Kurds, Turkey, and the US: Playing with Fire


Once again the Turkish generals threaten to invade areas in Northern Iraq, or, if you want, Southern Kurdistan.

Historically, these areas with their flat fields around the Euphrates and Tigris, surrounded by peaked mountaintops, were home to a multitude of religions and cultures, in the way mountainous areas often are.  But, after decades of war, dictatorship, and ethnic persecution, these places have been cleansed of minorities, in the way it often happens when imperialist forces cut artificial borders and build artificial states.

Since the beginning of the occupation of Iraq, Northern Iraq has been one of the few things Washington dares to boast about.  The area under the Kurdish regional government has been noted for its stability and has seen economic growth.

Maybe not so strange, as the area has been ruled by the iron fist of the two dominant Kurdish parties in Iraq, PUK and KDP, and at the same time been a major trade point among Iraq, Turkey, and Iran.

Why, in areas where political opposition is being marginalized and persecuted, stability often follows.  And at major road crossings for smugglers of guns and drugs, you’re seldom short of cash.

The black sheep is the Northern Kurdistan guerrilla PKK, which has its military camps based in the Qandil mountains of Southern Kurdistan.  Since 2002, the group has attempted to improve its relations to the West, especially America.  Leaders from its sister party PEJAK in Iran have traveled to the United States and met American officials.  In Turkey the group took a moderate line with several unilateral ceasefires and attempted to follow the rules of parliamentary politics through running for elections with independent Kurdish candidates and setting up legal parties.

None of the attempts had much effect.  Turkey didn’t soften up to the guerrillas, the US didn’t do anything, and at the same time the secular nationalist movement was losing votes and popular support to the Islamists in Northern Kurdistan.  So, it’s nothing strange that the PKK broke the ceasefire this spring.  Anything else would be a political suicide.

Neither is it strange that a united Turkish public opinion now aims at Iraq and the PKK.  Though it’s hard to see that Turkey in any way would gain from invading its neighboring country, making it more unstable, it’s easy to see that in a country where a large majority of the citizens hold strong nationalist opinions, all big parties gain from promoting Turkish chauvinism.

Actually all parties may gain from a war.  Already the Turkish state and the nationalist falanges are directing hard strikes to the Kurdish and democratic movement, both in Turkey and Europe.  Even if the Turkish generals know that they cannot win control over Southern Kurdistan, they might think they’re getting one step closer to exterminating opposition to the Turkish state.  At the same time, the post-Islamist party AKP could prove their worth as “real nationalists.”  And, ironic as it may be, weakening the PKK would probably only strengthen the Islamist adversaries of the military council in Northern Kurdistan.

And it looks as if the PKK is consciously trying to get Turkey involved in Iraq.  Maybe they want to weaken the relations between Turkey and the US (they’re bad enough already) and thus indirectly strengthen their own relations to Washington.  Maybe the guerrillas are betting that the neocons once again will attempt to exploit the Kurds, this time in a crusade against Iran?

The situation in Turkey, Iraq, and Kurdistan is a bright example of how geopolitics is centered around the United States.  Since the Iraq war, Turks and Kurds have fought over support from the White House.  Anyone could have predicted the current conflict.  At the same time the US never had many options.  They don’t exactly have plenty of friends in this part of the world.  This war could easily become the last step towards the collapse of the US occupation of Iraq.

Lars Akerhaug lives in Norway.  This article first appeared in the Web site of Campo Antiimperialista on 5 November 2007.

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