- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 30, 2007


More than eight years ago, Abdullah Ocalan, leader of the Kurdish terrorist group PKK, was sentenced to life in prison by a Turkish judge in Imrali, Mudanya. As a BBC reporter at the time, I attended the trial. According to my notes, he lost his temper only once: when a group of witnesses who lost family members in the PKK attacks challenged him. The judge, Turgut Okyay, tried to get order in the court as they shouted at Ocalan and showed him photographs of their loved ones. His face stretched back with an expression of contempt, he first stepped on his left foot and stood up fast. “And I have lost 25,000 men!” Ocalan yelled back. Turkey has officially declared 37,000 people killed by the PKK attacks.

At the time, I wondered why many Western nations embraced the PKK as “freedom fighters.” Ocalan claimed the PKK took an armed struggle just to make Ankara grant the Kurds cultural and linguistic rights. And he testified about the foreign support he received from European governments supporting the Kurdish cause. Indeed, he was caught hiding in a Greek embassy in Nairobi, Kenya.

Turkey has been widely criticized for its human rights record where the Kurds are concerned. In conversations over the years with PKK affiliates and Western sources, I have been told I was naive to assume that Kurds could peacefully claim their rights from the Turkish state.

Turks don’t have a common front against the PKK, as well. Ahmet Turk, the leader of Democratic Society Party (DTP) — which has a parliamentary representation and is composed solely of Kurds — says he can’t call the PKK terrorists. Hatip Dicle, a former prominent Kurdish politician, calls the PKK “freedom fighters” for the Kurdish cause. Leyla Zana, a Nobel laureate, calls for Ocalan’s freedom. And just within the last two weeks, the PKK killed more than 30 Turkish citizens and wounded many more, andMehmet Metiner, a former Kurdish politician and a close adviser to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, told me, “PKK attacks harmed DTP more than anyone else. They have been paralyzed to a point that they can’t do any work.”

The Bush administration constantly urges Turkey to refrain from staging any cross-border operations. But NATO’s civilian former representative in Afghanistan, Hikmet Cetin — a Kurd and a former chairman of the Turkish Parliament — said in a telephone interview that “If we’re asked not to deal with it, and if the U.S. and Iraq are not doing anything about [the PKK attacks] who will do something? This can’t continue.” Mr. Erdogan has stated numerous times that Turkey is not threatening to invade Iraq — it just wants the PKK attacks to stop. “If the United States starts bombing the PKK camps in the north,” Qubad Talabany, the spokesman for the Kurdish Regional Government in Washington, has said, “Turkey will be ablaze tomorrow.” He argues that “U.S. forces are mandated by the U.N. to protect Iraq’s sovereignty and defend Iraq’s people.” Under this logic, the United Nations is expected to protect a terrorist organization. According to a Pentagon official, however, if Iraqi Kurds cooperate with terrorists, they will lose their protection.

Gen. Yasar Buyukanit, chairman of Turkey’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, says there is no difference between the terrorist and the one who gives him shelter. Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, said, “We will not hand over even an Iraqi Kurdish cat, let alone a man.” KRG leader Massoud Barzani does not recognize the PKK as a terrorist organization. Yet Mr. Barzani, under U.S. protection and under pressure, says in confidence that Iraqi Kurds will not fight the PKK, and they will not allow Turkey to stage an operation against the PKK targets. In the meantime, the American media generally portrays Turkey’s warning to the governments of Iraq and the United States as a threat to Iraq’s stability. In fact, although the State Department calls the PKK a terrorist organization, the media here still call them “Kurdish rebels.”

When I interviewed Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England nearly two years ago, I asked him why the United States is protecting the PKK in northern Iraq. “What’s this Turkish paranoia?” he asked. But today the situation explains itself. The senior American general in northern Iraq, Maj. Gen. Benjamin Mixon, says he has “absolutely nothing” planned to tackle the PKK. And Turkey is expected to remain quiet when the PKK terrorists attack Turkish targets, destabilize and demoralize the country.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice suggests that the only way to fight PKK terrorism is through diplomacy. If terrorists do understand anything from the kindness of diplomacy, al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden should be extended a hand. Thousands of Turks who poured onto the streets of Turkey in protest against PKK terrorism believe that America’s position on this issue — right at this moment — is simply nonsense. Turkey has matured dealing with its Kurdish problem, but the Western powers can’t discard the redundant old script.

The Kurdish issue can be complicated, but its contemporary challenge is simple. When President Bush meets Mr. Erdogan next Monday at the White House, let’s hope the leaders will be able to present a united front against terrorism.

Tulin Daloglu is a freelance writer.

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