- The Washington Times - Monday, March 26, 2007

Next month, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice may travel to Turkey for an international conference primarily aimed at helping Iraq’s security situation. There is no better place for such a meeting than Turkey, the only country that has been accused of invading Iraq as frequently as the Iranian and Syrian incursions over the last four years.

The first accusation was in 2003, almost a month after Turkey refused to give the United States a northern front into Iraq. The last was a week ago, when the Iraqi Kurdish media reported that the Turkish military had crossed the border into northern Iraq. The idiosyncrasy of the unfounded accusations raises the question of whether the United States and the Iraqi Kurdish leadership have a strategic interest in provoking Turkey.

“The PKK problem is embedded in a larger and complicated set of Turkish-Kurdish issues which ultimately need to be addressed,” said Daniel Fried, U.S. assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs. Self-defense is, in fact, the only reason Turkey threatens to cross the border. Although the PKK, a violent Kurdish separatist group, is accepted as a terrorist organization, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the United States is trying to resolve the issue “[w]ithout any use of force.” Evidently, there is no other terrorist organization on earth to receive such a guarantee.

As U.S. policy-makers point out, good or bad, that they have a vision for the future of Iraq, the Kurds and the Middle East. “[W]e do have a regional approach,” Miss Rice told a Senate hearing in January. “It is to work with those governments that share our view of where the Middle East should be going.” The Istanbul meeting provides an opportunity for the United States to lay out its vision about the Kurds. The Iraqi Kurdish leadership has worked closely with U.S. policy-makers in guaranteeing a near-independent region. Turkish officials insist that U.S. policy-makers still have not explained their end goal.

Miss Rice claimed that Turkey shares a border with a place called “Kurdistan.” Zalmay Khalilzad, the departing U.S. ambassador to Iraq, has said, “There has been too much pain and violence in many parts of Iraq, but thank God not in Kurdistan.” Kurdish nationalists say Kurdistan is under occupation by Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria.

What’s more, the U.S. special envoy countering the PKK, retired Gen. Joseph Ralston, finally brought clarity to his mission. “We have encouraged both the Turkish side and the Kurdish side in northern Iraq — I’m not talking the PKK now, but the Kurdish government — to sit down and solve some of these problems,” he said at a recent congressional hearing. So, the United States should have an idea about those problems and how they could be solved.

Turkey’s democratization is advancing, but it has been painful at times. Neither the state nor the media has performed perfectly. There has never been a front-page story in a Turkish newspaper detailing a criminal act against a Kurdish citizen by a security official — no burned Kurdish villages, no forced Kurdish evacuations, no rape, no torture under arrest have been covered on time. The media may have helped the state cover up wrongdoing in the name of fighting terrorism. But even if the press challenged the state, today’s rhetoric — inside and out — proves that it wouldn’t matter.

The Kurdish issue has nothing to do with democracy or freedom. If Kurds want democracy, Turkey’s European Union project is the answer. Kurdish leadership in Turkey wants to follow in the footsteps of Iraqi Kurds, achieving a near-independent autonomous region, and turning Turkey’s central government into a federal system.

Kurdish politicians portray themselves as victims of the Turkish state. The Democratic Society Party, a completely Kurdish party, complains that it is denied representation in the Turkish parliament. Turkish election law states that political parties must win at least 10 percent of the national vote to hold parliamentary seats. Many mainstream political parties did not meet that threshold in the last election, and therefore also are not represented in parliament. But if all the Kurds in Turkey voted for them, they would have won representation easily. They didn’t even get close.

The idea that human-rights abuses in Turkey exclusively target Kurds is a myth. When the system is corrupt, when democracy is not well established, when the justice system is the weakest link among state institutions, then all people suffer from wrongdoing, regardless of their ethnic or religious background. Kurds have equal rights as Turkish citizens. The late Turgut Ozal, a Turkish president, Hikmet Cetin, a former chairman of the parliament, and Ibrahim Tatlises, one of the country’s most popular singers, are a few of those who have benefited from those rights.

When Turkey was founded, being a Turk only meant being a citizen of the republic. Today, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan says that “it is not possible to call Kurds ‘Turks.’ ” A recent public opinion poll conducted for Milliyet, a prominent Turkish newspaper, reveals that the majority no longer define themselves as “Turks,” but prioritize their ethnicity. Apparently, Turkey is changing. And two questions remain unresolved: what people understand change to be — unity or separation — and what the U.S. end goal for the Kurds is.

Tulin Daloglu is a free-lance writer.

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