Kurds: First Iraq, Now Turkey

September 05, 1991

The United States is condemned to a double-standard as protector of Iraqi Kurds against Saddam Hussein and as the tut-tutting ally of a Turkish government accused of atrocities against its Kurdish population. This is an embarrassment growing out of the gulf war that just won't go away. Though Turkey and Iraq were enemies in that conflict and Iran and Iraq fought an eight-year war shortly before, all three governments reject the idea of an independent Kurdistan in that part of the world. So does Washington, quietly.

Consider this sequence: Iraq invades Kuwait. U.S. power turns back this aggression. As the Baghdad regime totters, Iraqi Kurds rise up in the north. The U.S. does nothing to stop Saddam's harsh response, noting its devotion to Iraq's territorial "integrity." When the plight of half a million Kurds fleeing to Turkey and 1 million to Iran grabs world headlines, the U.S. leads a relief operation that includes a "haven" for Iraqi Kurds so they will leave Turkey and return home. The turmoil reignites the civil war between the Ankara government and its 13 million Kurds.

When Turkey, contrary to understandings with its allies, launched an aerial attack in August on Kurdish rebels operating out of Iraq, the U.S. urged a swift end of "this operation against terrorists [to] avoid the death or injury of innocent civilians."

Note the word "terrorists," a term the State Department never applies to Kurdish opponents of the Baghdad regime. It proved to be prophetically self-fulfilling this week as guerrilla members of the Turkish PKK, or Kurdish Workers' Party, abducted a number of Westerners, including three Americans. The State Department found itself in the anomalous position of warning Americans not to travel to southeastern Turkey for fear of Turkish Kurds while maintaining forces to the west to protect Iraqi Kurds.

Now comes a dispatch from The Sun's Diana Jean Schemo, who has been following the Kurdish story for months. She reports that Kurds seeking autonomy from Turkey have become victims of unexplained murders, abductions, tortures, beatings and maybe even chemical attack.

Surely, the State Department should investigate such allegations thoroughly. Although Washington is indebted to Turkey for its help in the anti-Saddam war, it cannot ignore alleged violations of human rights and civilized conduct that could bring much of what the U.S. accomplished in Operation Desert Storm into disrepute.

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