- The Washington Times - Monday, September 12, 2005

Two days after the fourth anniversary of September 11, President Bush welcomes Iraqi President Jalal Talabani to the White House. To date, nearly as many Americans have died in Iraq as did during that awful terrorist attack. The war already has had unprecedented outcomes, and it has the potential to break apart the most crucial “Arab” state in the region — carving out an independent Kurdistan.

Whether the war on terror included a plan to change the borders in the region is an incredibly important question. Senior U.S. officials have talked to me in several conversations about Northern Iraq as if it were already an independent Kurdistan, where the name — historically — requires Turkey, Iran and Syria to surrender land.

Another unknown: Will the Kurds of these countries demand secession, or will the Iraqi Kurds readily share their wealth if an independent Kurdistan in Northern Iraq were established? If creatingasuccessful democracy in Iraq was expected to touch off a domino effect on the politics of the region, its breakup likewise should be expected to affect borders. And the United States needs to take moral responsibility for such changes.

Mr. Talabani, once an Iraqi Kurdish leader, rules out such concerns. Even if Iraqis reject the draft constitution on Oct. 15, he says, “There will be no civil war in Iraq.” But the Kurds don’t seem to agree — yet. Although they gave in at the end, during the debates to reach an agreement on the country’s new constitution, Iraqi Kurds demanded a right to determine their own fate after eight years. In fact, they held an unofficial referendum the same day as the Iraqi election — and nearly 99 percent voted for independence. Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger said recently that you need a microscope to detect where Kurds’ status differs from full sovereignty.

The problem is that the United States has created the perception that it would do anything to please its favorite ethnic Kurdish minority — even if it means hurting the territorial integrity of the existing nation-states. As a result, misconceptions are causing America to lose some crucial allies and fuel anti-Americanism.

Even at the height of PKK terrorism in Turkey, Kurds and Turkish citizens have never clashed. When Hurricane Katrina hit the gulf coast, race became an issue as some critics accused the Bush administration of caring less about poor African-Americans. Yet when an earthquake hit Istanbul in 1999 and more than 15,000 people died, the problem was the overall failure of the state institutions as well as the buildings — making no ethnic divisions. Today, the perception on the Turkish streets is that the United States and the European Union are cooking plans to create civil war to divide the country.

For the first time ever, there have been collective reactions and lynching attempts in small towns in the West — Bozuyuk, Iznik, Polatli — on the exact opposite side of the country where Kurds claim ownership. Yet, these so-called pro-Kurdish people faced the threat of lynching because they displayed posters of PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan. Think of the “flyover states” in the United States — and what would happen if buses came to small towns rallying in support of Osama bin Laden and calling him the defender of democracy and freedom. Who’s provoking whom?

Leyla Zana, a prominent Kurdish nationalist politician and winner of the European Union’s Sakharov Prize for Peace, says the security forces did nothing about the intense violence inflicted on the masses that wanted to express their views peacefully. On a recent statement she wrote that Abdullah Ocalan was “taken as an interlocutor in the solution of the Kurdish problem.” Well, Turks are simply proving that they will give no inch to terrorism. Yet, it is genuinely the case that the majority of Turkey’s Kurds see their future as inside Turkey.

There is no doubt about this. The secessionist minority — like Miss Zana — will not ever have the power to change that. But, yet again, the United States and the EU officials see the ones like her as the spokespersons of Turkey’s Kurds. It is important to note that the Kurds already have the advantages of belonging to politics, governments, the civil service, business, the arts and every walk of life in Turkey.

Yet one wonders if anyone remembers the words of President Truman, who said, “I believe that it must be the policy of the U.S. to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures…If we falter in our leadership, we may endanger the peace of the world and we shall surely endanger the welfare of this nation.”

America has all kinds of capital to do things right in Iraq and bring peace for all people in the region. Yet the fear of the Turkish people should not be disregarded. On the contrary, Mr. Bush, standing beside Mr. Talabani, could reach out to those people with the power to tamp down both the frustrations and the threat of violence.

Tulin Daloglu is the Washington correspondent and columnist for Turkey’s Star TV and newspaper. A former BBC reporter, she writes occasionally for The Washington Times.

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