1991 The Turkish Army "Cleans Up" the Kurds


This was published in Lies of Our Times (now defunct) 2.10, 18-19, 1991.

The Turkish military offensive against the Kurdish guerrillas is described by NW as a plot that "would delight any writer of political thrillers" (8.26.91:12). Unfortunately, though, they got it all wrong:

A terrorist organization of ethnic separatists, the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK), kidnaps the [German] tourists to publicize its demands for independence. Five days later, the PKK assaults a Turkish frontier post, killing nine soldiers. Exasperated, the Turkish military plunges 10 kilometers into northern Iraq, where the guerrillas are hiding.

First, considering the Turkish regime's well-known record of brutal repression and human rights violations, calling the PKK a terrorist organization while the army's own terror campaign against them is described as "cross-border action," "raids," and "cleanup operations" meant "to purge PKK strongholds in Iraq" is hard to take. Gen. Tolon's statement about continuing to "wipe out the area" is a more accurate description of what this "cross-border action" involves. If Ankara were not allied with Washington, the Kurds would be "freedom fighters." Things being as they are, NW refers to "the violent methods favored by the PKK" and "the PKK's tactics, which have claimed more than 3,000 lives since 1984," without pointing out the more likely possibility that the 3,000 dead were victims of the Turkish military and police. Nor does NW mention that in this latest "action" at least two refugee camps in Iraq were bombed, killing 29 people, including women and children, according to an Iraqi Kurdish spokesman (International Herald Tribune, 8/8/91).

NW says the PKK "wants to transform [southeastern Turkey] into an independent homeland through methods of violence that other Kurds deplore," as if a suppressed minority's resorting to armed struggle was an arbitrary and obviously unnecessary choice. What about the government's choice to bomb them out of existence--are there no alternatives to that? NW's statement is misleading, furthermore, because the "other Kurds" referred to cannot be other Turkish Kurds, who generally support the PKK, but some factions of Iraqi Kurds, especially those led by Massud Barzani and Jalal Talabani, who in their eagerness to gain Turkish support in their negotiations with Saddam Hussein have renounced their previous claims of solidarity with the Turkish Kurds.

Secondly, NW must know that on Aug. 6, five days after the kidnapping, the PKK European spokesman, Ali Sapan, denounced it as a renegade action by a small PKK group who had in the meantime been brought under control. He assured Bonn that the hostages would be released in a few days, with no conditions, which is exactly what happened two days later. Ignoring this and blaming the kidnapping on the PKK as a whole may support the larger picture of the PKK as a terrorist organization, but it is either incredibly poor reporting, or dishonest.

One lie begets another. Neither the kidnapping nor the Aug. 4 attack on the military outpost could have precipitated the government offensive, as NW implies. Not even the Turkish authorities ever claimed that the offensive had anything to do with the kidnapping, and the massive combat operation launched on Aug. 5, involving 20,000 troops, could hardly have been prepared overnight. The real reason for the offensive, and the stepped-up activities on the part of both the government and the guerrillas in the weeks preceding it, the murder of Vedat Aydin, is completely missing from NW's scenario.

Aydin was a prominent human rights activist and opposition leader whose party, the HEP, is credited with moderate successes in the last two years, including the partial legalization of the Kurdish language. He was abducted from his home on July 5 by armed men in civilian clothes whom he described in his last words to his wife as "officials of the political police," and his naked body was found three days later with eight bullet holes, broken arms and legs, and the skull squashed skull. On July 10 a funeral march consisting tens of thousands of mourners, including international journalists and HEP representatives, was fired upon twice by police in Diyarbakir. The first salvo of machine gun fire, in response to a rock thrown from the crowd, took place on the way to the cemetery, but the procession continued and Aydin was buried. Returning from the cemetery, police blocked the road and again fired into the crowd, killing at least twenty people.

It was this police terror that caused Kurdish protests throughout Europe during the next few days, including the occupation of the Turkish Embassy in London on July 12. Ali Sapan said on Aug. 6 that this was also the reason for the renegade kidnapping of the German tourists--not, as NW says, "to publicize its demands for independence."

Another reason for increased unrest in Turkish Kurdistan was certainly the U.S. decision on July 12, coinciding with the widespread Kurdish demonstrations, to station a 5,000-man international rapid deployment force inside Turkey at the Iraqi border, with most of the U.S. contingent (1,000-1,200 men) to be stationed at Silopi, 20 kilometers from Diyarbakir, the scene of the police bloodbath. Ostensibly, the deployment was to protect Iraqi Kurdish refugees from Saddam Hussein, but it was precisely these refugees who suffered from the Turkish bombardment a few weeks later, obviously tolerated if not supported by the U.S. Is it any wonder that the Kurds suspect the Americans of being there to support the Turkish government's campaign against them? By July 12 the Turkish press had reported sightings of U.S. helicopters taking part in anti-PKK search-and-destroy missions, and Kurdish leaders voiced suspicions that Gladio, the NATO secret army, may have been involved in the murder of Aydin and other politicians.

In short, if anyone had reason to feel "exasperated" before the bombs started falling (not to mention afterwards), it was the Kurds. But this is not the first time. Let us not forget the betrayals by the U.S. in 1975 and in the aftermath of the Gulf War.

From 1972 to 1975, the U.S. secretly supported the Iraqi Kurds against Baghdad, as did Israel and the CIA-installed Shah of Iran. The Shah had repressed the Kurds in his own country for decades, but the point of this effort was not to help the Kurds gain independence--the last thing anybody wanted except the Kurds--but to sap the strength of Baghdad. The CIA pursued a familiar no-win policy (as in Angola) and actively discouraged a full-scale Kurdish offensive during the Yom Kippur War (1973-74) which the Kurds were willing to launch and the Israelis would have liked. "Then in 1975," NW says in an earlier issue, "the two countries [Iran and Iraq] signed an accord exchanging disputed border territory, and Iran ended its support for the Kurds" (4/4/91:12). This wording cleverly lays the betrayal of the Kurds at the feet of the Shah, but the U.S. (and Israel) also dropped them cold, leaving thousands dead, over 200,000 refugees, none of whom were granted political asylum in the U.S., and nothing gained. Henry Kissinger, who managed this affair from start to finish, summed it up as follows: "Covert action should not be confused with missionary work."

Starting on Jan. 1, 1991, and continuing through and after the Gulf War, the Voice of Free Iraq, a clandestine CIA-Saudi radio station operating from Jiddah, exhorted the Kurds and Shiites in Iraq to rebel against Saddam Hussein. When they did so, Adolph Hitler, still resident in Baghdad, began slaughtering them in early April by the thousands with the helicopter gunships, tanks, and artillery that the allies felt powerless to stop after their glorious victory. The Kurds lost again.

When Bush did send the troops in, on April 16, one could not help noticing that he had changed his mind one day after Gary Sick's "October Surprise" article appeared in the New York Times. The Sick article contained nothing new, at least nothing that merited this sudden attention of the mainstream press, which had studiously ignored the issue for years. Why the change on April 15? Could this have been a warning to Bush, causing him to change his policy on the Kurdish question? If so, who was behind it?

I cannot leave the subject of the Kurds without mentioning one other falsehood, which as we remember as an important ingredient in the Saddam-Hitler analogy that was instantly effective before the war and just as quickly forgotten afterwards. The specter of Saddam dropping gas bombs on Israel made that analogy as airtight as the death chambers of Auschwitz. After all, had he not used them against his own people, the Kurds? No, in fact he hadn't, according to the U.S. Army War College, but this does not prevent NW from referring to Saddam's "chemical attack [in March 1988] on the town of Halabja, killing 5,000 Kurds" in their issue of April 4, 1991 (p. 12). The War College report, published a year earlier, concludes that it was not the Iraqis but the Iranians who were responsible for the attack at Halabja and found no other evidence of Iraqi use of gas.