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The US Dilemma: Do we share the burden of Turks, or support our current ally--the Kurds?

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Despite all its negative approaches towards the US interests in the region, Turkey is still considering itself an old ally to the US and a member of NATO, which deserves to receive the same political, military, and financial support from the US that it used to prior to the Second Gulf War.  However, with the backstab that the United States experienced by Turkey when it engaged in the “Freedom Iraq Oppression,” how much more and for how much longer should the US take the burden of and old “ally” when, in stead, it has the essential and loyal collaboration of the Kurds?

The worst of Turkey’s burdens for the US to share are: financial, military, and political support to cover up its unprecedented Kurdish issue, the Armenian Genocide, the Islamic orientation, the Cyrus issue, its human rights violations, its so-called freedom of expression, etc. Most of these issues are conditions for Turkey’s membership into the European Union. But Ankara is “allergic” to and quite sensitive about mentioning any of these points. In many aspects, however, the US has a responsibility to press Turkey to obey the criteria set by the EU; otherwise, the load will not be an easy one for America to share.

It is a heavy weight on US shoulders to share with an old ally, which is now a more restrictive and problematic regime for the World Super Power in the region than any other country. Recently, the Turkish government rejected, once again, the requests made by the US Air Force to conduct training flights in the Mediterranean Sea air space and overnight fighter air raids over Turkey. The main backstab by Turkey; however, was when it declined the US troops access to their land in the 2003 Iraq War, which is a clear factor in affecting the strategic relationship between the two countries.

Moreover, Turkey threatens to invade the Kurdish region of Iraq every now and then, further attempting to halt the US efforts in the area. Meanwhile, Turkey's political and military leaders are expressing their need for more US military and financial support to eradicate PKK, Turkey’s Kurdish rebels. Turkey is asking the US to be reluctant in supporting the Kurdish objective over an independent Kurdish state in Iraq’s northern region. The Bush administration is playing much smarter than Turkey in this regard. The United States has come to realize that the Kurdish leaders are their key ally, and they would not jeopardize this robust relationship over an old, retired one.

Senator and wife of the former US President Clinton, has lately realized the significance of this relationship. "I think we have a vital national security interest and obligation to try to help the Kurds manage their various problems in the north so that one of our allies, Turkey, is not inflamed and they [the Kurds] are able to continue their autonomy," she has said.

The only stable region that the US can depend on where it feels welcomed, at the present time and in the aftermath of its potential withdrawal from Iraq, is Kurdistan. US officials have now become well aware of the Kurdish support for Americans in the region, and they should respect Kurdish ‘sensitivities.’

Although the US blacklisted PKK, naming it a “terrorist” organization in the 1990s – to keep Turkey happy at the time – it is now realizing that taking action against any Kurdish political party would mean taking action against the Kurdish nation as a whole. This is regardless to the part of Kurdistan for which the party is struggling. If the Bush administration will take Turkey’s burden at least in this matter, it should prepare itself to face other more serious circumstances in the region. Such a move by the US would be viewed by the Kurds as another betrayal in a series of betrayals by America.

In 1975, Iran agreed with former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to close its doors and end its support to the Kurdish people, leaving them at the mercy of Saddam Hussein in 1975 – still vivid in the memories of the Kurdish people. In 1991, under the rule of George Bush Senior, the US encouraged the Kurds to rise up against the now obsolete Iraqi regime, but did not keep its promise, leaving the Kurds, once again, completely helpless. As a result, more than one million Kurdish civilians fled to neighboring Iran and Turkey.

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The struggle to survive as a nation is a continuing theme for the Kurds, the largest ethnic group in the world without a state of their own. The Kurds are living in the mountainous border regions among Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Syria. They are the second largest US ally, offering their land to US forces as a frontier in the 2003 war on the Iraqi regime. The Kurds have taken an active part in the Iraqi war from its beginning. They collaborated with the US despite all fears of more possible chemical attacks by Iraq – something the Kurds had already experienced in 1988. Now, instead of another US betrayal, the Kurds say they deserve full support of the US for an independent Kurdish state.  

Turks’ “Kurd-phobia” 

Denying an ancient nation like the Kurdish nation, with all assimilation and exodus, the eradication attempts by the Turkish regime reached its climax in the 1980s. During the 1980 military coup by Turkish leader and now ex-President Kenan Evren, who once denied the very existence of Kurds in Turkey, the Kurds were given the lowest status given to human beings in the history of mankind. His regime did not only restrict the use of the Kurdish language; it also described the Kurdish people, who had lived in the region for millennia prior to the arrival of the Turks, as "mountain Turks". He said the name “Kurd” came from the noise their boots made when walking in the snow {Kurt.—Kurt}.

Even in the current millennium, Turkey’s worst nightmare remains to be an independent Kurdistan. Ankara fears that such a move would bring together some 40-45 million Kurds, the majority of whom live within the borders of modern Turkey – in the country’s southeast boundaries.

Recently, to ease Turkey’s anxiety, President of Kurdistan Region Massoud Barzani said, “Turkey should get used to the idea of an independent Kurdistan.” The independence and statehood for Kurds, who live in a region that straddles Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria, is a "legitimate and legal right."

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The scenario of an independent Kurdish state will move a step closer by the end of this year, by which time Article 140 of the Iraqi Constitution must be implemented. According to the new Iraqi Constitution, this Article is to reverse the policies of the “Arabization Campaign” conducted by Saddam Hussein in the 1980s and 1990s which drove thousands of Kurds out of their homes and replaced them with Arabs. After the “normalization” of the city, a census is to follow, then the referendum during which the people of the oil-rich city of Kirkuk will decide whether they want to stay as part of the Iraqi federal government or to join Iraq's Kurdistan region. This will be a more painful time for Turkey.

US officials have been criticized by Turkish nationalists over the usage of the word “Kurdistan.” For instance, during his farewell speech in Erbil, former US Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad, said, “There has been too much pain and violence in many parts of Iraq, but thank God not in Kurdistan.” As usual, Ankara reacted to his remarks.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was also pinched into the quarrel after the Turkish government took her to undertaking over the use of the word “Kurdistan.” Speaking before the Senate Appropriations Committee last February, Rice referred to the Kurdish rebels who were “operating on the border between Turkey and Kurdistan.” Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan called Rice’s description of the region “wrong,” adding that Turkey would pass “necessary messages” to US authorities.

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Aram Azez is a Kurdish Political Journalist. He writes about the Kurdish  and    Middle East Issues in both Kurdish and English languages. Most of his articles are published in (more...)

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