"A nation which makes the final sacrifice for life and freedom does not get beaten." Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, founder of the Republic of Turkey.
In early October, members of the separatist Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK) stationed in northern Iraq, instigated a clandestine military attack which led to 12 casualties. This attack is a minuscule part of a spate of intensified attacks by the the PKK, whose agenda includes the autonomy of Turkey’s southeast region and an end to Turkish assimilation. They have infiltrated segments of northern Iraq and Turkey, and use ferocious tactics which include, but are not relegated to, kidnappings, beheadings, tactical bombings, and pillaging. This month alone, the Kurds have racked up a body count of 42 Turks and kidnapped eight others. In just 20 years it is believed that the organisation, which is designated a "terrorist organisation" by the United States and Europe, has murdered over 30,000 people.
Feeding on rampant sectarian violence in Iraq, the PKK have intensified their militaristic approach. Contrary to their glorified public relations campaign, the PKK is not a heroic counter-interventionist movement. PKK’s Marxist ideology and treacherous brutality is an aberration in a society recognised for its tolerance. Turkey's ethnic Kurds, the majority of whom recently voted for the Justice and Development Party, oppose PKK’s agenda. The Kurdish people recognise that the guerrilla escapades have intensified regional and international political upheaval. Once isolated and prone to factionalism, the guerrilla movement is now on the rise due to the dire situation in northern Iraq.
The Turkish government, which believes Turkish citizens should have no loyalty outside of the state, has responded. On October 17, the Turkish parliament voted 507 to 19 to authorise cross-border raids into northern Iraq to root out the PKK. Turkish General Yasar Buyukanit angrily declared, "We are determined to make those who cause this sadness grieve with an intensity that they cannot imagine". Prime Minister Erdogen, leader of the moderate Islamic Development Party said: "Turkey shall not be intimidated". Turkey recently amassed over 100,000 troops on the border with Iraq backed up by tanks, artillery, warplanes and helicopters. Turkish jet fighters and helicopters pounded suspected rebel hideouts in Turkey and northern Iraq, a strategic manoeuver condemned by the US and Iraqi governments. The US and Iraqi governments fear that Turkish intervention could destabilise a moderately tranquil segment of the volatile region.
The two nations believe Turkish military intervention may deepen tension between diverse ethnic groups in the region, destablise loose coalitions and trigger a sharp increase in global oil prices. Neighboring Iran and Syria, which are both home to substantial Kurdish minorities, may be pressured to intervene. Even minimal ethnic friction in Iran, a predominately ethnic Persian nation, may escalate tensions in the fragile region. But the United States must balance its desire for regional stability with steadfast support for and cooperation with the Turkish government.
Turkey objected to the US-led invasion in Iraq, but it subsequently provided vital strategic airbases for US flights into Iraq and Afghanistan. Turkey, a secular republic with fragments of institutionalised democracy and constitutionally protected rights is a natural ally of the United States. But the once-friendly relationship between the US and Turkey has waned due to recent US political maneuvering seen as threatening to Turkey’s national sovereignty. Turkey, once a proud US ally with a populace generally supportive of the United States, is now one of the least America-friendly nations in the world, this according to a recent Pew Research Center poll.
The Turkish public has largely opposed the US government’s unilateral decision-making in the Middle East. A recent counterproductive resolution by the US Congressional Foreign Affairs Committee condemning the Ottoman Empire for genocide against the Armenians over 90 years ago further agitated Turkish public sentiment. Detrimental and untimely decisions, such as these, undermine America’s long-term interests in the Middle East.
Besides an array of rhetorical assurances, the US government has done little to pressure provincial, regional and national Kurdish political heavyweights to act. Masoud Barzani, president of the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq, must be confronted by the US and the central Iraqi government. To its credit, the Iraqi government recently announced it will set up checkpoints to restrict the PKK’s movement and cut their supply lines to their mountainous hideouts. Military reports that the US is supplying the Turkish government with PKK hideout locations is a constructive development. But the United States must do more to provide channels of co-operation and mutual understanding between Turks and Americans. Enthusiastically supporting the Turkish government’s justified campaign against the Marxist-terrorist organization may help mend bridges as well as ensure victory for a progressive democratic Middle East.
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