Turkish government tackles problem of Kurdish insurgency

In the summer of 1985, Turkey enjoyed a bountiful harvest, continued economic growth with some slowing of inflation, and a record tourism season. One of the few dark clouds on the horizon, however, is the persistent Kurdish guerrilla activity in the far southeastern part where Turkey borders on Syria, Iraq, Iran, and the Soviet Union.

But Prime Minister Turgut Ozal's government seems determined not to allow insurgent activity to disrupt its functioning, and has adopted a two-pronged plan to tackle the guerrilla problem.

On one hand, there is a vigorous policy of military counteraction, including occasional border crossings into Iraq, and getting intelligence information from Iran, which for a long time had refused cooperation. But it is too early to judge the success of these efforts, as the guerrillas still seem able to secure arms and supplies.

The other half of Ankara's program is economic development. There is heavy investment in infrastructure -- dams for power and irrigation and extension of roads and highways, and agriculture is benefiting from government and private programs. If the economic momentum can be maintained, the guerrillas' prospects do not look promising.

``[The guerrillas] want to force us to overreact, to impose movement restrictions that will anger the local people,'' commented an official in Hakkari, ``But we are not doing that. The government is investing a great deal of money in developing this region. The people know that their future prospects are much more likely to be improved by attracting industry and expanding agriculture than by helping a bunch of insurgents create anarchy.''

An articulate Kurd in a teahouse was one of many who confirmed this view.

``Kurds don't know where they stand in Iraq . . . . In Iran our people are being killed and starved and they are escaping to Turkey by the thousands. They know life is better here, and so do we,'' he said. ``We may not be pleased with everything, but as a Turkish citizen I am free to go anywhere I like.''

``The guerrillas claim to be Marxists,'' said a private development group official, ``but Marxism means nothing to people like these. They cling to their traditions, but they also want the benefits of modern life. We give them the means to help themselves and the confidence that they can manage their lives for the better.''

In fact, in several hundred miles of travel through the predominantly Kurdish-populated provinces of Turkey, this correspondent heard no sympathy for the guerrillas. There were, instead, frequent expressions of annoyance at the guerrilla efforts to disrupt life. The population is apparently cooperating with local civilian and military authorities in their drive to stem Kurdish rebel activity.

There are some 13 million Kurds living in the rugged country between Iraq, Iran, Turkey, and Syria. They speak different dialects and are split by conflicting tribal loyalties. Nearly half the Kurds in Turkey no longer live in the provinces traditionally called Kurdistan. Thousands of people of Kurdish origin have left the area for the cities, seeking jobs and better educational opportunities for their children.

Integration into modern Turkish life is thus accelerated. If the guerrillas were to develop into a serious political force, these large urban concentrations of Kurds could also become a problem, as some did during the terrorism of the 1970s.

A trial of several captured guerrillas last February highlighted evidence of direct Syrian support for the insurgents. The Syrians, it was said, were not acting on their own but had ``the backing and encouragement of a superpower.''

A Foreign Ministry official kara sums it up: ``We have very good reason to believe that the Russians are paying the bills for these guerrillas. It is easy for their agents to find a few hundred unemployed young men who will do this kind of thing for the sake of adventure.''

``It only costs a few million dollars a year. They use the so-called Kurdish Labor Party as a front. It has a completely Marxist program,'' the official continued. ``They can't foment terrorism anywhere else in Turkey now, but in the southeast they can keep the fires burning in the hope of heating them up in the future.''

Paul Henze served on the National Security Council during the Carter administration. He is now a consultant for the Rand Corporation in Washington, D.C.

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