Read this in the airplane today on the 'Editorial & Opinions' page of the International Herald Tribune. Made me think. Comments?
Nicholas D. Kristof: Kurds are about to be betrayed - again
Nicholas D. Kristof Saturday, March 15, 2003
BATMAN, Turkey A middle-aged Kurd took me on a lonely hillside near here to point out the isolated police station in whose basement he had been beaten, subjected to electric shocks and sexually humiliated. We stood half a mile away as he recounted his tale, and then the police spotted us - and a tank rushed toward us.
I fled. But the Kurds in Turkey cannot flee, and many here worry that the war in Iraq will set off more of the savagery that marked the 1980s and 1990s in "Turkish Kurdistan" - a phrase that, if I were Turkish, might lead to my arrest. The world has turned its back on the Kurds more times than I can count, and there are signs that America is planning to betray them again.
The United States was so desperate to bribe Turkey into its coalition that it was willing to allow tens of thousands of Turkish troops into Iraq's Kurdish areas. And Washington still seems ready to acquiesce in this.
The Turks, having broken the back of Kurdish resistance within their borders, plan to expand their efforts and "disarm" Iraq's Kurds to block their control of oil fields. How can America allow this? Aside from the sheer immorality of presiding over what is in effect a Turkish invasion of peaceful Iraqi Kurdistan, such an incursion risks warfare between Kurds and Turks that could spill into Turkey as well.
"The Turkish government has been far worse to the Kurds than Saddam has," one well-educated Kurd said bitterly. His comment stunned me, for Turkey never used poison gas or conducted mass executions as Saddam did, but one Kurd after another said the same thing. They described past Turkish military techniques like raping wives in front of husbands, or assembling villagers to watch men being tied and dragged to their death behind tanks, and they noted that Turkey had been less tolerant of Kurdish language and culture than Saddam.
President George W. Bush is motivated to invade Iraq partly, I believe, by a deeply felt horror of Saddam's repression. But if American claims to be acting on behalf of the people of Iraq are to have credibility and moral legitimacy, Washington must try to stop Kurds from being slaughtered not only by its enemies in Baghdad, but also by itsfriends in Ankara. And America should certainly not acquiesce in such steps as a Turkish invasion of northern Iraq, which could trigger a new spiral of clashes and repression in Turkey.
How could a warm and friendly country like Turkey, which has made genuine progress on human rights and deserves a place in the European Union, be so harsh to its Kurds? Turkey's horror of a flourishing Kurdistan derives from its "Sèvres syndrome," named for the French city where Western powers tried to dismember Turkey after World War I. Ever since then, Turkey has seen accommodation as a slippery slope toward national disintegration. There had been progress toward reconciliation in recent years, but now the prospect of war in Iraq has revived old suspicions and hatreds.
While Bush has been eager to take note of Iraqi atrocities against the Kurds, the West has never been so outraged by similar Turkish atrocities. More than 30,000 people died during the years of fighting between the Turkish government and the guerrillas of the Kurdistan Workers Party; both sides were brutal, murdering civilians and engaging in torture and terrorism. Turkey also forced at least 500,000 Kurds to leave their villages at gunpoint. Excellent reports on Turkey by Human Rights Watch say that some refugees who have tried to return to their homes recently have been shot by government-armed thugs.
Southeast Turkey still feels like a police state. I traveled to one remote town to interview a Kurdish man who had been beaten by the police in front of neighbors, doused with gasoline and then set on fire - he survived. His family was so terrified to see a foreign reporter and risk another police nightmare that they sent me packing.
Only one Kurdish man was not afraid to be named: Abdurrahim Guler, 37, who has endured repeated bouts of torture and death threats. In one brutal session, he says, the commander called out, "Bring in the stick," used to rape men. "You can use your stick," Guler says he shouted back. "I still won't talk even if you use a minaret!"
Now something even grimmer is bearing down on the brave Kurds: Turkish tanks, like the one that sent me fleeing, but waves of them. I feel sick at the thought that America is about to betray the Kurds, again.