Germany protests attacks by Turkish army on Kurds

March 27, 1992|By Ian Johnson | Ian Johnson,Contributing Writer

BERLIN -- In another exercise of its growing confidence in world affairs, Germany halted weapon shipments to Turkey yesterday in response to Ankara's campaign against its Kurdish minority. It also is organizing an international protest.

The moves contrasted with the positions taken by the United States, which has praised Turkey's "restraint" in responding to Kurdish rebel attacks and has agreed to sell it advanced fighter planes.

Germany's strong reaction came after television reports of the fighting in eastern Turkey. The German Foreign Ministry believes that T-72 tanks shown in the reports came from Germany's arsenal of surplus East German arms. The tanks had been given to allies, such as Turkey, but on the written condition that they be used only for self-defense.

"Should it be true, it would be a clear breach of faith that would have an effect on German-Turkish relations," said Dieter Kastrup, a Foreign Ministry official.

Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher said the TV footage was bolstered by intelligence reports gathered from Turkish military sources. He said he will ask the 12-member European Community to condemn the Turkish attacks and ask the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe to empower the EC to intervene.

But Turkish envoy Numan Hazar said that no German weapons were being used against the Kurds and that the attacks were only meant to destroy "Kurdish terrorists," who he said had no popular support.

Kurdish guerrillas in Turkey and Iraq started a new offensive for independence last week, the latest in a seven-decade campaign for a separate homeland. Turkey responding by attacking rebel and civilian targets, with its Western-equipped air force widely believed to have bombed Kurdish villages in both Turkey and Iraq.

Outrage at the Turkish attacks has spurred demonstrations by human rights organizations in several European cities and attacks on Turkish consulates, travel bureaus and banks by Kurdish refugees living in Europe.

Germany and Turkey traditionally have had good relations, and Germany is home to 1.6 million Turkish guest workers and their families. In recent years, however, Germany has become uneasy with its formal alliance with Turkey through NATO and hesitated to send bombers to defend Turkey against a possible Iraqi attack during last year's Persian Gulf war. Turkey's intention to join the EC has also put its much-criticized human rights record under more intense scrutiny.

West Germany previously might have been content with a quiet diplomatic protest, but the new, unified Germany has taken the lead, due in part to its recent successes in convincing its allies to back sometimes controversial positions, said Michael Staack of the Free University of Berlin.

German officials feel vindicated for backing Yugoslavia's breakup, pointing out that since recognition of Slovenia and Croatia the war there has almost stopped.

"The situation in Turkey is another example of fighting in a country near Germany and Genscher speaking out ahead of the pack," Mr. Staack said.

The German action comes as the country is contemplating even bolder policy shifts. A constitutional change to allow troops to be sent outside Europe is now being debated.

The United States, by comparison, declined to criticize Turkish attacks yesterday, saying they were aimed at preventing "terrorist attacks."

The United States is strongly opposed to the idea of Kurdish independence because it fears long-term instability in Turkey, Iraq and Iran.

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