03 September 2006

978) Opinions Maps and illusions

I read retired U.S. Col. Ralph Peters' scholarly article on the adjustment of Middle Eastern borders on the first day it was published in the Armed Forces Journal nearly a month ago.

At the time, however, I humbly didn't deign to touch on that esteemed and unique piece of mental effort.

The reason I refrained was not because the ideas forwarded by Peters are absurd. Supposedly Peters is one of those "brilliant" experts in the U.S. who, in contrast to such illiterate mortals as ourselves, has managed to grasp precisely the very essence of Middle Eastern dynamics as well as its problems. . .

I didn't comment straightaway because I wanted to see how Washington would inevitably respond. That response, though amusing and far from convincing, was not late in coming: The U.S. Embassy in Ankara issued a statement on Aug. 3 emphasizing that neither the author nor the publication had any affiliation with the U.S. government and that the opinions in the article "in no way" reflected U.S. policy.

Can we then consider the file closed?

Not at all

Peters' line of thinking is increasingly coming to represent a new trend in Washington: A blindly emotional and idealized Kurdophilism among a newly emerging, but for the time being very narrow, group, most members of which have served or are still serving in Iraq, for the Pentagon in particular. One important element of such sentiments is unfortunately a rapidly growing Turcophobia, apparently stemming from turbulences in bilateral relations ever since the Turkish Parliament's rejection of the Bush administration's request to permit the transit of U.S. troops (March 1, 2003). The fact that Turkey has been made a scapegoat for failures in Iraq is another factor that strengthens this psychological state.

Let's analyze how this line of thinking is trying to justify itself within the framework of Peters's arguments in the said article.

According to this eminent Middle East expert, "The region's comprehensive failure isn't Islam but the awful-but-sacrosanct international boundaries worshipped by [their] own diplomats." Presumably, "the most glaring injustice in the notoriously unjust lands between the Balkan Mountains and the Himalayas is the absence of an independent Kurdish state."

So far there is intellectually nothing worth criticizing and the arguments seem to be nothing more than wishful thinking. The problem, at least for me, surfaces when Peters unperturbedly dares to claim subsequently that "the eastern fifth of Turkey should be viewed as occupied territory." He eventually elaborates on how the Kurds are suppressed by Turks. To justify his thoughts in that regard, Peters chooses to resort to playing that popular anti-Turkish card, namely the alleged Armenian genocide, saying, "And one haunting wrong can never be redressed with a reward of territory: The genocide perpetrated against the Armenians by the dying Ottoman Empire."

He then astutely argues, "The current human divisions and forced unions between Ankara and Karachi, taken together with the region's self-inflicted woes, form as perfect a breeding ground for religious extremism, a culture of blame and the recruitment of terrorists as anyone could design." However, a "Free Kurdistan, stretching from Diyarbakir through Tabriz, would be the most pro-Western state between Bulgaria and Japan." In fact, "Iraq should have been divided into three smaller states immediately after Baghdad's fall."

He finally lists Turkey as one of the losers in the future he foresees and forwards the map he suggests as the "new Middle East." on this map, Turkey's entire eastern Anatolian territory is part of "Free Kurdistan."

I am pretty sure that my sensible friends, those from the U.S. included, will criticize me by saying that arguments like Peters' are nonsense; commenting on them is only wasting time. If it was just this one map, I could definitely agree with them.

A short while ago, I saw a map which I was told was hanging on the walls of official buildings in northern Iraq. Much to my "surprise," I found out that the map Peters suggests is almost the same as the one prepared by our Kurdish neighbors. The only exception is their inclusion of Hatay, a city just next to Syria, into greater Kurdistan as well. Those who know how lobbying in the U.S. political system works would better understand what kind of relationships might have played a role behind the collusion of both maps.

The solution the U.S. government has suggested for terrorist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) bases in northern Iraq is always the same: Cooperation with the Iraqi authorities, our Kurdish friends included. At a recent press conference, U.S. Ambassador to Ankara Ross Wilson stated that the U.S. government would be following up in the coming days "with the same sense of urgency" that Turkey attaches to ending PKK terrorism. He, too, suggested consultations as well as cooperation between the U.S., Turkish and Iraqi authorities. Nevertheless, he also confessed that the meetings of this trilateral mechanism "have not been as productive as [they] would have liked them to be."

Could Mr. Ambassador please tell me whether he sincerely believes that these meetings in such circumstances will yield any results? If one of these meetings is held in northern Iraq in the coming days, will these maps hang on the walls of the office where the delegations will gather? In what respect is the situation different from Syria where maps claiming Hatay as part of their territory were hanging on the walls of official buildings? Given this backdrop, is trust indeed possible?

Last, but not least, will our American friends, who have repeatedly accused the Turkish state of acting too passively to rising anti-U.S. feeling in Turkey, be lifting a finger to deal with the growing anti-Turkish bias in their own country? Or are such absurd considerations indeed part of plans for "a new Middle East"?

The New Anatolian, Turkey Aug 17 2006
by Cem Oguz


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