Behind The Turkey-Kurdish Conflict
Following the decision of the Turkish Parliament to give permission for the Army to invade Kurdish Iraq the prospect of anarchy and a bloodbath seem more imminent in the once relatively peaceful and prosperous region of Iraq. The Kurds are an ancient people tracing their roots back to 3000 B.C. With over 40 million Kurds estimated to be spread out in an arc of territory stretching from Syria across Turkey and Iran, they are considered to be the worlds largest ethnic group without their own homeland. At the end of the 1st World War, their territories fell victim to the redrawing of the map of the Middle East leaving them dived and stateless. They have survived because of their national pride and culture, which, despite differences in linguistic dialects, allow them to share a common language, folklore, music and festivals distinct from their Arabic, Persian and Turkish oppressors. But times are changing and largely because of the relative peace and prosperity enjoyed in the autonomous region of northern Iraqi Kurdistan.
Ever since 1991, they have enjoyed a level of self-government through the British and US no-fly zone and since the fall of Hussein, the country has flourished economically, politically and culturally. Although key participants in the Iraqi government, they already enjoy virtual independence. In Eastern Turkey, some 37,000 people have died in the conflict over Kurdish rights. However, the underlying reasons for Turkey considering an invasion lie in the pole of attraction, which Kurdish Iraq acts as for the 15 million Kurds within Turkeys’ borders. Iraqi Kurdistan attacks as a magnet drawing together the Kurdish Diaspora and offering hope of a unified independent homeland for all Kurds. This is literally fuelled by the enormous oil wealth Iraqi Kurdistan posses and which makes a homeland a feasible economic, social and cultural potentiality. Although the present Kurdish leaders proclaim that they are content with autonomy the situation remains extremely volatile. Especially because of the internal issue of Kirkuk, a city on the frontier of Kurdistan which is largely Kurdish, but with large Sunni and Shiite and Turkoman minorities.
The city has huge oil wealth and it will be subject to a referendum before the end of the year, after which it is likely that the Kurds will proclaim it their capital instead of Erbil. The inter-communal violence that may ensue is added to the threat of Turkish incursions. Turkey is vehemently opposed to Kirkuk becoming formerly Kurd as it would be seen as the final jewel in the oil crown that could lay the basis for overall independence for Iraqi Kurdistan. This will especially be the case if the situation in Southern Iraq and the country as a whole continues to deteriorate and the government is trapped in a stalemate, especially over the distribution of oil wealth nationally. An imminent invasion is not ruled out after the parliamentary vote (some 507 to 19 in favor), but the coming winter snows across the mountain ranges makes it a less viable option than Springtime. It is probable that incursions and attacks by Special Forces will be stepped up with the use of aerial bombardment at the moment.
An all-out invasion would not necessarily be successful and the Turkish troops could find themselves as bogged down as US forces are I the rest of Iraq. The US and Iraq have vehemently opposed any moves and have tried vainly to promise to somehow clamp down on the PKK activities in the region. But these are viewed as hollow promises, without the means or will to back them up and measures which are already to little and too late. To make matters worse the recent vote in Congress to name the mass murder of Armenians by Turks in 1915 an act of genocide has further infuriated Turkish sentiments and alienation from the US. This could result in the closure of vital air roots that supply some 70% of the US war effort in Iraq, president creating a logistical disaster for the US. The Kurdish issue will not be waved away by some magic wand of diplomacy. War is inevitable at some point in the near future. But fighting the proud and aspiring Kurds may prove to be an even greater debacle for the Turks and their neighbors than even Iraq is for the US.