Ecevit: Kurds dragging Turkey into war

So I posted the constitutions last night along with my thoughts that the Kurds are asking for trouble, and wouldn’t you know it? Today, the Guardian runs this. It’s more of that growling that I mentioned in my previous post, but what’s most alarming about this is Turkey’s charges that the United States is directing the Kurds: “It is beyond encouragement, (Washington) is directing them,” said Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit.

Wow. I posted the proposed Kurdish and Iraqi constitutions last night—and my thoughts that the Kurds are asking for trouble—and wouldn’t you know it? Today, the Guardian runs this. It’s more of that growling that I mentioned in my previous post, but what’s most alarming about this is Turkey’s charges that the United States is directing the Kurds: “It is beyond encouragement, (Washington) is directing them,” Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit told the Turkish paper Milliyet. “We will talk to the United States.”

If the United States is directing the PUK and the KDP, that would amount to a stunning reversal against Turkey, one of our most loyal allies in the region. I don’t think that we are, frankly, and these comments are likely playing to Ecevit’s nationalist base of support, which often views the U.S. with suspicion. (They still harbor resentments over Cyprus form 1964 and 1974.)

The United States needs Turkey more than it needs the Kurds, sadly, as the Kurds have only about 80,000 lightly armed peshmergas while the Turks have tanks and F-16s (bought from the United States, of course.) They’re also a NATO ally and Incirlik is a necessary base for running sorties in the northern no-fly zone.

But beyond that Turkey is valuable to the United States in that it provides a “good example” of democracy and Islam, serving as an effective ideological counterweight to Iran. It also has close ties to the Turkish-speaking peoples of central Asia and their energy reserves.

This is why the United States has been such a proponent of Turkey’s ascension to the European Union. America’s support is a complex web of self-interest (keeping a strong, democratic Muslim nation tied to the West) and pay-back (see military alliance above.) It’s also why the Kurds of southeast Turkey both admire and resent the United States. They admire it for its stance on the Turkey-EU issue, and they see membership as the key to economic recovery in that depressed region. They resent America because it was very very supportive of Turkey’s war against the PKK’s terror campaign (which Turkey remembered when Sept. 11, 2001 happened.)

So, again, I’m not sure what would happen if Iraq’s Kurds attain some form of independence. That would almost certainly drive the Turks to war in Iraqi Kurdistan, and what then would the Americans do? This may turn out to be a bigger question than who rules the day after Saddam…

Proposed Iraqi constitution(s) asking for trouble

Here’s something you won’t find anywhere else. (I googled.) These are the scanned copies of the proposed constitutions for Iraq, post-Saddam. Sami Abdul Rahman, the deputy prime minister (KDP) of the Kurdistan Regional Government, gave them to me after I interviewed him in his offices in the Parliament building in Arbil. He wrote them, and the KDP and PUK, in a rare show of public unity, have signed on. Even State, back in July, said the ideas were “interesting.”

Here’s something you won’t find anywhere else. (I googled.) These are the scanned copies of the proposed constitutions for Iraq, post-Saddam. Sami Abdul Rahman, the deputy prime minister (KDP) of the Kurdistan Regional Government, gave them to me after I interviewed him in his offices in the Parliament building in Arbil. He wrote them, and the KDP and PUK, in a rare show of public unity, have signed on. Even State, back in July, said the ideas were “interesting.”

There are two files, the proposed constitution for a Federal Republic of Iraq (3.0MB), heavily modeled on the United States Constitution, and the constitution for the Kurdish region (5.6MB). Sorry for the size of the files. I tried to make them as small as I could.

The first one maps out a plan that would divide the country into two regions: The Arabs would get the middle and southern regions along with the province of Nineveh (excepting regions that have Kurdish majorities) and the Kurds would get the provinces of Kirkuk, Suleimaniya, Arbil and Duhok, the districts of Aqra, Sheihkan and Sinjar and the sub-districts of Zimar (in Nineveh), Khaniqin and Mandali (Diyala) and Badra (in the province of Al-Wasit.) Unlike the U.S. Constitution, however, there is a state religion — Islam — and official languages (Kurdish in the Kurdish regions and Arabic in the other.)

There is a liberal collection of rights granted, but a worrisome dependence on “the law,” as in, “No one can be captured, detained, jailed, or searched except in circumstances defined in law.” This loophole is scattered throughout the document, subordinating the constitutions to whatever the regional or national legislatures want to write into the lawbooks. Instead of being the supreme law of the land, as in the United States, the constitutions instead provide justification for, say, the harsh rule of shar’ia, should Islamists gain control over the National Assembly.

And while “power is inherent in the people as they are the source of its legitmacy,” I worry that this draft is too weak to protect the people of Iraq (and particularly the Kurds) from democracy gone bad. Jeffersonian these documents ain’t.

There’s also a lot that will piss off the Turks, making the adoption of this charter less than likely. The Kurds blame much of Iraq’s (and by extension their own) misfortunes on the centralization of power in Iraq. This is exactly the problem in Turkey and while a few Turkish intellectuals have floated the idea of a federal structure in Turkey, that idea has about as much of a chance as Saddam does of winning another war and occupying Washington.

As the preamble says:

Centralization in government has lost its appeal even within simple and homogenous communities. It has especially lost its rationale for being resorted to in communities that are of a pluralist nature made up of various nationalities, religious groups and languages, such as the Iraqi [Ed: And Turkish] community. The high degree of centralization and the indifference of decision makers to the presence of the special characteristics of the Kurdish people are among the basic reasons for the Kurds being deprived of their legitimate rights under successive Iraqi governments, which came to power under both the monarchy and the republic. This style of restricting authority in t he centre and the unwillingness to share it with the Kurds on a practical basis, even after the March 11, 1970 autonomy agreement has been the hallmark of the role of the Iraqi state.

Well, yeah, and Saddam murdering innocent women and children with chemical weapons has also been a “hallmark of the role of the Iraqi state.” Harping on the evils centralization and the failure to recognize the special nature of Kurds — which is exactly what has been happening in Turkey since 1921 — is asking for trouble, if you ask me. Every criticism mentioned in the preamble against Iraq could equally be leveled at Turkey. (Except the Turks haven’t bombed villages with aflatoxin or other weapons of mass destruction.) And Turkey has been growling that any deal that leaves the Kurds with independence, either de facto or de jure, will be met with guns and tanks. And I have no idea what the United States, as the new regional powerbroker, would do if a NATO ally began operations in the area America claims as conquered territory.

Holy crap, I’m in Istanbul (redux)

First in a series detailing my travels in the ancient lands of Mesopotamia. In this episode, I land in Istanbul and get my bearings.

This was my email to a list of friends and family that I sent out after I landed in Istanbul and started my trip. Except for some minor editing (typos, spelling errors, continuity and some grammar clean-up) this is what went out, more or less (except for really stupid, personal stuff.) This entry was emailed July 2, 2002 while I was overlooking the Bosporus, the narrow strait that divides the city and the two continents of Europe and Asia.
This is the first entry of a continuing series of my emails and journal entries of my trip over there. It’s designed to whet your appetite so you will send me back. (Hint: Donate button is over to the right.)

From: Christopher Allbritton
Date: Tue Jul 2, 2002 3:20:59 AM US/Pacific

Istanbul!
I landed at Atatürk International yesterday at 3 p.m. or so after a couple of hours cooling my heels in Budapest. Took a bus to Taksim, the central plaza in the “modern” part of the city, and from there, I took a taxi up to Boğazi’i University, where I’m staying thanks to the hospitality of Prof. Deniz Ilgaz.
Damn, this is a confusing place. The street energy is like New York at a rave but without the feelgood vibe. The taxi drivers are homicidal (and suicidal) and the cars bear the scars of numerous encounters with bumpers and doors and hapless pedestrians. The city passes by in a blur, but ancient structures exist among modern skyscrapers and western fastfood chains. It’s all a bit overwhelming.
And Turkish is just impossible. But first, some basic geography: Istanbul is divided in half by the Bosporus, duh, into European and Asian (Anatolian) sides. The European side is further divided into North and South parts by the Golden Horn, a great natural harbor. South is the old, Ottoman city with all the tourist stuff (Aya Sofia, the Blue Mosque, yadda yadda yadda.) In the 19th century this part of the city, called Eminönü, was left to the Sultans as an Ottoman playground with harems, palaces, hookahs, and the whole Disneyland on opium thing. The northern part, (Beyoğlu) where I’m staying, was modernized, with streetcars, telephones, plumbing, etc. So I have to go into Eminönü to get my press creds. The office is housed in one of innumerable palaces on the Bosporus. And there are a lot of them.
[Editor’s note: Here lie three paragraphs that detail the dynamics of a particularly bad liaison I had while in Germany. It really doesn’t do anyone any good to rehash this stuff, so I cut them.]
Back to Turkey. I took out 200,000,000 Turkish Lira from my account at the airport yesterday. I’ve never withdrawn 200 million of anything before, so I felt like a real rich guy. (It’s about $125 or so.) I still have, after paying for a couple of meals, a taxi ride and a bus ride, … Uh, shit. A whole lot of zeros. Actually, I still have 178 million TL, or about $111.25… Jesus, all of that cost just under $15? I could live like a king in Istanbul if I had dollars coming in.
I’m staying in an antique Ottoman house near the Bosporus ( Boğazi’i in Turkish, don’t ask me how to pronounce it.) From my window, I can see the old fortress Hisar, the fort built by Sultan Fatih to conquer Constantinople in 1453. There’s an even older fort on the opposite side, the Asian side, built by the Byzantines, and I don’t mean the Eastern Roman Empire. I mean the people who built the city of Byzantium that predates even Emperor Constantine, who founded Constantinople in AD 338, if I recall the date correctly.
At any rate, it’s really, really old.
And why did they change the name from Constantinople? That’s nobody’s business but the Turks. (Actually, it’s a corruption of a Greek term that means “in the city.”)
Today, at 2:30, I meet with Kemal Kiriş’i, a Boğazi’i University professor who wrote a book on the Kurds and now deals with EU-Turkey issues. I think he will be very informative. After that, I have to go in to the old city, across the Golden Horn, and pick up my press credentials. That should take the better part of the rest of the day. Then I’m meeting some people I’ve been emailing for dinner and that’s that. Whew!
On Thursday, in celebration of July 4, I will get on a bus to Ankara, where I will meet my fixer. We’ll work on some logistics and plan for a few days and then head out to Diyarbakir and the rest of the country. It’s a shame I won’t have more time in Istanbul, as it’s a fascinating city. Bigger than NYC, too. Nine million people (although that’s only about 5.625 people thanks to the exchange rate.)
So that’s it. All is well, and I have my own Internet access. Life is good.