Oh to have been a fly on the wall during the recent meeting between U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan., Nov. 1.
Rice was in Ankara trying to forestall a major Turkish offensive into Northern Iraq aimed at rooting out the Kurdish PKK, who have launched several cross-border assaults, killing and kidnapping Turkish soldiers. The Bush administration claims a Turkish invasion would destabilize Iraq, but in fact, the story is a good deal more complex.
For the past three years, the U.S. has armed the PKK’s Iranian-based counterpart, the Party for Free Life in Kurdistan (PJAK), to attack Iran. If the Turks cross the border in force, they are likely to blow the elaborate cover the U.S. has spun to camouflage its support for an organization it officially considers “terrorist.”
According to Pepe Escobar in the Asia Times, the PKK is suddenly “flush with new mortars, anti-tank weapons, rocket-propelled grenades and even anti-aircraft missiles.” Where did they get them? The Turks suspect the U.S., in particular U.S. General David Petraeus, who oversaw a Pentagon program that flooded Iraq with weapons whose serial numbers were never recorded. According to the Turks, a lot of those arms ended up with the PKK.
Ankara is not only unhappy about the attacks on its soldiers, it is deeply nervous about an upcoming referendum that will determine whether Kirkuk—with its 10 billion barrels of oil—will end up as part of an autonomous Kurdistan. The Turks want all Iraqis to vote on whether that comes to pass, but the Iraqi constitution restricts voters to city residents. And because the current Shiite-dominated government of Prime Minister Nouri-al-Maliki depends upon the votes of Kurdish delegates to the Iraqi parliament to keep him in power, the Turks’ demand has gone nowhere.
Maliki and the Kurds claim that Turkish intelligence recently helped organize a Cairo meeting of Sunni country intelligence chiefs, aimed at subverting the current Iraqi government. The meeting included Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Jordan, along with the U.S. and the British.
Speaking at the Socialist International meetings in Geneva, Iraq’s President Jalal Talabani, a leader of one of the two main Kurdish parties, denounced “some Arab states” for “conniving” against the Baghdad government.
Iraq Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, a Shiite, also blasted “foreign intelligence” and the Turks for “conspiring” against the Maliki government.
In the meantime Turkey has 100,000 troops massed on the border of northern Iraq. If the Turks came across in force, would they keep to the border area, or would their troops push on to Kirkuk, essentially derailing any attempt to make the city part of Kurdistan? At least that is what the PKK charged in a Nov. 9 statement asking for a “dialogue” to reduce the current tension.
So what happened in the Ankara meeting?
There are indications that the Americans might have cut a deal with the Turks and the PKK. According to Patrick Cockburn of the Independent, the PKK has moved a substantial number of its forces into Iran. Osman Ocalan, brother of imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan and a founder of the organization, says the PKK has strong support among Iran’s four million Kurds, and that “In the last six months the PKK has started a war against Iran.” That war has already killed more than 150 Iranians, and Iran has periodically retaliated by closing the border and shelling Kurdish villages in Iraq.
Was the PKK move to Iran part of a deal: The PKK vacates the Iraq-Turkish border and joins Washington’s jihad to overthrow the Iranian regime? In return, did the U.S. supply the PKK with arms and sophisticated weapons? While the U.S. State Department has kept a distance from the PJAK, the group’s leader, Haj Ahmedi, is reported to have met with mid-level Pentagon officials this past summer.
Washington needs the Kurds because not only are they pro-American, but their well-trained Pershmerga militia also plays an important role in helping to fight insurgents throughout Iraq. If the Turks invade, the Pershmerga might go home to fight their traditional enemies.
At the same time, the U.S needs to placate Ankara, because 70 percent of its supplies for the Iraq War pass through Turkey. Did the U.S. promise the Turks it would push for a nationwide referendum on the fate of Kirkuk, a referendum it is thought the Kurds cannot win?
You don’t need a crystal ball to predict that this is all likely to end in disaster. The problem is that the people in that region of the world play a mean game of chess, while the folks in the Oval Office haven’t even mastered checkers.
Lest we forget. When Jean Marie Le Pen, the anti-Semitic leader of the French right, called the Jewish Holocaust “a detail of history,” he was charged with a crime. It is against the law to deny the Holocaust in France, as it is in a number of European nations.
But when President George W. Bush referred to the murder of 1.5 million Armenians between 1915 and 1916 as “historic mass killings,” and Secretary of State Rice called the systematic massacres “the events of 1915,” no one said a word.
Bush and Rice, of course, led a full-court press to block a non-binding resolution recognizing the Armenian genocide from coming to a vote in the House because it would do “great harm” to relations with Turkey, said the President. The Democrats dutifully backed down and once again the Armenian Holocaust was interned, another victim of the U.S.’s war in Iraq.
It is not the first time the Armenian Holocaust has been shelved in the name of opportunism and “state-to-state” relations. In 2001, Shimon Peres, the current president of Israel, told the Anatolia News Agency, “We reject attempts to create a similarity between the Holocaust and the Armenian allegations. Nothing similar to the Holocaust occurred. It is a tragedy what the Armenians went through but not a genocide.”
Peres, Bush and Rice should spend a few hours with Viscount James Bryce and Arnold Toynbee’s “The Treatment of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire 1915-1916,” or read the reports of Henry Morgenthau, U.S. Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire. Robert Fisk’s magnificent book, “The Great War for Civilization,” would also be illuminating.
The three might take a trip to Margada where they can help rebury the 50,000 Armenian men, women, and children drowned and shot by the Turks. They might want to read a cable by Turkish Interior Minister Talaat Pasha to a prefect in Aleppo: “You have already been informed that the Government…has decided to destroy all the indicated persons living in Turkey…their existence must be terminated, however tragic the measure taken may be, and no regard must be paid to either age or sex, or to any scruples of conscience.”
All three might find it interesting that a young German teenager, Rudolf Hoess, served in the Turkish Army during the massacres. Hoess was appointed commandant of Auschwitz in 1940, and oversaw all the death camps by 1944.
No “similarity” between the Jewish Holocaust and the “Armenian allegations”? As Fisk argues in his book, the latter was a blueprint for the former.
In August 1939, Adolph Hitler commented on why it would not be a problem to liquidate the Jews: “Who, after all, is today speaking of the destruction of the Armenians.”
Not Bush, not Rice, not Peres, and shamefully, not Congress.