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Turkey and the Kurds

Violent rumblings along the Kurdish fault line are giving Turkey’s Prime Minister Erdogan nothing but a headache and a bundle of bad options. The tenuous truce between Turkey and Iraqi Kurds – a vital one for Iraq’s stability – has been jeopardized this past month by two lethal attacks on Turkish policemen and soldiers. As the Economist puts it:

Matters came to a head when the PKK set off a landmine in the township of Cukurca near the Iraqi border, killing nine soldiers. Declaring that his patience had run out, Mr Erdogan ordered a wave of air strikes against PKK targets in northern Iraq. The army claims that at least 100 rebels have been killed since the operation started on August 17th. The PKK says it has lost only three men…

Syria and Iran have long used the PKK as leverage against Turkey…. America, which has backed Turkey in its battle against the PKK (it shares satellite intelligence on the rebels), is getting nervous. The fitful entente between the Turks and the Iraqi Kurds is crucial to America’s quest to keep Iraq stable. But Turkey insists its attacks will continue.

Erdogan is in a bind. PKK hardliners scoff at his attempts at social and political reform and have responded with violence. Erdogan can continue fighting the rebels, but fighting will continue to destabilize the region. The parts of Syria, Iraq and Iran closest to Turkey have large Kurdish minorities. Erdogan fears that if any part of this multinational Kurdish territory gained independence, Kurdish guerrillas in Turkey would get material support as well as publicity in international forums.

The Kurds (more numerous than the Palestinians and subjected to much crueler treatment across much of the region where they live during most of the last sixty years), are the largest Middle Eastern nationality that does not yet have a state.  Given that an independent Kurdistan would come only after a general regional war in which hundreds of thousands if not millions would die or be displaced, even many Kurds look for compromise solutions — wisely, in Via Meadia’s opinion.  Even so, the fragmentation of Kurdish leadership, the interest various governments have in using the Kurdish issue to make life difficult for others, and the natural tensions that have filled the last 200 years with repeated ethnic slaughters and violence across Europe and the Middle East all suggest that more conflict may lie ahead.

Turkey’s journey to the east remains as problematic as it is unavoidable.  Weak regimes in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq plus the ambitious instability of Iran and the unsettled state of the Caucasus drag Turkey into a world of risk but the stakes are too high for Turkey to stay out of the game.

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  • Anthony

    Turkey as an important regional player contends with a border shared by Syria, Iran, and Irag plus history of tensions among parties. Thus, Turkey’s journey to east is perilous at best; such is price in 21st century geo-shifting power dynamics and assumption of regional prominence (geo-shifting dynamics appear to be spreading globally).

  • WigWag

    My question is this; why are the Albanian Kosovars entitled to their own nation after seceeding from Serbia while the Kurds of Diyarbakır and the rest of southeast Turkey are not entitled to seceed from Turkey and form their own nation?

    As bad as he was, Milosevic killed far fewer than the 30,000 Kurds killed by the Tukish regime over the past few decades. Come to think of it, Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic killed far fewer Bosnian Muslims than Kurds who were killed by the Turks, and they’re in the Hague awaiting trial as war criminals.

    Two successive American Administrations are making an enormous strategic mistake in not supporting independence for Iraqi Kurds. What better way to put a scare into two enemies, the Syrians and the Iranians than supporting the aspiration of the Kurds in those nations to have a country of their own? What better way to send a message to the recalcitrant and increasingly anti-democratic regime in Ankara that the U.S. has other options, than by supporting independence for Iraq’s Kurds?

    Why is it that President Obama is so in love with the idea of a new nation for Middle Eastern Arabs (there are 22 already) while he is so hostile to the one Jewish nation and he completely opposes a nation for the Kurds?

    This is one of the few examples where American interests and the American sense of fair play overlap perfectly. We should be supporting independence for the Kurds.

  • Kris

    @WigWag! Unlike the former Yugoslavia and Israel, the matter of the Kurds is an intra- Religion of Peace issue!


  • Kris

    WigWag, I thought I’d let you know how solicitous Team Mead is about your feelings. My previous comment, which now starts with “WigWag!”, as if I were rudely shouting for your attention, was submitted by me as “Silly WigWag!” (In the style of “Trix are for kids”.) Given that I was agreeing with you and that I even appended a “/sarc” tag, I assumed it was obvious that my usage of “silly” was facetious, but it seems one can never be careful enough. So remember, even though you strongly disagree with some of the opinions on the blog, the Mead team nonetheless deeply cares about and for you.

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