A guest post by Geary
On Thursday, the Middle East’s leading bully, with the region’s biggest army, began a brutal campaign of bombing and shelling of civilian targets against its neighbouring country, after claiming that eight of its citizens had been killed by what it calls terrorists, but what many outsiders would call freedom fighters. In two days, warplanes flew over a hundred missions while more than two hundred other targets were pounded by shells. The political leaders promise further violent action: “The cost of this will also be very heavy”, even against non-combatants: “Those who do not distance themselves from terrorism will pay the price”.
No news has yet to filter out on the number of civilian casualties since the aggressor refuses to allow any of its reporters in to the affected areas. The response of the international community to this wholly disproportionate use of force has been predictably … entirely absent. The self-styled “world’s leading liberal newspaper”, the Guardian, for instance, has not even bothered (to date) to post a piece on its Comment is Free site.
The bully is of course Turkey, and Turkey is allowed to get away with murder, indeed, mass murder in dealing with its “terrorist problem”. And Turkey has a “terrorist problem” thanks to decades, well, a century actually, of cultural – occasionally also physical – genocide against the Kurdish population unfortunate enough to reside in the territories governed from Ankara.
The first half of the 20th Century is a very sad story of humiliation, pogroms, internal deportations. Since then, “modern” Turkey has followed an aggressive policy of enforced Turkification of its minorities. No multiculturalism in Turkey I’m afraid.
For the “world’s leading liberal newspaper”, however, the Kurds are one of the Middle East’s forgotten people, along with the Copts, the Baha’i, the Asian slaves in the Gulf states, not to mention further afield, the beleaguered non-Muslims in Pakistan.
Now, since Israel suffered a terrorist attack this week too, this time by a group of terrorists – sorry, freedom fighters – from a rather less “forgotten people”, the Palestinians, it might be instructive to compare for a moment the plights of the two populations.
Since the Oslo agreements of 1993 the Palestinians have enjoyed a semi-autonomous political status. The Palestinians have their own government and parliament, their own judiciary, independent education and health systems (though many prefer to be treated in Israel – for free as it happens), and the Palestinian Authority manages most of the taxation regime. The Palestinians could also have a free press if only the PA would allow one. And ever since the Israelis withdrew from Gaza in 2005, there has even been an entirely free and independent Palestinian entity.
The Kurds in Turkey in contrast do not enjoy their own governmental or judicial organs, they are forbidden their own schools or universities. It is enormously dangerous to belong to any Kurdish political group but then, in Turkey, practically any form of political protest is a criminal offence. In a country with strict laws on “insulting Turkishness”, just refusing to be Turkish (or Muslim) can be considered an insult. Once banned altogether, the use of Kurdish language is strictly prohibited in official business, including mosques. Many Kurds feel that things are getting worse not better.
And how does the “world’s leading liberal voice” view the man in charge of this monstrously illiberal State, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, a man who orders the bombardment of civilians, upholds all of Turkey’s racist laws and even rails against the use of Kurdish in mosques? An Islamist zealot convicted in 1998 of inciting religious hatred? But of course it fawns on him. He’s “charismatic”, “pious”, “modest”, a “hero” to his people. Criticism of Erdogan’s Turkey draws a histrionic defence. One suspects the Guardian loves him mainly because, though head of a country which invades its neighbours, persecutes its minorities and occupies northern Cyprus, he gets vapours when berating Israel over Gaza and sends boatloads of provocateurs in the hope of making trouble. To deepen the irony still further, in the very same year as Cast Lead, Erdogan’s army was carrying on large-scale military operations against the Kurds in Iraq (how many Guardian readers knew that?). One presumes it was the combination of his hatred for Israel and the sheer chuzpah of his hypocrisy which made him CNN Arabic’s “Man of 2011”.
The Kurds have never been offered autonomy by the Turks. The Palestinians instead could have begun building their own state in 1947 and indeed have had several opportunities since, most recently in 2000 at the Camp David talks. The Kurds do not want to annihilate Turkey, just a little autonomous geographical space of their own. Hamas, among others, make no secret of their desire to destroy Israel politically and perhaps also genocidally.
But upon whom does the “world’s leading liberal voice” choose to pour its vitriol, now as ever? No prizes for guessing Israel which, unlike Turkey, has no right to retaliate the murder of its civilians (BTW the Turks killed recently by the Kurdish activists were all soldiers, the Israelis all civilians except one). A headline such as that used by the Guardian on Thursday “Israel attacks Gaza” cannot possibly be in good faith. “Israel attacks Hamas” I could just about swallow. Note also there is no corresponding headline “Turkey attacks Iraq”.
I wish the Palestinian people well and look forward to a Palestine at peace with all its neighbours. But I curse their leaders, at once intransigent and cowardly, belligerent and corrupt.
I wish the Kurdish people of Turkey very well indeed. But I curse the leaders of Turkey and I curse those like the “world’s leading liberal voice” who suck all attention away from the forgotten peoples of the Middle East in an obsessive quest to delegimitise Israel.