Independence for the Kurds!

Submitted by AWL on 6 April, 2003 - 7:15

By Lucy Clement

For the time being Turkey has pulled back a little from its threat to send troops into northern Iraq. But the threat is still there. Huge numbers of Turkish troops are massed on the Iraqi border in a zone closed to the public and the media.

Turkey is absolutely opposed to the creation of an independent Kurdish state in northern Iraq - and wary of promises that the Kurds want "only" autonomy. The Turkish government fears that a Kurdish state would inspire its own eight-million strong Kurdish population (12% of the total) to secede or demand their own autonomy. The US administration for its part wants to avoid this scenario - and the instability it would bring to Iraq - at all costs.

Kurdish opposition leaders and Turkish officials recently signed an agreement that the Kurds would not enter the oil city of Kirkuk; the Americans, too, have made it clear to the Kurds that they are not to go in.

Control of Kirkuk would give the Kurds a substantial economic power-base from which to run an independent state or autonomous area; Kirkuk, however, is also home to a significant number of ethnic Turkmen, whose interests Turkey would traditionally protect.

The Kurds seem to be in a weak position. However the US has used the "peshmerga" fighters of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) in a ground offensive against the Kurdish Islamist Ansar al-Islam. This may give the Kurdish leaders some leverage in the future.

Turkey is currently saying that if its military do enter northern Iraq this will be in co-operation with the US and not an operation against the Iraqi Kurds. But the Iraqi Kurds are extremely hostile to any hint of a Turkish deployment.

And they have good reason. The Turkish military has been responsible for hideous repression of the country's own Kurdish minority.

As far back as 1925 a Kurdish revolt against the Turkish regime then led by Atatürk - prompted by the regime's renunciation of Muslim religious practices -was brutally suppressed.

For years the use of the Kurdish language and the possession of Kurdish materials was banned. The ban was not revoked until 1991, and even in 1995 the use of Kurdish in schools was still prohibited.

Since 1984 the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) has led a separatist movement in south-eastern Turkey. After years of skirmishes, in 1994 the Turkish army burnt 850 Kurdish villages to the ground in an effort to prevent PKK guerrillas operating. The war cost over 30,000 lives and turned thousands more Kurds into refugees.

The PKK have operated from northern Iraq (as well as from Iran and Syria); however they have not always had the support of the Iraqi Kurdish factions, who are reliant on Turkey to maintain the no-fly zone. In October 1992, for example, Iraqi Kurds and the Turkish army carried out a joint offensive against PKK bases in Iraqi Kurdistan, forcing the surrender of more than 1,000 PKK fighters.

What happens next is not clear. But it is likely to be bloody.

If, post-war, the Iraqi Kurds get an autonomous state, then that will fuel the Turkish Kurds' demands for autonomy. If either the Turkish or the US military deny the Iraqi Kurds autonomy, then a new guerrilla war will - almost certainly - follow, potentially on both sides of the border.

For now, the PKK says it wants to campaign peacefully for the rights of Kurds (although it remains on the EU's official list of terrorist groups). That may be the sign of a "political" turn, but it is unlikely to last long if Turkish troops intervene in the war with Iraq.

Add new comment

This website uses cookies, you can find out more and set your preferences here.
By continuing to use this website, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms & Conditions.