- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 17, 2007

KORTEK, Iraq — A leader of about 2,000 Kurdish rebels with a presence in Iraq that threatens to spark a Turkish invasion says his group seeks greater democratic representation in Turkey and not an independent state.

With Turkish parliamentary elections scheduled for Sunday, “Turkey is faced with a choice between democracy and authoritarianism,” said Cemil Bayik, one of the two most powerful figures in the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK.

“This debate about secularism and the Kurds is political maneuvering — just a means for the powers that be to hold on to their influence,” Mr. Bayik said.

Based in towering mountains on Iraq’s border with Iran, he said, his fighters are only exercising their “right of self-defense.”

Since the start of the year, 67 Turkish soldiers have died fighting the PKK. The wave of violence at one stage threatened to prevent elections this month.

Talk of delays has subsided, but campaign speeches focus on the threat of Kurdish “terrorism,” not the economy or reforms for the European Union.

The 140,000 Turkish soldiers massed on Iraq’s border since late April are giving rise to rumors that Ankara might permit military operations before the elections.

“A Turkish invasion of Iraq would lead to the division of Turkey,” Mr. Bayik said. “They won’t just have us in opposition; they’ll have the world.”

Nabi Sensoy, the Turkish ambassador in Washington, told the Associated Press this month that U.S. weapons have been turning up in the hands of Kurdish guerrillas staging attacks in Turkey. He did not suggest that the United States has been supplying the weapons directly, but he said Washington is not doing enough to influence Kurdish politicians in the Iraqi government to crack down on the PKK.

Turkey, a member of NATO, remains a key ally of the United States.

The PKK says it has been fighting since 1995 for democratic rights in a nation that has long oppressed the Kurdish minority in its southeast.

In April, a court ruled that four policemen who shot a 12-year-old Kurdish boy nine times in the back at close range had acted in self-defense and acquitted them.

In May, a mayor and his assistants in a majority Kurdish city were fired for offering multilingual municipal services. Before 1991, speaking Kurdish in public was a crime that could land the speaker in jail.

Now, said Orhan Miroglu, a senior member of a pro-Kurdish party that many Turks see as a front for the PKK, “nobody questions our right to have political representation.”

Mr. Bayik, the PKK leader, acknowledges that the situation has improved, but points to the refusal of the Turkish military and civilian leaders to take the PKK’s cease-fires seriously as evidence that the EU-backed democratization process in Ankara is a sham.

“We’re not fighting because we are in love with war. We’re fighting because we have been given no alternative,” he said. “It’s the army that feeds on war.”

Sedat Laciner, director of the Ankara-based International Strategic Research Organization and author of a book on the PKK, said, “This is an organization that grew out of a military coup, and nothing would make it happier than another one. The more Kurds are given rights, the more the PKK will lose ground.”

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