Turks Grow Uneasy About Kurdish Issue
TURKEY'S government is increasingly uneasy over the political overtones of the Kurdish refugee problem. The anxiety centers on two issues: *-Friction and misunderstanding caused by the presence of the allied military forces in southeastern Turkey, near the border with Iraq.Skip to next paragraph
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*-The West's increasing interest not only in the plight of the Iraqi Kurds, but in the political future of Kurds in the region.
The allied military presence - about 15,000 men from the United States, Britain, France, and five other nations - is actually the result of Turkey's appeal for Western support, made shortly after the influx of Iraqi refugees began April 2.
The response was at first welcomed, and the airdropping of supplies to refugees received logistical support and sympathy here. The moving of troops into northern Iraq through southeastern Turkey was also encouraged by Ankara.
But lately, political considerations and a shift in public opinion seem to be giving President Turgut Ozal's government second thoughts.
Opposition leaders and the Turkish press charge that US and British commanders are acting as colonial masters.
"Our sovereignty is being trespassed," said one banner headline. Some papers claimed that military vehicles were carrying arms for the Kurdish guerrillas in Northern Iraq. Although these reports provided no substantial evidence, they eventually had an impact on Turkish opinion - public as well as official.
In response, Turkey's chief of staff, Gen. Dogan Gures, ordered that all movement of foreign troops and vehicles be fully checked. New regulations now require the allies to obtain documents from Turkish military authorities.
"Such controls for the equipment [carried to Iraq by trucks] is wasting time," says a US military spokesman, Lt. Col. Bob Flocke. "We want Turkey to understand what we are doing here."
A recent incident involving British Marines added fuel to the fire. The marines prevented a local governor from conducting a food tent inspection and reportedly manhandled him. This action provoked a wave of protests and anger. The government asked that the marine unit be moved out - which was done immediately.
Realizing how seriously Turkey was taking the matter, Britain sent Defense Secretary Tom King to Ankara to formally apologize and express recognition of Turkey's contribution to the humanitarian cause.
In addition, Mr. King publicly rebuked a British journalist, Robert Fisk of The Independent, who had reported an alleged case of looting by some Turkish soldiers of Western relief supplies. The reporter was expelled, after Ankara accused him of fabricating stories.
Even greater sensitivity and mistrust surround the second issue - the possibility that worldwide support for autonomy for Iraqi Kurds might extend to other Kurds in the region.
Again, it was President Ozal who, weeks ago, said the best solution for Iraq would be to grant autonomy or federal status to the "people in northern Iraq," including ethnic Kurds and Turkomans.
Ozal also supported the creation of so-called security zones and enclaves in northern Iraq for the Kurdish refugees, as well as the sending of a United Nations police force to the area.
Now many Turks, including some in high government posts, are worried that this could lead ultimately to full Kurdish independence and establishment of a separate state.
A senior administration official in Ankara predicts that the Kurds will seek to gain autonomy in northern Iraq as a first step, "and then independence for what they regard the larger 'Kurdistan comprising parts of Turkey, Iran, and Syria."
Turkey has an estimated 12 million Kurds - one-fifth of the country's population - who have often voiced their desire for greater autonomy.
Official policy maintains that the Kurds are not a minority per se (and so does not grant them any special status) but are part of the "Turkish nation." The government only recently allowed Kurds to use their language and maintain their cultural institutions and practices. Turkish human rights activists say the Kurds' demands for freedom and rights in Turkey could be applied to the rest of the Turkish society.
In spite of public statements that the current trends should not affect the Kurds in Turkey, some officials admit that the country is likely to face new internal and external pressures in the months ahead.
According to the influential daily Cumhurriyet, the government's strategy is to launch a worldwide campaign to try and convince its allies that no "Kurdish scenario" should include Turkey.
However, the paper says, "The danger of the creation of a Kurdish state in the region within the next five to 10 years" is very real.