Sunday, March 13, 2016
Turkey's Kurdish Problem is of Turkey's Own Making
A truck bomb, presumably of Kurdish origin, exploded today in Ankara, Turkey’s capital. The victims include at least 33 dead and 77 injured. Turkey’s President Recip Erdogan is currently waging a war against the Kurdish population in southeast Turkey. The Kurds in turn are waging a guerilla war against the Turks. President Erdogan is also waging a war against the Kurds in Syria, who have rebelled against President Assad and the Syrian government. We need to understand three characteristics of the Kurds. First, they are fiercely independent. Second, they are fighters. Even the woman are fighters. Third, they are extremely resilient. An additional fact is that the Kurds during World War I were promised an independent homeland at the end of the war. An independent Kurdistan did not occur, but is a possibility today, which scares President Erdogan. The Kurdish population in the Mideast is spread over four countries: Turkey, Iraq, Syria, and Iran. Kurds are estimated to comprise 15% of Turkey’s population, concentrated in the country’s southeast. The Iraqi Kurds have carved out a major part of their Northern Iraq homeland as a semi-independent enclave, complete with oil resources. The Syrian Kurds, whose fighters are called Peshmerga, have also seized land in Syria along the Turkish border. If the Syrian and Iraqi Kurds unite, the pressure will be on Turkey to cede complete or semi-autonomous control to the Turkish Kurds, or watch the new Kurdistan serve as a safe haven for Turkish Kurds fighting for independence. By way of history, the Kurds retained a large degree on independence in the Ottoman Empire. The Sultans knew better than to wage war against the Kurds in the mountainous regions. Thus, a pattern of wary coexistence emerged in which both parties cooperated with each other when it suited their purposes. The heographic area of Armenia contained the presen republic of Armenia and most of eastern Anatolia, today’s heartland of Turkey. The Christian Armenians mostly lived in peace with their Ottoman Overloads until feelings for independence starting emerging in the late 1800’s. Five centuries of peace changed in 1894 when Sultan Abdul Hamid II unleashed the Hamidiye Regiments on the Armenians. These forces were mainly comprised of Kurdish fighters. The Sultan’s purpose was to exert his will, power and force on the Empire. Estimates of the murdered Armenians range between 80,000 to 300,000, with 200,000 as an often-accepted figure. The Armenian Diaspora began as many Armenians emigrated out of Anatolia at this point, often to the United States. The Three Pashas (The Young Turks), Mehmet Talaat, Ismail Enver, and Ahmed Djemal, seized control of the Turkish government in 1913, rendering the Sultan a figurehead. They made several stupid mistakes, starting with entering World War I on the side of Germany and Austria. The Ottoman Empire was doomed. The second mistake was for General (Pasha) Enver to wage war on the Russian Army during winter conditions. His army was decimated at the Battle of Sarikamis from December22, 1914 to January 17, 1915. An army of 118,000 shrank to an effective force of 42,000. 32,000 were killed in action. 15,000 died from illness, especially typhus. He needed a scapegoat, blaming the Armenians for assisting the Russians. The fears then arose that the Armenians in Anatolia would rebel or join the Russians in fighting the Turks. In addition, the Turks needed space for their fellow Muslims who had been evicted from the Balkan countries, which recently won independence from the Ottomans. Having lost most of the European Empire, the Pashas could not risk losing Anatolia. Thus, they unleashed the Armenian Genocide on April 24, 2015. They had prepared the Genocide by drafting the young Armenian males into the Army, or more precisely, Labor Battalions, in which they were worked to death, starved to death, or simply murdered. The Armenian population in Anatolia was thereby mostly women, children, and old men. They had few fighters who could resist the genocide. The Kurds took part in the massacres. Several, but not all the Kurdish tribes or people, participated in the genocide. The Kurds moved into the lands abandoned by the Armenians. The end of World War I witnessed the carving up of the Ottoman Empire. Indeed, Turkey itself would be carved up. However, the Turks may have lost several battles and the war, but they still had military units that could fight. Mustafa Kemal (Ataturk), the victor at Gallipoli, rallied the Turkish forces in Anatolia and won the Turkish War of Independence. One by one, the occupying forces, the British, French, and Italians, pulled out. The Greeks were decisively defeated on the battlefields. Ataturk consolidated power. There would be no independent Kurdistan carved out of the detritus of the Ottoman Empire. The Kurds rebelled in 1925 and 1927. They were crushed. They rebelled in 1930, 1937, and 1984. President Erdogan is a shrewd politician, using his deep Islamic beliefs and demagogic powers, to win elections. His term as Mayor of Istanbul was interrupted by eight months in prison for religious extremism. He learnt his lesson. Turks know that the Turkey military intervened in Turkish politics by staging military coups in 1913, 1960, 1971 and 1990. They post-World War I military leaders were fulfilling their oath to preserve the secular democracy of Ataturk. Erdogan was elected Prime Minister of Turkey in 2003. One of his first acts was to neuter the powerful military by framing the military leaders and packing them off to prison, claiming coup planning back to 2003. 300 suspects were sentenced to prison in 2012. All were released on July 19, 2014 and 236 suspects acquitted on March 31, 2014. The Turkish military is now under his thumb. Prime Minister Erdogan was elected President in 2014. The Kurds rebelled again, led by the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK), which is listed by both Turkey and the United States as a terrorist organization. Prime Minister Erdogan started making peace with the Kurds in 2009. Hostilities dropped. He reversed course in July 2015. He resumed hostilities. Erdogan has the well-armed, well-trained Turkish Army. The Kurds are waging a guerilla war. Most victims are, and will be, civilians. The Kurds will not be suppressed. They could settle for semi-autonomy in their region of Turkey, but the longer the war continues, the more intransient they will be for independence. They are fighting a guerilla war for independence, with possibly safe zones in Iraq and Syria. President Erdogan cannot allow that, but he may not be able to prevent it. The reality is that the only way the Turks can totally suppress the Kurdish drive for independence is to once and forever unleash a new genocide, a Kurdish Genocide, or evict all Kurds from Anatolia, Iraq, and Syria. That will not happen. The Armenians will resist, as they have in Iraq and Syria. Most of the victims are, and will be, civilians.