In Turkey, Hughes encounters opposition to war in Iraq

September 29, 2005|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

ISTANBUL, Turkey -- Under Secretary of State Karen P. Hughes, seeking common ground with leading women's rights advocates in Turkey, was confronted instead yesterday with denunciations of the war in Iraq and what the women said were American efforts to export democracy by force.

It was the second straight day that Hughes found herself at odds with groups of women on her "public diplomacy" tour, aimed at improving the American image in the Middle East. On Tuesday, she told Saudi Arabian women she would support efforts to raise their status, but she was taken aback when some of them responded that Americans misunderstand their embrace of traditions.

Hughes met yesterday with about 20 Turkish feminist leaders at a museum in Ankara, the capital. She introduced herself, as she has been doing on this trip, as "a working mom" and said she was there to emphasize the many things Turkey and the United States had in common. The women welcomed her but had a different emphasis.

"You are very angry with Turkey, I know," said Hidayet Tuskal, a director of the Capital City Women's Platform, referring to opposition in Turkey to the Iraq war, which she said was a feminist issue because women and children were dying daily. "I'm feeling myself wounded," Tuskal added. "I'm feeling myself insulted here."

Fatma Nevin Vargun, identifying herself as a Kurdish rights advocate, said she was "ashamed" of the war and added that the United States bore responsibility. Referring to the arrest of a war protester at the White House earlier this week, she added, "This was a pity for us as well."

With her brow furrowed, Hughes replied: "I can appreciate your concern about war. No one likes war." She went on to say that "my friend President Bush" did all he could to avoid a war in Iraq, but she then asserted about Iraq: "It is impossible to say that the rights of women were better under Saddam Hussein than they are today."

The comments about Iraq underscored the uneasiness Turkey has had since planning for the invasion began in 2002, when Turkish leaders equivocated and then declined to let American troops enter Iraq from the Turkish border. Turks are now worried about the spillover that a federalized Iraq, with a semi-autonomous Kurdish region in its north, would have in encouraging Kurdish separatists in eastern Turkey.

Hughes, approaching the end of her five-day trip, also met today with Turkish foreign ministry officials and flew from Ankara to Istanbul later in the day for more sessions with citizen groups and people who the State Department says are "opinion leaders" picked by the consulate.

The women in Ankara were notable because their meeting with Hughes began congenially, with her host describing the importance of her support for their causes. But it quickly spilled into tough talk, delivered politely but firmly.

Feray Salman, a human rights campaigner, said that while she believed in democracy, the Bush administration was trying to export it by force. "States cannot interfere through wars," she said. "I don't believe in this."

In recent months, Turkey has charged that the Bush administration has failed to denounce violent actions of the banned Kurdistan Workers Party, known as the PKK. Asked by one speaker why the United States refused to label the group a terrorist organization, Hughes said the administration had done just that.

"We condemn PKK terrorism," said Hughes. But then she noted what she said was an irony, that the women were expecting American support for the sometimes violent Turkish crackdown on Kurdish separatists while also denouncing the American battles with insurgents in Iraq.

"Sometimes you have to engage in combat in order to confront terrorism," Hughes said.

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