October 14, 2003

Kurds & Turks

I thought I'd written, in this post, something to the effect that you can use the question of Kurdish rights as a yardstick for judging the intentions of various players in and commentators on the Middle East. I didn't put it that directly, however. Of course, things run more ways than one, and if you want to judge the rhetoric about freedom and self-determination in Iraq, you might want to pay careful attention to the deployment of 10,000 Turkish troops to the Sunni areas of the country.

Over at KurdishMedia.com, they seem to be paying attention to little else. (As of this writing, I count four news stories and six commentaries about the deployment on the home page.) They've posted Ralph Peters' denunciation of the move, which originally appeared in the New York Post, among other pieces. I have to say I didn't greet the news with much enthusiasm, but I wasn't quite as apoplectic as Peters:

Turkey has one enduring aim: the suppression of Kurdish freedom anywhere in the region. That will be Ankara’s immutable goal in Iraq.

It's certainly true that Turkey's record on the Kurds has been deplorable; I now have quite a few books filled with accounts of various episodes from that shameful history. I don't think it's a stretch to say that suppression of the Kurds living in Turkey has been a Turkish policy from the start -- I seem to recall a line from the country's constitution saying something along the lines that anyone who is a citizen is, by definition, a Turk. I believe that attitude stems from Kemal Ataturk himself, and one could well argue based on this history--as I think Peters does--that the Turks are in Iraq for the primary purpose of suppressing Kurds. But if so, they are going against another element of Ataturk's governing philosophy by involving themselves directly in the affairs of the former possessions of the Ottoman Empire. (Turks refer to this injunction as "staying out of Arab hair.")

In the 1990s, Turgut Ozal, then the president of Turkey, openly received Iraqi Kurdish leaders, despite opposition from his own government, before his death in 1993. It's unlikely the Ozal would have pursued a course that would have allowed for cultural recognition and equal rights for Turkey's Kurdish minority, but I think there's some justification for believing that he wanted to pursue a different course for Iraq's Kurds. It's an open question as to what his successors have in mind, and I'm not optimistic, but I'm not persuaded either that Peters is entirely correct in his assessment.

Posted by Ideofact at October 14, 2003 11:30 PM