AS more than 220,000 Kurdish refugees, mostly women and children fleeing Iraqi forces, mass along the border with Turkey, the Turkish government has decided not to let them in. Instead, the Ozal administration has called on the world to take action to put an end to this ``catastrophe.'' Ankara has urged the United Nations Security Council to hold an emergency meeting and has issued a strong warning to Baghdad that the continuation of ``inhuman'' behavior will cause ``grave consequences'' to relations between the two countries.
Ankara has also decided to extend ``humanitarian aid,'' including food and medicine, to the refugees whose hometowns were recaptured by Iraqi forces in the north. But the aid is limited to those on the Iraqi side of the border.
This marks a shift in Turkey's traditional policy of receiving people in distress. A recent case was the influx of 65,000 Kurds, mostly fighters who fled Iraqi troops using chemical weapons in 1988. When Turkey received them, Western countries promised support. This support, however, did not materialize officials say, and some of those countries even went on to criticize the Turks for not providing adequate facilities for the refugees.
``The world did nothing then to help us house and feed the refugees,'' says Minister of State Kamran Inan.
This was an unhappy experience for Turkey and is seen here as key to the government's decision to keep its doors closed to refugees this time.
Turkey's decision is also caused by the enormous proportions of the exodus.
``There is now about a quarter of a million of them massed near the border. The moment we took them in, we would probably face another quarter of a million or even more,'' says a senior official. This would cause serious economic, social, and political problems for Turkey.
The hope here is that the UN and the coalition partners will use their leverage to force Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to stop his repressive policies and help the refugees return safely to their homes.
The Ozal administration also wants the United States to take a more active role. The irony of this is that President Turgut Ozal, just back from a visit to the US, suggested to President Bush that the US stay out of Iraq's internal strife.
Like Mr. Bush, Mr. Ozal wants to see Saddam's ouster. But the recent uprising of the Kurds in the north and pro-Iranian Shiites in the south are a concern to Turkey, which fears the possible disintegration of Iraq.
The Turks consider an Iraq with Saddam and stability a lesser evil than an Iraq without Saddam and with instability. The hope in Ankara was that the Iraqi dictator would not last long and that an orderly transition to a new regime in Baghdad would follow.
In private, Turkish officials admit this would have been the most suitable solution for Turkey, with the Iranian Shiites and the Kurdish nationalists kept under control. Turkey considers the emergence of both forces a potential danger.
But Ankara did not exclude the possibility that Kurds may gain some kind of autonomy in northern Iraq and even started a dialogue with Kurdish leaders.
Jalal Talabani, one of the leaders who conferred with Turkish officials recently, seemed happy at Ankara's change of policy and at the ``moral support'' that Turkey pledged to give their cause.