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Turkey Backs Off From N Iraq Kurd Blockade

by Nadire Mater

Kurds In N Iraq Prepare For War With Turkey
(IPS) ISTANBUL -- The "Red Line" that Turkey drew around Kurds in Turkey and Iraq before the U.S. war is no longer very red, or even much of a line any more.

Fears of a Kurdish secession from Turkey inspired by U.S.-backed Kurds in northern Iraq have so far proved unfounded.

Kurds in northern Iraq did cross that "Red Line" when they took control of oil-rich Mosul and Kirkuk in early April. But Turkish Kurds, particularly the renamed leftist Kurdish guerrillas, have distanced themselves from the Kurdish leadership in Iraq.

The Turkish government has done no more than send a dozen observers into northern Iraq, instead of an army. The observers are working on ways of cooperation with the new leadership.

An official document issued in Turkey last year had warned that "ethnic minorities in Iraq should be prevented from establishing separate administrations" and that an attempt to do so would mean crossing the "Red Line." The Turkish line around Kurds was both regional and political.

A clause in the official document code-named B.020 said: "Declarations in this direction will be a cause for intervention on our part."

Turkey's attitude to developments in northern Iraq will determine Kurdish responses within Turkey, says lawyer Kemal Parlak from the independent DEMOS, the Democratic Reconciliation and Solution to the Kurdish Question.

Parlak dismissed the prospect that the U.S.-created Kurdish quasi-autonomy in Iraq might incite Turkish Kurds to demand an independent state. "Should Turkey implement democratic reforms, grant cultural rights to Kurds and other ethnic groups and reinforce the authority of local governments, Turkey's Kurds would stick to their Turkish citizenry," he told IPS.

Abdullah Ocalan, the Kurdish guerrilla leader, who is serving a life time sentence in a maximum security prison on Imrali Island 30 miles to the south of Istanbul, has sharply criticized the Kurdish administration in northern Iraq.

"Two paths exist before the Kurds in the Middle East," Ocalan said in a letter from his prison cell. "The nationalist dead end, and the democratic alternative that I have been pursuing." The democratic alternative "does not necessarily aim to establish a Kurdish state but urges democratic reforms in the particular countries where Kurds live," he said.

Kurds were divided over four countries after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire at the end of World War in 1918. Of an estimated 16 million Kurds, 12 million live in Turkey, a fifth of that country's population. Two million Kurds live in northern Iraq, a million in Iran and close to a million in Syria. Many of them have aspired to their own state, to be named Kurdistan.

The PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party), which declared armed struggle against the Turkish government in 1984 to demand self-determination, had support bases in northern Iraq and recruited Iraqi Kurds. Ocalan led the PKK struggle from his headquarters in Damascus.

PKK influence in northern Iraq grew considerably after the Gulf Wear in 1991. This was seen by the Turkish government as a dangerous development, and its U.S.-supplied army extended operations deep into northern Iraq, killing thousands in addition to the thousands slain in Turkey itself.

Turkish forces staged countless cross-border operations. The biggest came in 1996 when Turkish troops killed or injured about 2,000 PKK guerrillas and civilians, considerably undermining the strength of the PKK.

The conflict between Turkish troops and the PKK left more than 30,000 dead, mostly civilians, and a devastated countryside. The conflict came to a standstill in 1999 when Ocalan was extradited from Damascus and after a widespread manhunt handed over to Turkey by the Kenyan police, apparently under CIA supervision.

Ocalan was sentenced to death in July 1999, but the sentence was converted to life imprisonment in 2001 as Turkey sought to burnish its human rights record in an effort to gain admittance to the European Union..

The PKK then declared a unilateral truce and officially disbanded itself with its members regrouping as the Kurdistan Freedom and Democracy Congress (KADEK).

Turkish Kurds will inevitably follow a different path now because the living conditions in Turkey are different, says leading Kurdish lawyer Hasip Kaplan.

"Iraq and Turkey are different," he told IPS. "Turkey lived through 15 years of armed conflict between Kurdish guerrillas and the government, but Saddam's Iraq had nothing like that."

Iraqi Kurds are concentrated mainly in Suleimania and Irbil. Turkish Kurds are scattered around Turkey as a result of migration that was in part enforced by the Turkish government between 1984 and 1999.

"A period of uncertainty haunts the region," says political analyst Merdan Yanardag from Istanbul. "The situation is still inflammable."

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Albion Monitor April 30, 2003 (

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