Yesterday, I Googled "Turkey and the Kurds" and got 1,310,000 hits. Then I Googled "Paris Hilton" and got 45,800,000 hits. That seems about right. Who wouldn’t prefer to reflect on the soft-porn potential of the spoiled, slinky, sexually incontinent, blonde heiress facing down the various titillating menaces of the prison shadows, rather than thinking about the prospect of yet another war in the Middle East?
Although, if Paris had been sentenced to a Turkish prison, we could have merged the two stories in a sort of updated "Thousand and One Nights" adventure with Paris in the part of Scheherezade, telling fascinating tales to stop her husband King Shahryar from killing her. In the updated version, Paris would obviously sell her fascinating tales afterward for publicity and profits, rather than for her life — as in the original.
But, alas, the two stories have not merged, and it is a sad reflection on my misspent mental life that right now I’m one of the guys who actually does care more about the Turks and the Kurds than I do about Paris and her prisoners of love. But a bloody mess is on the cusp of getting bloodier in Iraq, and while events are not entirely within our control, we may be able to influence them.
To summarize the situation: The terrorist Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK), has been harassing Turkey for decades allegedly on behalf of the approximately 15 million Kurds living in Turkey (about 20 percent of the Turkish population — and with the highest birthrate of any ethnic group in Turkey).
Currently, the Turks suspect (perhaps with justification) that some of the approximate 5 million Kurds living in northern Iraq are giving cover and help to the PKK terrorists. The Turks very plausibly fear that the Kurds (living more or less contiguously in Southern Turkey, northern Iraq, northeast Syria and northwestern Iran as well as in Armenia and environs) want to form an independent state — which state would strip Turkey of a fifth of its land and population.
Thus, Turkey has strongly opposed a division or federalization of Iraq into a Kurd north, Sunni middle and Shia south — preferring a unitary Iraqi state.
But the Kurds have been the United States’s strongest ally in Iraq. Their Pershmerga military has kept their part of Iraq relatively peaceful. It is also the most prosperous. They are claiming their rights to the oil-rich city of Kirkuk (from where they had been forcibly removed by Saddam Hussein). The Turks fear that a richer, separatist or independent Iraqi Kurdish population helping the PKK commit terror against Turk government and civilian targets is a strategic threat to Turkey.
As a result, Turkey has been reinforcing its troops along the border with Iraq and the powerful Turkish Army General Staff stresses its readiness for a cross-border operation to crush the PKK. The Turkish foreign minister also told an E.U. meeting a few days ago that Turkey has every right to take measures against Kurdish guerrillas in northern Iraq. Thus the crisis approaches.
Both Turkey and the Kurds have been our historic allies. Since the Iraqi war started we have constantly asked Turkey to be patient with the Kurds and not to intervene in Iraqi Kurdish territory over the PKK (even though they are killing Turks in their terrorist attacks). So far they have complied. Meanwhile, we have asked the Iraqi Kurds not to assert any independence claims. So far they have complied.
But events are unfolding dangerously. The Turkish Army — as the ultimate defender of a secular Turkish culture and state — is in an increasingly strategic public struggle with revanchist Islamist forces in Turkey. It is a real possibility that there may be a showdown or coup d’etat against the Islamist government by the Turkish Army this fall.
Fighting the secular PKK is very popular in Turkey — especially amongst religious Turkish people living outside the big cities. The PKK has recently drawn blood again. The Army believes it could strengthen its domestic political position by crossing over the border and (they believe) "crush" the PKK. Thus the Turkish army has both a legitimate national security concern and a political calculation for taking military action imminently.
If they take such action, it might be a quick and successful suppression of the terrorist PKK. But there is a big risk that it will either fail in that regard, or will induce a broader Kurdish military response (or will fail because it will induce a broader Kurdish response). In that event the Turkish army will discover the "pleasures" of a Kurdish insurgency similar to our experience with the Sunni insurgency in Bagdhad and environs.
Moreover, if fighting and instability breaks out in the Kurdish north, it will have major negative economic effects on all of Iraq.
So, the United States and the Europeans are again calling for Turkey to restrain itself. This time, that may not be enough. Just about the last thing we want to see is a Turkish/Kurd war to break out.
We can no longer just ask Turkey to restrain itself. It is time to flop down on the side of American action to really pressure our Kurdish friends and allies to take such actions as will convince Turkey that military invasion is not necessary to stop the PKK terrorists from using Iraq as a base of operation. Whether U.S. troops movements up to the Iraqi/Turkish border is wise or foolish should be decided promptly by our smartest military and diplomatic people on the ground there — and acted on promptly. We could easily get overtaken by dangerous events very suddenly.