Turkey anxious about presence of Iraqi Kurds
Istanbul — Turkey is facing a series of problems as a result of the influx of more than 60,000 Iraqi Kurdish refugees. The refugees are causing tension between Turkey and Iraq. Iraqi troops chasing Kurds in northern Iraq last week came too close to the 220-mile-long border with Turkey, forcing Turkish sentinels to fire warning shots. The Iraqis have expressed disappointment over Ankara's acceptance of the fleeing Kurds, whom they consider traitors. Turkish assurances that it is simply giving sanctuary to civilians do not seem to have convinced Baghdad.
The refugees include a significant number of peshmargas, or guerrillas, fighting against the Iraqi forces. But all men carrying arms have been forced to surrender their weapons.
The Turkish press has criticized Iraq's ``inhuman'' behavior toward the Kurds. Several refugees have been quoted as saying Iraqi forces used chemical weapons against civilians. The US confirms such claims, but Turkey said Friday it found no evidence of chemical weapons use.
The crisis in Iraqi-Turkish relations comes just as the Turks expected their neutral policy during the Iran-Iraq war to reap trade and other benefits in the postwar period.
The influx of refugees has brought other problems:
The resettlement of tens of thousands of these people presents financial, technical, and administrative difficulties.
The peshmargas might try to use Turkey as a base for future operations against the Iraqis. For this reason, the refugees have now been moved farther to the interior of the provinces bordering Iraq.
The possibility that Turkey's own Kurdish nationalists, members of the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK), might infiltrate among the refugees. One report suggests that 100 suspected PKK rebels have been detained.
The influx of refugees has suddenly aroused sympathy for the plight of the Kurds, and for the first time the Turkish press has started to refer to the Kurds, ending a decades-old taboo.
There are about 10 million ethnic Kurds in Turkey - one-fifth of the total population - but constitutionally they are considered Turks and have no minority rights. In recent years, nationalistic ideas of local autonomy and cultural rights have spread among ethnic Kurds in Turkey's southeast. This has disturbed senior officials and commanders, who see a potential danger to security.
Officials' only hope is that the Iraqi Kurds' stay in Turkey will be short. Iraq's offer of amnesty last week to let Kurds return within 30 days is welcomed here. Ankara reportedly have played a role in convincing the Iraqis to make such a gesture.
But most peshmargas and their families, interviewed by Turkish reporters, have categorically said that they do not trust Saddam Hussein's regime and will not agree to go back.