Erdoğan’s temper-tantrum should benefit Kurds

Michael Rubin

By Michael Rubin:

In the early morning hours of May 31, 2010, Israeli forces intercepted the Mavi Marmara, a ship owned by a radical Turkish charity to run the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip. In the melee that followed, Israeli forces killed nine Turks, one of whom had dual American citizenship.

Both Turkey and Israel cooperated with a United Nations investigation of the incident. While the commission did not formally release its report publicly, The New York Times published an article based on a leaked copy. While realpolitik considerations normally stack the United Nations against Israel for much the same reasons as they do the Kurds, the committee chaired by former New Zealand premier Geoffrey Palmer largely exculpated Israel and confirmed the legality of Israel’s actions, even though the report found that Israel used excessive force.

In the aftermath of the release, Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan threw a diplomatic temper tantrum. The Turkish government expelled the Israeli ambassador (whose term in Ankara ended this month at any rate) and all diplomats above the second secretary level. Turkey has promised further sanctions, and a broad array of Turkish diplomats have demanded both that Israel apologize and also pay compensation to the families of those killed in the Mavi Marmara incident.

Interpretations and perspectives about the Arab-Israeli conflict are varied and Israel’s actions do not directly impact Kurdistan. Turkey, however, is setting a precedent for itself which a more skillful Kurdish government might exploit. After all, if Turkey considers the Israeli interception of its ship illegal because it occurred in international waters, then Turkey is all the more culpable for its repeated violation of sovereign Iraqi and Iraqi Kurdish territory.

Last month, a Turkish air raid killed seven Kurdish civilians in Iraqi Kurdistan. Surely, the Turks—by Erdoğan’s own definition—used disproportionate force against the unarmed Kurds—several of whom were children or infants. After all, if Turkey defines Israel’s actions illegal because the Israeli Defense Force used disproportionate force—helicopters and hand guns versus activists wielding knives and clubs—then what exactly would the Turkish Foreign Ministry consider Turkey’s own use of supersonic aircraft versus unarmed villagers?

The precedent of Turkey’s position works in Iraqi Kurdistan’s favor in other ways. If Israel’s actions were illegal in Erdoğan’s mind because they occurred in international waters (even if Erdoğan’s interpretation does not conform to maritime law), then Erdoğan certainly should consider the murder of the seven Kurdish civilians illegal because it happened in Iraqi territory. Simply put, by Turkey’s own rules, the Turkish air force pilots, their commanding officers, and Erdoğan himself should be defendants in a war crimes trial.

Likewise, if Turkey believes that Israel must pay compensation to the families of those killed in the operation, at the very least, the Iraqi Kurdish government should demand Turkey pay similar compensation for the Kurds killed by Turkish warplanes. The Kurdistan Regional Government’s silence on the issue is deafening. Then, again, Israeli politicians go to jail if they get kickbacks from business contracts. The same standards do not apply in Iraqi Kurdistan.

The Turkish position has broader implications. Turkey justifies its actions in Iraq because it considers the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) to be a terrorist group, a definition the State Department shares. But, if it is willing to supply and support Hamas—a group that engages in far bloodier actions than the PKK—then Turkey has no moral or legal basis to continue its crusade against the PKK. That Hamas won an election is beside the point. After all, within Turkey, the BDP has won many elections.

Diplomacy is a hard-knuckle sport. It is not about self-enrichment, but about seizing advantage. Iraqi Kurdistan will always be weaker than Turkey and, to officials in Washington, it will always be less important than Turkey so long as Turkey remains in NATO. Still, the Kurdistan Regional Government can seize diplomatic initiative and perhaps protect its own people and force Turkey to moderate its actions, if only Kurdish leaders would play their hand more skillfully.

 

3 Responses to Erdoğan’s temper-tantrum should benefit Kurds
  1. aso
    September 11, 2011 | 09:43

    every single person on the streets of Kurdistan knows what Mr. Rubin is saying. we all know that this is a lost game of Ankara to win the heart of Arabs, this way serving their Ottoman empire expantionist policy. they want to repeat history and take over the region, but they cannot. we all know that Turkey’s democracy is crippled, on one hand they hold elections. on the other hand, they torture a nation, prevent them to practice their own culture and speak their languages. on top of these, they kill them, bury them alive. this is the worst kind of pragmatism I have ever seen.

    • Safo Dirik
      September 13, 2011 | 12:18

      “Ağzına sağlık” yani “health to your mouth”. I sign each word. The last chance for Turkish intellectual is to support the genuine radical movement of BDP. Maybe at last we shall all move to one top of a south eastern mountain and start a new beginning on behalf of a free society, naive Turks and Kurds together. After all we are minority. Long live independent BDP Congress.

  2. Safo Dirik
    September 12, 2011 | 16:57

    The majority of Turkish society, is racist and faschist. They never experienced any penalty for their muddy past with Armenians, Rums, Kurds.. and were manuplated very easily by the rightwing masked various governments. Now Erdoğan will take them to the centuries of Ottoman imperialistic dream which will end with the loss of the land they own and their lives. Let them wave their foolish flags for a last decade. No need to be precautious cause this is their historic fate.
    Of course, Israel and USA must have better governments or they will be sharing the same fate while missing Ottoman last stage.

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