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Comment: Don't Let the Kurd See His Mother!

By Yildirim Turker in Istanbul (ICR No. 15, 17-April-03)
By IWPR

Recently one of the bright sparks in the Turkish press ran a column about the Kurds of Iraq that was entitled: “Why do they love the Kurds?” Raging against an article on the Kurds in Britain’s Financial Times newspaper, he asked: “Why is there not a single line on the Turcomen? They are, in our opinion, one of the principal constituencies in Iraq.” The answer, he said, was that Iraqi Kurds – “even without even a state” - have explained their case to the international community better than Turkey.


To summarise this view: the world would have loved us if only we had promoted ourselves better.


It is the compulsion to insist on Turkish control over the future status quo in northern Iraq that has caused Turkey difficulties in this war. Turkey’s ultimate objective is to obtain a guarantee that Iraqi Kurds will not establish a state in northern Iraq and US Secretary of State Colin Powell was forced to visit Turkey after the government twice rejected America’s demands for help in opening a northern front against Saddam Hussein. But the key question in this debate is never tackled: would a Kurdish state in northern Iraq create a serious peril for Turkey? If so, why?


There are probably several reasons for this omission. One reason, in my opinion, is that we are not yet comfortable uttering the word “Kurd”. We only recently accepted that “Kurd” is not the sound mountain Turks make when they are walking on snow.


After the first Gulf War, Turkey avoided mention of the word “Kurd” by calling the tens of thousands of Iraqi Kurds who had taken refuge in Turkey “Iraqis sheltering in our country”. Conditions in the camps where they were held, not accepted as refugees, were terrible: they died from cold and hunger in the winter, and from disease and lack of water in summer. Aid sent to them from local people was obstructed and assistance sent from abroad did not reach them.


Thousands of Kurds perished in this land where they had taken refuge.


At last we are obliged to call the Kurds by their name. But the fact that there is a large Kurdish population in northern Iraq is still a nightmare for Turkish officialdom. Consequently, neo-liberal journalists declare that anti-war groups in Turkey are an alliance of pro-Kurdish, leftist and other shadowy groups and carry out their usual mission of advising the authorities who they should deal with. Before the war began, they delved into historical documents about Mosul and Kirkuk and made untimely declarations regarding Turkey’s rights. We may have lost Wallachia and Moldavia for ever, but why not recover Mosul and Kirkuk? The Foreign Ministry even stated that it was examining the issue.


And now they find it hard to understand why the West is so insistent on not wanting Turkish troops in northern Iraq!


Now we are making claims for “our Turcomen brothers”. We say they are our “relatives”. I wonder how much of our population thinks this way. Is this really the opinion of the average Turk? Could the ethnic group that comprises 20% of our population, the group whose name – “Kurd” - we are only just able to pronounce, not feel the same about the Kurds of northern Iraq? Are their emotions and loyalty to their ethnicity shameful, a sin or a crime? Does Turkey, which expresses such concern about the Turcomen, have not the slightest anxiety about the future of the Kurds in Iraq – especially as it was they who suffered most from Saddam’s cruelty? Why does the idea of their having a say in their own future so frighten Turkey?


If the Kurds want to establish a state, what harm would that do to the relatives of Turcomen living here?


Colin Powell came all the way here to ask Turkey for its final wish and Turkey opened the way for US military convoys to go to the Iraqi border. But it was still mumbling the same old refrain: “Don’t let the Kurd see his mother.”


Yildirim Turker is a Turkish columnist.


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