Whilst noting that the EU Commission is trying to gently nudge Turkey on the criminalisation of adultery issue – European Commission spokesman Jean-Christophe Filori told a Brussels news conference that the proposed law “could trigger confusion and damage the perception in the European Union of Turkey’s reform efforts” – this post is not an attempt to re-open the useful and interesting exchange of views that took place around a previous post.
What I would like to do today is focus on another dimension of the same problem – the Turkish state’s relations with its own Kurdish minority – and how this relationship could become increasingly complicated depending on how the internal stability of Iraq evolves.
The pretext for this post is a very interesting guest editorial on Juan Cole’s Informed Comment earlier today. The topic of the editorial (by specialist writer Eden Naby): the plight of Iraq’s Assyrian Christians.
Now this might seem fairly orthogonal to the question of Turkey accession, were it not for the fact that this minority is only one of several in the region in question, and the region in question is – of course – the Kurdish zone of Iraq.
It is unusual for information from Christian villages to filter outside the area currently under military and political pressure from the Kurdish Democratic Party. Kurds are barring Western journalists from entering villages like Dayrabun (“Monastary of the Bishop”) which are not in any danger zone, but are being denied resettlement by their Christian inhabitants (reported by Thiry August, a Belgian who tried to visit the Faysh Khabour area this summer). The KDP is determined to expand its control as far to the west and south as possible into areas now inhabited by ChaldoAssyrians. Under the Transitional Administrative Law, so favorable to Kurds, the objects of Western sympathy and funds, any territory in the three provinces adjoining Dohuk, Arbil and Sulaymaniya (Ninawa, Tamim [Kirkuk] and Diyala) that Kurds can show they controlled on March 19, 2003 (prior to the invasion), may become part of the Kurdish controlled region in northern Iraq (TAL, Article 53A).
This provision allows Kurds to create “facts on the ground” in the Mosul and Kirkuk areas in particular, at the expense of unarmed ethnic and religious minorities – to wit – the Christians of Iraq, the Yezidis, the Shabat, and the Turkomens. The advantages of controlling Kirkuk are well known. But the Mosul area, now the scene of fierce attacks on Christians and Turkomens, are less well recognized.
The whole editorial is interesting and illuminating, and is well worth reading in its entirety. But two points seem to spring from the page: firstly, the details of the hurriedly-agreed-to Transitional Administrative Law turn out to be pretty damn important (more on this in another post perhaps), and, secondly, the mentioning of one minority in particular, the Turkomens, something which should set off alarm bells somewhere.
Now it is impossible to draw up any credible definitive scenario for the future evolution of Iraq post January’s elections. Yesterday’s events among others should clearly underline that the situation is far from stable and under control (as indeed should Allawi’s admission in interviews today that there are places where voting may well not be possible for security reasons, just how many these will actually turn out to be remains to be seen). However it is clear that there are a number of possible scenarios, and one amongst these whose possibility has to be seriously taken into account in any forward planning would be that of a disintegration of the state along ethnic/religious lines. This is of course only one among several (none of them looking especially appetising) alternatives. But the possibility exists (and with it the equally awesome possibility of Baghdad, incorporating as it does the Shiite Sadr city, being turned into a grotesque rerun of Beirut or Sarajevo).
The question is, what would Turkey do in the event of this nightmare becoming reality? Well one strong possibility would seem to be to send troops into the Kurdish zone. And what, you may well ask, would be the explanation offered for any such intevention – perhaps now you see where I am going with all this – well certainly not the supression of the elemental democratic rights of the Kurds. No, a far more likely explanation would be the the protection of the Turkomen population from some sort of ethnic cleansing.
The troubling problem is that this might be more than just a pretext. The danger, at least if we accept the kind of information which Eden Naby and others are offering, is that this threat could become a real one. Hence I arrive, by a rather circuitous route, to the conclusion that, apart from the human rights element which is obvious, the EU has a direct pragmatic reason for getting itself involved now – by informing itself, voicing its opinions, putting pressure – concerning what may, or may not, be going on in the Kurdish zone.
In conclusion I would like to point out that it is not my purpose here to single out for condemnation the long-suffering Kurds. What I think we should by now be well able to see, whether it be from evidence in Bosnia, Chechenya, Kosovo or Afghanistan, is that being the victim of oppression doesn’t turn you into a Saint. More likely it precipitates desires for revenge and retaliatory action which, in an exploding circle of violence, have the potential to get seriously out of hand. This much at least we should have been able to learn.
Update: Following up on the links in Eden Naby’s article I found this piece from Patrick Cockburn in the Independent about the recent fighting in Tal Afar, which seems to illustrate my point perfectly:
The Americans claim that Tal Afar is a hub for militants smuggling fighters and arms into Iraq from nearby Syria. Turkish officials make clear in private they believe that the Kurds, the main ally of the US in northern Iraq, have managed to get US troops involved on their side in the simmering ethnic conflict between Kurds and Turkmen.
“The Iraqi government forces with the Americans are mainly Kurdish,” complained one Turkmen source. A Turkish official simply referred to the Iraqi military units involved in the attack on Tal Afar as “peshmerga”, the name traditionally given to Kurdish fighters.