Saddam Hussein Iraq. The Kurdish officials say they fear a military intervention by the Turks could also prompt Iran to cross the border and try to seize sections of eastern Iraq.
American diplomats and senior military commanders, led by President Bush’s special envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, are said to be encouraging the Kurdish leaders to accept the Turkish proposal. While Washington has strongly supported the autonomous Kurdish region in Iraq over the past 12 years, it is eager to secure the permission of Turkey’s leaders to use Turkey’s bases for a possible attack on Iraq. (Emphasis added.)

This is a betrayal on the level of the Algiers Accord in 1975, when Secretary of State Henry Kissenger pulled the rug out from the under the Kurds who were fighting Saddam with the help of the Shah of Iran. On the level of Halabja, when Saddam gassed that Kurdish village (among others in his brutal al Anfal campaign) and killed 5,000 men, women and children in less than 20 minutes and the United States (and the rest of the world) stood by.

Hameda Farag, 46, a victim of 1988 Halabja attack, photographed in Halabja's single hospital. It was near sunset when she smelled something odd. "I didn't know it was a chemical attack until I fled to Iran," she said. She was pregnant at the time and lost the child. Since then, she has had three miscarriages and now can no longer have children. At the time, the world didn't care. The United States still doesn't. ®2002 Christopher
Hameda Farag, 46, a victim of 1988 Halabja attack, photographed in Halabja’s single hospital. It was near sunset when she smelled something odd. “I didn’t know it was a chemical attack until I fled to Iran,” she said. She was pregnant at the time and lost the child. Since then, she has had three miscarriages and now can no longer have children. At the time, the world didn’t care. The United States still doesn’t. ®2002 Christopher

Turkey has been driving a hard bargain to allow the United States to use its bases for this invasion. Back in December, it even asked for 10 percent of Iraqi oil annually. And back in October, I wrote about the Kurdish plans for autonomy within a post-Saddam Iraq here and here. (If you’d like to see a copy of the proposed Kurdish constitutions given to me by Dept. Prime Minister Sami Abdul Rahman, click here and here.) The official word is that the Turks’ role will be extremely limited, with a few thousand troops confined to the northern regions near the Iraqi-Turkish border. They would be under American command and limited to humanitarian duties.

However, the Times story quotes a Turkish official — it doesn’t say if the official is with the military or the civilian government — as saying the deployment would far exceed the numbers talked about with the Americans. And Turkish prime minister, Abdullah Gul, suggested that the Turkish Army’s role would go beyond humanitarian concerns to protecting Turkish interests in the region.

“Turkey is going to position herself in that region in order to prevent any possible massacres, or the establishment of a new state,” Gul told Turkish reporters.

This isn’t fair. I met several of the men and women working to create a democracy, flawed as it is, in Iraqi Kurdistan, and I can’t even imagine the disappointment that this news must have generated. Adding insult to injury, the Americans intend to seize the oil-rich cities of Kirkuk and Mosul for themselves, to prevent the Iraqis from sabotaging the oil production facilities there and the Kurds from seizing them for themselves. (Kirkuk is the proposed capital of an envisioned Kurdish autonomous region.) Turkey has long coveted both Kirkuk and Mosul, having lost them to the young Kingdom of Iraq in 1926.

I worried about just this development back in October, and said America was sending mixed signals to the peoples of the region. As I wrote back then,

Kurds certainly think a democracy is in the cards, what with their proposed constitution and all. Fowzi Hariri, the smooth, British-educated deputy head of the KDP Bureau of International Relations, told me in July that “We want Baghdad.” I didn’t know what he meant by that, but he went on to explain that the Kurds want the chance to hold the office of chief executive in a Federal Republic of Iraq. “We want a direct say in government,” he continued. “Whenever we have relied on other systems or people, we have ended up with a dictatorship.”
That was a thinly veiled barb at the on-again, off-again support from the United States. My suspicion is that we’re at it again, telling the Kurds they will have a place at the table in order to lure them into committing to a fight against Saddam while we tell the Kuwaitis, Turks and Syrians that a messy, unpredictable democratic Iraq is “not in the cards,” as the Kuwaiti said to Kristof. And when the hammer hits the anvil, I think we’ll hang the Kurds out to dry.

Sometimes it sucks to be right.

From Atatürk to Allah?

It’s election day in Turkey tomorrow and the big question is will the government turn from Atat�rk to Allah?

Tomorrow is election day in Turkey and it’s coming down to the home stretch! The Justice and Development Party (AKP) is likely to win about 30 percent of the vote, which would make them the senior partner in any coalition government, assuming they don’t win outright. The Republican People’s Party (CHP), founded by Turkey’s founder Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, is polling at 15 to 20 percent. However, Atatürk’s party is avowedly secular, so it’s unlikely the two would partner up.
The situation is making the military and other secular Turks very, very nervous. In 1997, the AKP’s predecessor, the Welfare Party, was eased out by the military in what many have called a “soft coup.” But that option isn’t available now. With the European Union still dangling the carrot of membership, the Turkish military can’t risk stepping in and mucking about with elections and democracy. But the powers that be in Turkey also worry that a government headed by an Islamist party wouldn’t be attractive to Europe either, so Turkey is kind of caught in a bind.
Further complicating the situation, Milliyet reported last week that Turkey’s top state prosecutor, Sabih Kanadoglu, has filed for the closure of the AKP, citing defiance by the party’s leader, former Istanbul mayor Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to give up his party post. Erdogan was banned from participating in politics after he read a poem “inciting religious hatred” in a mosque in 1997 and served four months in jail. Though the case won’t be decided for months, if the party eventually is shut down its supporters would see their votes wasted. All this legal maneuvering has been an attempt by the military and secular leadership to depress the vote on AKP, and as I was told when I was in Ankara, “Turkey is the graveyard of political parties.”
(For what it’s worth Sabah reported that U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the United States is opposed to banning political parties. “The US supports democracy and broad political participation in Turkey and elsewhere,” he is quoted as saying. “We oppose the banning of political parties that are expressing their views in a peaceful and democratic manner.”)
Though Erdogan is banned by law from serving in a governmental post — such as, oh, prime minister for example — the suspicion is that he will work behind the scenes running the country, probably through a weak prime minister. There is also concern that his commitment to moderation and democracy is only skin deep. He was elected mayor of Istanbul in 1994 and promptly banned alcohol in the city’s restaurants. He has close ties with former Welfare Party prime minister Erbakan, who dined with terrorists and talked of pulling out of NATO. Perhaps most ominously, “You cannot be secular and a Muslim at the same time,” Erdogan said in 1995.
But he’s been crafty in how he has answered questions on how he would liberalize laws concerning the public expression of religion. For example, it is currently illegal for women to wear headscarves in universities, schools and government buildings or at government functions. This is a highly emotional issue in Turkey, with headscarves being a potent symbol of political Islam. Erdogan has been careful to not identify the AKP with this kind of controversy. Would his wife, an observant Muslim, wear a headscarf at government functions? “I wouldn’t bring her,” he has said, neatly not answering the question or assuaging Turkish women’s fears.
So what are the scenarios? Near as I can tell, they are as follows:

  • The AKP wins decisively with enough seats in Parliament to form a government without resorting to a partner. The military might intervene or it might not. If it doesn’t, look for the AKP to be kept on a short leash.
  • The AKP wins a majority, but cannot form a government, in which case they will partner up with — possibly — Deniz Baykal’s Devlet Bahceli’s Nationalist Action Party (MHP). I think a coalition between the nationalists and Islamists could be one of the worst combinations. “The result will definitely be another coalition, an anomaly of very contradictory views,” said Prof. Deniz Ilgaz of Bogazi�i University when I emailed her about all of this.
  • The myriad secular parties in Parliament band together in a broad-based coalition together to keep the AKP out of power. The resulting government would be weak and ineffectual, and would pretty much cement the status quo. None of the problems of Turkey would be addressed, and the military would remain the de facto ruler of the country.

So what will happen and how might this affect the United States’ determination to open up some precision guided whoop-ass on Iraq, a fellow Muslim country and formerly a major trading partner to Turkey? We’ll have the outlines in a day. But one thing is certain is that the political landscape is about to change in unpredictable ways.

Happy birthday, Turkey

Happy 79th Birthday, Turkey!

Happy 79th birthday, Turkey! You look weeks younger!
Mustafa Kemal Atatürk founded by the modern Turkish state Oct. 29, 79 years ago. For all of Turkey’s problems today, no one should underestimate the determination and accomplishment of Atatürk. In the face of hostile enemies, a skeptical world and a collection of peoples with no reason to band together, he forged a modern and Western-facing nation out of the ashes of the Ottoman Empire. Regardless of how people view the modern Turkey, it’s a damn sight better than what might have been had he failed. And for that I tip my hat to Father Turk.
I also think that were he alive today, he would have brought the same energy, determination (and, frankly, authoritarianism) to the problems of the Republic. But he’s not, and Turkey needs to step out of the great man’s shadow and move on. Atatürk was able to accomplish what he did because he didn’t worry about the democratic process. And his approach was exactly right for what was needed at the time. But today, Turkey must embrace a full democracy and remove the military from the decision making process. The slogan that adorns the steps leading up to Atatürk’s mausoleum in Ankara should be amended. Instead of “Sovereignty rests with the Nation,” it should instead derive from the people — all of them, Turks and Kurds alike. His admonition to the army to protect the nation from all enemies foreign and domestic should come with the appendix the people are not the enemy; they are citizens.
I’d like to think that Atatürk would recognize this. Turkey no longer needs a Great Man. It needs a great people.

Turkey preparing to invade Kurdistan?

Turkey has been making noises that the Iraqi Kurds should not get too hopeful about establishing a quasi-independent entity in the three governates they control in northern Iraq. Now, it looks like Turkey is ready to back up their words with force. However, there is an election coming up in Turkey, so the possibility that this is all fodder for domestic constituencies cannot be ruled out.

Turkey has been making noises that the Iraqi Kurds should not get too hopeful about establishing a quasi-independent entity in the three governates they control in northern Iraq. Now, it looks like Turkey is ready to back up their words with force. (At least they’re consistent.) However, there is an election coming up in Turkey, so the possibility that this is all fodder for domestic constituencies cannot be ruled out.
On the they-really-mean-it side of the equation, ArabicNews.com is reporting that Turkish deputy prime minister Doulat Bahjali said that his country must reconsider its stance regarding northern Iraq. Since 1991 when it got dragged into Operation Provide Comfort (the allied establishment of the northern no-fly zone to protect Kurdish refugees from the 1990-91 Gulf War,) Turky has gone back and forth in its relations with the PUK and KDP. At times the relationship was warm enough that Barzani and Talabani, the leaders of the respective parties, traveled under Turkish diplomatic passports.
That has apparently ended with finality after the Kurdistan Regional Government convened its parliament in October and introduced a proposal for a federal republic of Iraq with a Kurdish entity in the north and with Kirkuk as its capital. Kirkuk, rich in oil and history is home to Kurds, Arabs, Assyrians and Turkomen, to whose defense Bahjali is leaping.
“The pressures which are imposed on the Turkomen under Saddam Hussein were great and that they are at the meantime exposed to a new threat by the two Kurdish leaders Masoud al-Barazani and Jalal al-Talabani targeting their cities of Mosul, Kirkuk and Arbil,” ArabicNews.com says. (Ed. I changed some spellings of towns in this quote.)
This backs up the it’s-all-politics argument, since the Turkomen are a natural ally of Bahjali’s National Movement Party, and bashing the Kurds is always a surefire way to rally the nationalist faithful. However, Turkish defense minister Sbah Eddin Oglo said Oct. 14 that Turkey intends to establish ‘a security belt’ in northern Iraq and that intelligence agencies have reported that Turkey has increased its troop strength in Iraqi Kurdistan from 4,000 to 10,000 troops.
All of this must be driving the United States crazy. The last thing it needs is a Kurdish-Turkish dispute in northern Iraq just when it’s trying to get its ducks in a row should shooting start. And this is exactly the kind of chaos various pundits have predicted would happen if Saddam is removed and regional rivalries are allowed to flare. But wasn’t that supposed to happen after a war?
Keep watching the Turks. They hold the key to all of this.

HADEP Deputy Chairman: “This is democracy in Turkey”

In which the Deputy Chairman of HADEP, the Kurdish party in Turkey, talks about the state of affairs in the southeast part of the country.

While in Ankara, Aykut and I spent a day trying to find the local offices of various Iraqi and Kurdish opposition groups including the KDP and PUK. We were looking for various officials who might be able to help me when I went to Diyarbakir in the southeast and on to Iraq, but we weren’t having much luck, and kept driving through twisty neighborhoods hoping the cops weren’t following us.

At one point, the comedy descended into farce, as we drove into a military residence area looking for the embassies. We found the embassies, but the PUK still eluded us. We drove past the Jordanian, Syrian and Saudi Embassies, but finally stopped outside the the United Arab Emirates while Aykut jumped out of the car and asked a bored-looking security guard for directions.

“Excuse me, where are the offices for the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan?” Akyut asked while I shrunk into my seat and tried to look invisible.

The guard, a Turk and apparently no friend of Iraqi Kurds, looked him up and down, looked me up and down, and then motioned off down the road.

Aykut dropped his bulk into the drivers’ seat and smiled at me.

“Don’t do that again,” I said.

He apologized, but at least the guard’s directions were good. We finally found the rather sad looking house that was the office for the PUK. No one was around except for a plainclothes guy who watched us closely and smoked a cigarette like a fugitive. He made me nervous, so we left to go meet A. Turan Demir, the deputy chairman of HADEP, the Kurdish party in Turkey. The transcript — from Aykut’s translation — follows:

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