Turkey. Food for Thought.

The world is complex. History is complex.

I am astounded at the complexity of societies, governments, and diplomatic relationships. I assume it is relatively easy to sit where I sit, an average American, moderately educated and moderately up to date on current world issues, and make a presumption on what decisions are good and bad, what leaders are helping us or hurting us, and form opinions based on my scope of knowledge. The truth is, my scope is limited. My decisions are based on narrow and sometimes slanted information. My opinions are not as developed as they could be if I had a complete working knowledge of world history, world governments, and our own national interests.

So perhaps that is my disclaimer. Take my opinions with a grain of salt. I studied world history in college, I read a lot, and my dad and I both subscribe to the Foreign Affairs journal where we read essays on current world issues and government policies. We then call each other and talk about our plans to save the world, turn struggling nations around, and promote world peace; our plans to become the most brilliant world leaders, I’m the president, he is the Vice President, and ok, we maybe talk about killing off a few bad guys in the process. So…with that limited knowledge base, I approach the subject of Turkey, which is in the news this week.

Here is what has basically happened in Turkey. Since 1984 a group of extremist Kurdish militants known as the PKK have terrorized the Turkish citizens and military, killing well over 37,000 people. These rebels hide out in the mountainous and remote regions of Northern Iraq and cross into Turkey to fight for their stake in the land. Kurdish nationalists would like their own ethnic homeland within the country of Turkey, much like the Israelis and Palestinians want their own ethnic homelands.

The PKK have not approached this with a spirit of diplomacy, rather they have waged a violent and long lasting guerilla war against the Turkish army and the citizens; they have not come to the diplomatic tables, they have picked up guns, hand grenades, and other vicious forms of violence in order to bully others around until they get their way. The European Union, the United Nations, and The United States all recognize the PKK as an active and vital terrorist cell. They are dangerous. They are destructive. They are not lovers or respecters of democracy or the democratic system. They are violent.

Turkey has repeatedly asked the United States to help them protect their citizens and military from this terrorist cell. They have asked for help in rooting out the PKK from their hiding locations in Northern Iraq and have asked the Iraqi government as well to help them by not aiding and providing safe havens for this group. The Iraqi government has said that this is impossible. The United States has viewed it as a limited conflict that if tampered with now will greatly damage the peace and stability in the one part of Iraq that is actually experiencing peace and stability.

So we have turned our backs and shut a blind eye regarding the situation. For years now.

The thing is, you can’t turn your back on a friend forever. Turkey is an ally. They are our friends. They have consistently cooperated with our government and done what we have asked despite a lack of support and a growing amount of anti-American sentiment among their citizens. During the six year war on terror they have been a valued and important ally to us as they have provided our military with numerous locations on their soil to store and transfer equipment, airbases for our aircraft to take off from as they flew into neighboring countries Afghanistan and Iraq, and have even allowed our troops to be stationed there for brief stints of time. They have helped us, immensely.

After the fall of the Ottoman Empire in the early 1900’s, Turkey, a predominantly Islamic nation, became one of the first Islamic countries to adopt a truly democratic and free form of government. They were charter members in the United Nations, one of the first countries to join NATO in 1953, they are en-route to becoming members of the European Union. As a country they have subsequently led out in a truly unique blending of both Eastern and Western cultures and values in a relatively free, stable, and thriving society. They should be rewarded for their loyalty, for their courage to take on tough issues, and for their strength as they have persevered to develop a democratic nation. When they ask for our help, we as an ally, and as a country who have been given much by them, should protect them.

But we have not answered their cries for help. And now after a month marred with numerous Turkish deaths at the hands of the PKK, the Turkish citizens have had enough and are passionately pushing their government to retaliate. Our response? We are asking them to not retaliate and defend themselves either through economic sanctions or through a military advance. Simply put: now is not a good time for us. We have secured some economic sanctions for them that have benefited their country, but for now that is as far as we have gone for them. We simply will not risk the destabilization of Northern Iraq right now, no matter what it means to our friends. Us first. Them second.

President Bush will meet with Turkey’s Prime Minister, Tayyip Erdogan, on Monday, which will be preceded by a meeting of Erdogan and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. With 100,000 troops amassed and assembled on the Turkey-Iraq border, PM Erdogan and Turkey’s government seem hopeful that we will offer them some concrete help so that another large-scale conflict can be averted. I hope for that as well.

What are your thoughts on this situation? If you have some knowledge on the subject, I’d love to hear from you.