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Turks and Kurds


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Turks and Kurds
Pirzada Osama
Turkish policies of repression against the Kurds were one of the strongest and most lasting arguments against admitting Turkey to membership in the European Union. Turkey's application to the European Union is still pending and is soon to be reviewed again.
Support for a United States invasion of Iraq may bring the Turks billions in aid, but it may also give them the much costlier choice between losing any chance for membership in the European Union and tolerating a secessionist movement in the Turkish parts of Kurdistan, which could endanger the very existence of Turkey in its present form.

Kurdish lands, rich in natural resources, have always sustained and promoted a large population. While registering modest gains since the late 19th century, but particularly in the first decade of the 20th, Kurds lost demographic ground relative to neighboring ethnic groups. This was due as much to their less developed economy and health care system as it was to direct massacres, deportations, famines, etc. The total number of Kurds actually decreased in this period, while every other major ethnic group in the area boomed. Since the middle of the 1960s this negative demographic trend has reversed, and Kurds are steadily regaining the demographic position of importance that they traditionally held, representing 15% of the over-all population of the Middle East in Asia-a phenomenon common since at least the 4th millennium BC.
Today Kurds are the fourth largest ethnic group in the Middle East, after the Arabs, Persians and Turks. Their largest concentrations are now respectively in Turkey (approx. 52% of all Kurds), Iran(25.5%), Iraq (16%), Syria (5%) and the CIS (1.5%). Barring a catastrophe, Kurds will become the third most populous ethnic group in the Middle East by the year 2000, displacing the Turks. F
. . .
In other words, it is Islam versus secularism. With very few exceptions, an occasional article in the New York Times, this is how the debate about Turkey is being carried out in the Unites States. Such debate, however, presented in terms of (bad) Islam versus (good) secularism is not just misleading, but represents gross distortion of the situation in Turkey.
The Turkish military has been trying to find out ways to get rid of Necmettin Erbakan and his Islamic Refah party since he came to power a little over a year ago. There has already been a mini coup in Turkey at the end of last February, when the army-dominated National Security Council issued an ultimatum to Erbakan to stop the Islamization of Turkish society. Certainly, in a real democracy the army does not issue ultimatums to the elected government, but this is necessary we are told, because in Turkey the army is the guarantor of the country's secular orientation.
Both Saddam Hussein in Iraq and Hafez al Assad in Syria are followers of the Baathist ideology, a mixture of secularism, Arab nationalism and socialism. Iraq and Syria, however, are hardly qualified as democracies just because they follow a secular ideology, which, one should add, has been increasingly accommodating Islam. But there is deliberate confusion in Washington over Turkish secularism and for some time now, the Clinton Administration is trying to convince itself and the rest of us that Turkey is a democracy. At the same time, the Turkish ruling elite led by the military likes to call Turkey a "secular democracy" but democracy in Turkey has been moving backwards for several years now. There are enlightened Turks however, who realize that the country is in regression and who call the prevailing system of government "semi-democracy" at best.
The most serious of the multifaceted crises faced by Turkey today, is the Kurdish question. Rather than accommodate the legitimate aspirations for human and cultural rights of 14 million Kurdish citizens, the Turkish government has opted to solve the Kurdish question by force. The last three years alone, Turkey spent over 20 billion dollars fighting the Kurdish separatists. For over a month now, 50,000 Turkish troops have invaded Iraq and are engaged in fighting Kurdish guerrillas. This 13-year-old civil war between the Turkish army and the Kurds has become Turkey's Vietnam. Its staggering cost already exceeds 50 billion dollars and is dragging down the Turkish economy. There is also the tragic human dimension of this civil war. There are over 23,000 dead. The Turkish army has razed to the ground over 2,000 Kurdish villages and about 2 million Kurds were removed forcibly from their homes and submerged into utter poverty into shantytowns across Turkey. These Kurdish refugees, have no hope and no means to express their aspirations politically. Kurdish political parties are suppressed and their leaders, some members of Parliament, are in jail.
Why Has the Kurdish Resistance Movement Been Unsuccessful to Date?
The twentieth century has witnessed the downfall of the worldwide system of colonialism and the foundation of new states in former colonies and dependent countries. Why have the Kurds, with their long history and a rich culture, not attained their freedom, even though they have continually waged resistance since the beginning of the nineteenth century and paid a high price for it?
There are both internal and external reasons for this. The feudal fragmentation within Kurdish society is one such internal reason. The tribal social structure, divisions between religious movements and confessions, and the institutions of large-scale land ownership and the sheikdom have always been obstacles to the unification of national forces. The medieval value structure of this system has resulted in the fact that a national consciousness has arisen only in part.
But these are not the essential reasons. We must not forget that many nations in Asia and Africa that have won their freedom have been backward with respect to their economic and social systems, in many cases even more backward than the Kurds. The true reasons that have prevented the Kurdish national movement from succeeding are external ones.
Initially the Kurds fought against two great empires, the Ottoman and the Persian Empires. The balance of power was not in favor of the Kurds, and they had no external support whatsoever. But the Balkan countries, for example, attained their independence through the support of powerful Western states such as Russia, Austria, England, and France. It was the English and the French that separated Arabia from the Ottoman Empire. These were the same powers that, in cooperation with the government in Ankara, carved up Kurdistan once again.
The Kurdish rebellions that followed World War I were opposed not only by Turkey and Iran but also by the French and the English, which had Syria and Iraq as part of their mandates. The English in particular used their own forces to put down the Kurdish national rebellion in Iraq.
After Syria and Iraq had gained their independence, the Kurdish national movement faced the alliance of these four states. One of the most detrimental effects of the division is that the territory of Kurdistan is surrounded by these four dividing states, i.e. by enemy forces. The Kurds have no connections with the outside world, either via land or sea. It is very difficult to set up contacts with the outside world. Even if friendly forces did exist which wanted to help the Kurds from the outside, there are no routes or points of access through which this support could reach Kurdistan directly. If the Kurdish national movement begins an armed rebellion in any of the parts of Kurdistan, it therefore requests a neighboring country to provide the necessary base areas or logistic support. But this neighboring country is still one of the four states that hold another part of Kurdistan in its control. None of them is interested in a Kurdish victory. These states merely play the Kurdish card against each other when they have problems with one another from time to time. This makes the Kurdish question, which is already complicated enough, even more complicated. Such relations are extremely problematic for the Kurdish national movement and occasionally bring Kurdish organizations into a situation where they are fighting against one another.
Aside from this, the Kurdish national movement has never received any substantial international support. The basic reason for this is that large and small states that are not directly involved in this issue put their own interests in the foreground and do not want to take a position that is opposed to the four states of the region (Turkey, Iraq, Iran, and Syria).

What Is the Solution?
The Kurdish national movement has not been successful, for all of the reasons named above. On the other hand, the four states in question have not succeeded in their efforts to melt down the Kurds through assimilation or to eliminate them. On the contrary, Kurdish national consciousness has strengthened from year to year, overcome certain feudal obstacles, and acquired the character of a mass movement. The Kurdish national movement has organized itself and now includes all social classes and levels. Kurds in the various parts of Kurdistan have moved closer together. In all of these countries, Kurdish resistance has grown stronger; in the three largest parts of Kurdistan it has taken on the form of armed resistance which it has simply been impossible to eradicate.
It has also cost the oppressive countries dearly to deny Kurdish identity, deprive Kurds of their rights, and implement a policy of oppression against them. The governments of Turkey, Iraq, and Iran are compelled to wage continual war. This war consumes their financial resources and costs them human lives. In this respect Iraq, which has to deal with a de facto partition, is the most interesting example. But the situation in Turkey is no more rosy than it is in Iraq.
For Turkey, the policy of oppression against the Kurds is the greatest obstacle to democracy and domestic peace. One of the main causes of the frequent military coups in Turkey is the Kurdish question. The dirty war that has been waged for 11 years against the Kurdish people is consuming resources. Turkey's direct expenditures for the war amount to between 8 and 10 billion US dollars annually. The economy of Kurdistan has been totally crippled; agriculture, trade, and animal husbandry have collapsed.
A point has been reached at which the Kurdish question has precipitated a serious economic and political crisis in Turkey. Violence stretches over the entire social life of the country like a net. Chauvinistic nationalism and militarism are intensifying.
The government and official spokesman continue to blame the PKK - the so-called "handful of terrorists" - for the miserable situation. But the main responsibility of the present misery and all the suffering that has been inflicted on both peoples must be borne by the Turkish state itself. The point that has been reached today is the result of a wrong-headed policy that has been implemented for seventy years.
There is no doubt that this problem can not be solved by the army or the police. A peaceful solution is possible through dialogue and the recognition of Kurdish rights, and this is in the interests of both peoples. Thus peace and democracy could move into the country, and Turkey as a whole and Kurdistan in particular could enter into a phase of development.
During recent years, groups of reasonable people have been increasingly criticizing the policy that has been followed so intensely for the past seventy years, which has brought nothing to anybody and led the country ever deeper into an impasse. They have committed themselves to a peaceful solution. Groups of businessmen and workers, intellectuals and the media are increasingly allying themselves with this point of view. The international situation is also forcing Turkey toward a change of course.
In recent years, the Kurdish question has developed from a regional problem into an international one. In this connection, the UN resolution to protect the Iraqi Kurds is extremely significant. Turkey, which wants to be accepted into the European Union, must adapt its political and cultural life to European standards, and put into practical effect the international treaties which it has signed.
The conclusion I have reached on the basis of all I have presented so far is that the solution of the Kurdish question, despite the unfavorable present situation, is moving closer. In order to make a peaceful solution possible as soon as possible, the peace initiatives at the national and international levels must be strengthened.
The Socialist Party of Kurdistan, of which I am a member, advocates a peaceful and just solution. Despite all the oppression and provocations to which the Kurdish people has been subjected and is still being subjected, we have opted from the very beginning for political and peaceful methods of struggle. In our opinion, the peaceful coexistence of both peoples is possible, and therefore our party proposes a federation. We can find solutions that are similar to those developed in Spain, Belgium, or Switzerland. The same demands that Turkey is making for the hundred thousand Turks on Cyprus, it should also grant within its own borders to the Kurdish nation with its 20 million people.
But for this to happen, first of all there must be a bilateral ceasefire and negotiations must be initiated.
In our view, a peaceful solution to the problem is also possible in the other parts of Kurdistan. In all parts of Kurdistan, the existence and rights of the Kurdish people must be respected. Federal solutions based on equal rights must be devised.
The question of the unity of the Kurdish nation is a question of the future. I believe that the Middle East region will experience great changes in the future, as other regions have done. The despotic, oppressive, and primitive regimes of today will go, relations between the peoples of the region will improve, and there will be a phase of rapprochement, as is happening now in Europe. The borders will lose their significance. Artificial borders, which today divide Kurdistan with barbed wire and land mines, will then also disappear.

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