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Op-Ed on “Turkey, the Kurds and the U.S.”
June 29, 2007—No. 44 (202) 785-8430

Op-Ed on “Turkey, the Kurds and the U.S.”

Washington, DC—The following Op-Ed appeared in the National Herald, 6-23-07, p.9, the Hellenic Voice, 6-27-07, p. 5, the Greek News, 6-25-07, p. 40, and will appear in the July issue of the Hellenic News of America, p. 3.

Turkey, the Kurds and the U.S.


By Gene Rossides

Recent newspaper stories have described Turkish military raids into northern Iraq against the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), and a debate between Turkey’s political and military leaders regarding a potential large scale invasion of northern Iraq by the Turkish military against the PKK and possibly the Iraq Kurdish forces.

The PKK is a guerrilla or rebel organization and is so referred to by the Associated Press, Reuters and other objective sources. Turkey refers to the PKK as a terrorist organization. The State Department has listed the PKK as a terrorist organization under pressure from Turkey. Efforts are being made to remove the PKK from the State Department list.

The Kurdish minority in Turkey numbers 15 to 20 million Kurds, which is about 20% of Turkey’s population. The PKK is the rebel organization of Turkey’s Kurdish minority. The PKK’s main targets are the Turkish military and paramilitary forces. It has used terrorist tactics against civilians in Turkey. It does not target Americans.

These Turkish military raids against PKK bases in northern Iraq have “raised concern among U.S. military officials from Baghdad to the Pentagon” according to a June 8, 2007 Associated Press (AP) dispatch from Washington, D.C. An AP dispatch from Ankara also said the U.S. military was “very concerned.”

The AP and other dispatches stated that Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki earlier this month warned Turkey against “unilateral” troop movements into Iraq.

A June 12, 2007 Reuters dispatch stated that Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan “signaled yesterday that Turkey should focus on battling Kurdish guerrillas at home rather than in northern Iraq.” The Turkish armed forces have been pushing for an attack into northern Iraq.

While Erdogan publicly states he backs the army, he has not moved to get Parliament’s approval. As Erdogan put it in response to reporters questions, “Has the fight with the 5,000 PKK finished domestically that we should now be talking about Iraq?”

Some analysts have stated that a possible invasion of northern Iraq was a factor in domestic politics in view of the July 22, 2007 Turkish elections rather than a security matter.

Reuters stated that “Investors fear that a major incursion would wreck Ankara’s relations with the United States and the EU, and destabilize mainly Kurdish northern Iraq.”

Alain Deletroz of the International Crisis Group think tank in Brussels stated: “It would be a catastrophe, very clearly…there are already enough people fighting in Iraq and Iraq Kurdistan is one of the few places where things are still under control.”

Meanwhile, an AP story from Ankara reported on June 12, 2007 that the PKK stated that “it would halt attacks, but its rebels would continue to defend themselves when attacked by Turkish forces.” “We will not carry out attacks other than for self-defense,” the PKK stated. “If the government wants to reduce tensions and stage elections in a more secure environment, the only way for that is for the army to stop its attacks….We are clearly saying that if the operations are stopped, the tensions will end,” stated the PKK rebel group.

The AP story from Ankara noted that the Turkish government “had no immediate response, but has ignored several ceasefires declared by the group, ruling out negotiations with ‘terrorists.’”

An International Herald Tribune (IHT) editorial on June 9, 2007, titled “Turkey poses a new danger in Iraq” bluntly tells Turkey not to invade Iraq and states “Turkey’s government needs to know that it will reap nothing but disaster if that happens.”

The editorial refers to Turkey’s “huge military buildup…on the Turkish side of the border” and writes that the “Bush administration has rightly stepped up its warnings to Turkey not to attack.”

It states that an attack “would infuriate the Arabs, who would resent any Turkish return to areas once ruled by the Ottoman Empire. It would finish off any remaining hope of Turkey joining the European Union. And it would put a huge strain on Turkey’s fragile democratic politics. In short, it would be a disaster.”

The lengthy editorial concludes as follows: “Reining in the Turkish army will take more than the warnings already issued by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates. Turkey’s leaders must understand that a major military operation in Iraq could touch off a series of regional wars and realignments that would harm Turkey far more than anything the PKK could possibly cook up.”

What should the U.S. do?

The IHT editorial is clearly correct when it says that it will take more than verbal warnings to convince the Turkish military leaders not to invade Iraq.

Basically the U.S. should stop its policy of appeasement of Turkey and its policy of applying a double standard on the rule of law to Turkey.

The U.S. must make clear to the Erdogan government and the Turkish military that the U.S. will not tolerate Turkey’s violating U.S. laws and international law including the UN Charter and the NATO Treaty.

Specifically President Bush should write to Prime Minister Erdogan and inform him that under U.S. law and bilateral agreements with Turkey, U.S. arms and equipment cannot be used for offensive purposes such as an invasion of Iraq and that if Turkey does invade Iraq the President will halt all military assistance and military sales to Turkey and will consider economic sanctions.

Further the President should inform Turkey that an invasion of Iraq would be a violation of the UN Charter article 2, paragraph 4 which reads as follows:

“All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.”

He should also inform the Turkish government that an invasion of Iraq would violate the preamble and paragraph 1 of article 1 of the United Nations Charter. The preamble states in part that the basic aims of the UN are:

“to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person…to ensure, by the acceptance of principles and the institution of methods, that armed force shall not be used, save in the common interest.”

Paragraph 1 of article 1 on the purposes of the United Nations Charter states that one purpose is:

  1. To maintain international peace and security and to that end: to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace, and for the suppression of acts of aggression or other breaches of the peace, and to bring about by peaceful means, and in conformity with the principles of justice and international law, adjustment or settlement of international disputes or situations which might lead to a breach of the peace.”

Further the President should inform Turkey that he will urge NATO to consider an invasion of Iraq by Turkey as a violation of the preamble and article 1 of the NATO Treaty and will urge suspension of Turkey from NATO. The preamble and article 1 of the North Atlantic Treaty state in part:

The Parties to this Treaty reaffirm their faith in the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations and their desire to live in peace with all peoples and all Governments….

They therefore agree to this North Atlantic Treaty:

Article 1

The Parties undertake, as set forth in the Charter of the United Nations, to settle any international dispute in which they may be involved by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security and justice are not endangered, and to refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force in any manner inconsistent with the purposes of the United Nations.

The President should instruct Defense Secretary Gates to inform the Turkish military leaders of the contents of his letter to Prime Minister Erdogan.

Gene Rossides is President of the American Hellenic Institute and 
former Assistant Secretary of the Treasury


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