Turkey abuses Kurds

Doug Henwood dhenwood at panix.com
Thu Apr 22 07:34:31 PDT 1999

The following articles appeared in the latest issue of Green Left Weekly (http://www.peg.apc.org/~greenleft), Australia's radical newspaper.


US/NATO hypocrisy exposed as Turkey attacks Kurds

By Norm Dixon

Turkey, a member of the US-led NATO alliance that is bombing Serbia with the claimed aim of ending the oppression of the Kosovar people, is viciously escalating its attacks on the Kurdish people within and without its borders. While Turkey's war against the Kurds is every bit as brutal and uncompromising as Serbia's against the Kosovars, the silence from Washington and other NATO capitals - and the capitalist mass media - is deafening.

Around April 5, 15,000 Turkish troops and 2000 government "village guards", stormed 15 kilometres into Iraq to hunt down fighters of the militant Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). The invaders linked up with troops of the conservative Kurdistan Democratic Party, which rules Iraqi Kurdistan at the behest of Washington. Ankara claimed it killed 44 PKK "terrorists" for the loss of 10 soldiers.

In a related operation, 20,000 troops launched an offensive in the remote mountainous regions of the eastern Turkish province of Tunceli, a stronghold of the PKK. Fighting was also reported in Batman province.

Both operations were backed by the Turkish army's US-supplied, NATO-specification armoured vehicles, F-16 jet fighters and Cobra helicopter gunships. In Iraq, troops and armour formed a cordon to prevent Kurds escaping into Iran.

Turkey's treatment of its 15 million Kurds is an almost carbon copy of Serbia's repression against the Kosovars - except that it has been carried out with a nudge and a wink from Washington and its NATO allies.

Kurds make up 20-25% of Turkey's population of about 60 million, with more than 12 million living in the south-east near the border with Iraq. Successive Turkish regimes - both military and "civilian" - have attempted to crush the Kurdish struggle with scorched earth tactics, ethnic cleansing and forced assimilation.

According to Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit, "There is no Kurdish issue in Turkey, just a PKK problem". Since 1984, Turkey has killed more than 30,000 Kurds fighting for national self-determination.

Human rights organisations and Kurdish opposition parties say that 2-4 million have been driven from the countryside into the cities and towns of Kurdistan and Turkey by terror and the burning of people's homes. Military death squads routinely arrest and torture, murder or "disappear" those suspected of being PKK sympathisers.

Until 1991, all use of the Kurdish language was banned. It remains illegal for Kurdish to be used in publishing and broadcasting, and in educational and political institutions.

Members of the People's Democratic Party (HADEP), Turkey's legal Kurdish party contesting the April 18 general election, are being subjected to severe repression as Ankara attempts to minimise its electoral success in south-east Turkey.

Hundreds of HADEP members have been beaten, detained and tortured. HADEP offices have been raided, and fascist gangs are allowed to attack HADEP gatherings with impunity. Government and military officials are visiting villages and warning Kurds not to vote for HADEP.

"They gathered us in the village square", a party supporter from Bespinar told the April 4 Washington Post. "They told us: `If you vote for them, we will bring down your homes over your heads.'"

Turkey's chief prosecutor, Vural Savas, on April 9 unsuccessfully applied to the country's highest court for a second time to have HADEP ruled ineligible to contest the election. If HADEP is not ruled out of the poll, Savas warned, "We will have hundreds and even thousands of terrorist MPs, mayors and members of local administration chambers".

HADEP leader and candidate Murat Bozlak, speaking from his Ankara jail cell, where he and other party leaders are being held pending trial for alleged links with the PKK, said the attempt to ban HADEP was "merely a political demand motivated by the obvious possibility of HADEP success in the election".

The April 18 contest for mayors and city administrations has taken on the character of a referendum on the Kurdish question. Only severe repression or blatant vote-rigging will prevent HADEP winning many local government positions.

HADEP's first public campaign rally was violently attacked by hundreds of police on April 13 in Diyarbakir, the main south-east city. Police announced the rally had been banned just 25 minutes before it was due to begin.

Police waded into the crowd swinging batons, detaining 300. Several thousand others were detained as they attempted to reach the rally venue. Police raided nearby coffee shops and pool halls searching for HADEP activists.

Kani Xulam, director of the Washington-based Kurdish Information Network, addressing a solidarity dinner on April 10, noted: "A few powerful nations have appointed themselves to tell us who deserves a place in the sun and who a corner in hell. If the Serbs ban the language of the Albanians, NATO will attack them. If the Turks ban the language of the Kurds, it is all right."

The double standard is so obvious that on April 12 the British establishment newspaper, the Independent, was compelled to defend Turkey's presence in the NATO attack on Serbia with the following convoluted reasoning: "Of course, the Turks' treatment of the Kurds is appalling, and the stench of the Turkish government's hypocrisy stings in the nostrils. But just because NATO failed the Kurds does not mean it should fail the Kosovar Albanians.

"... What Milosevic's forces have done to the Kosovar Albanians is indeed terrible, but it is not quite genocide. And what the Turkish government has done to the Kurdish people is bad, but it is not quite as bad as what Milosevic has done in Kosovo."

The US feels no need for such verbal gymnastics. On April 7, US State Department spokesperson James Rubin stated: "The comparison I just think is not accurate ... Turkey is a democratic country, committed to seeking a peaceful solution to the Kurdish issue. As a member of the NATO alliance, Turkey is not engaged in a systematic effort to ethnically cleanse helpless civilians or destroy their homes and force them in a massive campaign of expulsion ... The comparison is grossly unfair."

Rubin obviously has not visited the State Department's own web site recently. A 29-page document there dated February 26 details human rights abuses against Turkey's Kurdish population. Some of the report's conclusions include:

* The Turkish constitution "does not recognise the Kurds as a national, racial or ethnic minority".

* "Extrajudicial killings, including deaths in detention from the excessive use of force, `mystery killings' and disappearances continue. Torture remains widespread."

* "The government continues to use the 1991 Anti-Terror Law, with its broad and ambiguous definition of terrorism, to detain both alleged terrorists and others on the charge that their acts, words or ideas constitute dissemination of separatist propaganda."

* "The exact number of persons forcibly displaced from villages in the south-east since 1984 is unknown. Most estimates agree that 2600 to 3000 villages and hamlets have been depopulated. A few non-governmental organisations put the number forcibly displaced as high as 2 million."

Washington believes that to "forcibly displace" or "depopulate" an ethnic minority is acceptable (if you are a loyal ally), while to "ethnic cleanse" is beyond the pale (if you are not).

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