Both Turks and Kurds must examine each others needs and fears. The future can be a promising one for both peoples. Think of the possibilities which can arise if both peoples can get themselves to grant each other the humanity and respect both deserve.
I’ve watched the recent Turkish invasion of Iraqi Kurdistan closely.
I have not commented until now because I have written extensively about what’s needed previously.
What I will now say I’ve largely said before, but it’s now time to reassert what I believe to be hard truths to two friends.
I cannot condemn Ankara’s decision to invade Iraqi Kurdistan anymore than I could condemn Israel’s decision to go after Arabs who target Jews from Gaza, Judea and Samaria (renamed only recently in history the “West Bank”), and so forth. I’m glad to see that, for whatever reasons, the Turks have now withdrawn.
The PKK’s refuge in Iraqi Kurdistan was an open invitation for a Turkish invasion. I’m surprised it took so long in the coming. And I wrote that in the Kurdish media itself long ago.
Having said this, there’s another hard series of truths…
Unlike the plight of one fifth of Turkey’s population who are Kurds, Israel’s Arab population (also one fifth of Israel) are the freest Arabs anywhere in the Middle East. Despite many of the latter composing a real fifth column (siding with fellow Arabs who call for Israel’s total destruction), Arab language, culture, political rights, and so forth flourish in the land of the Jews.
Perfection? No…but compared to the plight of non-Arabs in so-called “Arab ” lands–especially those whom the Arabs call “their” kilab yahud (Jew dogs), the Jews who are left (more Jews fled those lands to Israel than Arabs who fled Israel)–Israeli Arabs live in Paradise. Just ask black African Sudanese in Darfur and southern Sudan, for starters (and Copts, Kurds, Assyrians, Amazigh/Berbers, and so forth).
I was pleased to hear that the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) recently invited Turkey to hold talks to resolve differences, while the President of Iraq’s Kurdistan Region, Masud Barzani, expressed readiness to contribute to finding a peaceful solution to the problem. This is not the first time they’ve extended these invitations either.
In a statement, the PKK expressed a readiness to seek a peaceful solution to the issue of Kurds in Turkey through mediation by the government of Iraq’s Kurdish Region and supported the KRG’s call for establishing dialogue.
On his part, President Barzani expressed his readiness to “actively participate” in finding a peaceful solution to the PKK-Turkish problem, which he hoped would “end violence in the region and build better relations of cooperation and consolidate security and stability for our people.”
On the surface, this might appear to just be just wishful thinking. But U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates’s statement openly addressing the need for Ankara to address the real grievances of Turkish Kurds seems to be a welcome new development. I don’t recall an American official vocalizing this as firmly prior to now.
Let’s step back again…
Over the past century in particular, after the collapse of the Ottoman Turkish Empire in the wake of World War I, the Kurds were renamed Mountain Turks, had their language and culture outlawed, etc. and so forth to insure that the new, constricted Turkey which arose with Mustafa Kemal–Ataturk–would suffer no further geographical losses. Understandable, but not a just solution to the problem. After all, long before a Turk or Arab was in that vicinity, Kurds long lived there.
Turkey has been a valuable ally of America and has resisted Islamic extremism better than any other Muslim country. It also has relatively good relations with Israel…especially when its relations with neighboring Syria take a dive.
So, as with my Kurdish friends, I truly wish nothing but good for our Turkish friends as well.
But, as I’ve written often before and will repeat until it sinks in, friends should be able to disagree and still remain friends.
When Israel goes after Hamas terror masters, Ankara is quick to criticize and lecture about the need to create the Arabs’ 22nd state and second, not first, one in “Palestine”–Jordan having surfaced on some 80% of the original April 25, 1920 territory over the past century. Turkey knows full well what the Arabs’ plans are for the Jewish State, yet makes these demands anyway. But talk about the need for justice for 35 million truly stateless Kurds, and Ankara goes ballistic.
Turkey is some forty times as large as Israel geographically and eleven times larger in population.
Despite this, Ankara sees nothing wrong, after demanding the creation of the Arabs’ 22nd state, with telling Kurds–who have been massacred and subjugated in all the lands where they have lived in the new nationalist era–that they must remain forever in that stateless condition because of the potential threat independence in Iraqi Kurdistan might have to Turkey. The Turks fear the effect this will have on their own large, adjacent–and suppressed– Kurdish population.
As we all know, the fear is well founded, and I understand it.
But if a Turkey which dwarfs Israel in size and population has reason to fear this, then what is Israel to say?
Again, one fifth of Israel is Arab…like the fifth of Turkey which is Kurd. Yet the Jews are told by virtually all–including Turks–that they must allow yet another Arab state, dedicated to their very destruction, to be set up in their backyard.
Keep in mind that whatever its flaws may be, the PKK does not seek Turkey’s destruction. The calls for independence by some largely are sired by real, unaddressed grievances–as Secretary Gates acknowledged.
Despite the potential for problems, justice does not demand that Kurds remain forever politically powerless in the nationalist age. A miniscule Israel faces worse problems regarding such things but is expected to allow for the creation of yet another rejectionist Arab state.
So, what’s to be done?
Once again repeating what I’ve written earlier, there is no doubt that the Kurds must do what the Arabs refuse to do…
Iraqi Kurdistan must show Ankara that an independent or highly autonomous Iraqi federal Kurdish region will not be a threat. Had it done so earlier, a Turkish invasion–even with Ankara eying Kurdish oil–would not have occurred or at least wouldn’t have been justified.
As President Barzani (whose late father will forever be a hero of mine) has stated above, there must be serious discussions with the PKK about what the greater good for Kurdistan will require. This means Kurdish leaders must get their own acts together as well…beyond protecting their own virtual fiefdoms–be they Talabani, Barzani, or whomever. If need be, they must use military force to subdue their own extremists.
Hopefully, it will not come to this. And nothing will be expected in this regard if the Turks don’t show that they will be willing to grant Iraqi Kurds the same right to have in one of which they expect Israel to allow Arabs to have almost two dozen of. Ankara must also seriously address the rights of Turkish Kurds as well instead of collaborating with both Syria and Iran in suppression of their respective Kurdish populations.
There is room for coexistence and cooperation if both peoples can get beyond their fears. A brighter future awaits them. Besides problems with the PKK, there are already real benefits materializing for Turks in Iraqi Kurdistan.
Both have a history of opposing Islamic extremism, though some are to be counted amongst both populations.
Kurds from Turkey, Syria, Iran, and elsewhere wanting to live in an independent Kurdish state can have in Iraqi Kurdistan what Jews have in a reborn Israel.
Like formerly truly stateless Jews, Kurds have suffered greatly because of this political powerlessness.
Again, renaming Arabs “Palestinians” (most of whom came from elsewhere) does not change the fact that Arabs have almost two dozen states–conquered from mostly non-Arab peoples. If there is a rough analogy to the Jews, it is the Kurds, not the Arabs. The Turks especially must also understand this since, besides Turkey, there are also a half dozen other Turkish states.
Both Turks and Kurds must examine each others needs and fears.
The future can be a promising one for both peoples.
While Arabs of different stripes blow each other apart, Turks and Kurds have mostly shown that they want no part of this sort of thing. Positive nationalism is better than negative nationalism.
Think of the possibilities which can arise if both peoples can get themselves to grant each other the humanity and respect both deserve.
Turkish Kurds must understand that the realm of the Turks will not see itself geographically split again. But this does not mean that Kurds should continue to be suppressed in Turkey. To insure Turkey’s integrity, the Turks have demanded Turkification of all who live there. This needs to be changed drastically. Imagine the outcry if Israel was doing this sort of thing to Arabs.
Ironically, Kurdish autonomy or independence in Iraqi Kurdistan has the potential to ease these very problems…under the right conditions.
Having the potential to live in a Kurdish-ruled area will give Kurds everywhere less grievance and reason to resort to violence.
Will there be risks and problems?
Of course, there is much that will be needed to be worked out. And all thirty or forty million Kurds will not fit into Iraqi Kurdistan.
But reasonable people can come up with reasonable solutions.
It’s time for both peoples to look ahead for a better future for both of their children…something Arabs who use their kids as human shields and who send them on suicide missions in pursuit of their own one-sided version of justice have proven incapable of doing. By Gerald A. Honigman.