Turkey Rebukes Congress, Threatens Northern Iraq

Molly Moore
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, October 22, 2007; 12:00 PM

Washington Post foreign correspondent Molly Moore was online Monday, Oct. 22 at 12 p.m. ET to discuss U.S.-Turkish relations, including the anger regarding a House resolution recognizing World War I treatment of Armenians as genocide, and the authorization of force by Turkey's Parliament to set the groundwork for an invasion of Northern Iraq to fight the Kurdish PKK insurgent group.

The transcript follows.


Molly Moore: The news continues in Turkey and on the Iraq border. I look forward to trying to answer your questions.


New York: Iraqi Kurds seem to not want to get rid of PKK. What are the actual reasons for this? They claim that they have 100,000 soldiers and that they can resist the Turkish military (the second largest in NATO). Yet somehow they are ineffective in controlling PKK. Do they really want a solution to the PKK problem?

Molly Moore: This is the heart of the problem. For the Kurds, this is largely an ethnic issue: The Kurds want a homeland, the PKK is fighting for a homeland ,and in general the Kurdish people support the struggle for a Kurdish homeland, even if they may not support violence by the PKK doing cross-border strikes. Even if officials in Baghdad order Kurdish officials in northern Iraq to take action against the PKK, the local officials up north will be hard-pressed to do so.


North McLean, Va.: Has anyone considered the refuge crises that might arise if all the Kurds in the region were to all rise up in an attempt to establish a new Kurdistan?

Molly Moore: This is exactly what officials in all the border countries are concerned about. Turkey, Iran and Syria all have Kurdish minorities who want a new Kurdistan, coupled with the Iraqi Kurdish region. If Turkey sends an invasion force into Northern Iraq, there is fear of the conflict spreading throughout the Kurdish region.


San Francisco: What is the current sentiment in Turkey towards France, considering that France has already passed an Armenian Genocide resolution and criminalized it's denial? Doesn't Turkey need U.S. assistance and military contracts more than the U.S. needs Turkey?

Molly Moore: Although the French parliament approved a resolution criminalizing the denial of Armenian Genocide, it never was signed into law. The parliamentary action prompted the Turks to sever most of their military ties with France. The stakes are of course much higher with the U.S., because the U.S. sends a huge percentage of its equipment, supplies and fuel through Turkish airbases and overland routes into Iraq. While in the global scheme of things one might argue that Turkey needs the U.S. more, at this moment in time -- when the war in Iraq is a disaster and Turkey is playing such a crucial role in supplying U.S. troops and reconstruction teams -- Turkey has powerful leverage.


Raleigh, N.C.: How is this latest crisis affected by the conflict between the military and the civilian, Islamist politicians controlling Turkey's government?

Molly Moore: An outside enemy always tends to diminish internal feuding and force all sides to focus on the external threat; this is no exception. The military has been pressuring the civilians government for months to allow cross-border operations; the civilians have held back. Now, the civilians have voted conceptually to allow cross-border operations. Even though the military has been pushing for this, now, if given the order to go, they face the same problem as conventional armies fighting guerilla forces anywhere. It's difficult to root out the small bands of rebels or find their leaders (a la the hunt for bin Laden). It's difficult to send tanks and big pieces of hardware into the rebels' home territory (in this case Northern Iraq), and bombing raids have the nasty tendency to kill lots of innocent civilians (the U.S. in Afghanistan and Iraq, Israel in the Palestinian territories). So there are no easy answers even if the civilian government gives the military the green light.


New York: What are the possible action plans for the U.S. government at this point relating to combating with the PKK? Rice wanted couple days from Turkey, but do you believe the U.S. has the answers that would satisfy Turkey?

Molly Moore: Turkey argues it has given the U.S. four and a half years to do something and the U.S. has done nothing. The U.S. is concerned about creating chaos in the only relatively -- and let me emphasize relatively -- stable part of a dysfunctional country. The U.S. may have the answers, but it's questionable they can pull them off as quickly as Turkey is demanding.


Los Angeles: Is it acceptable for the U.S. Congress to stand mute while Turkey denies a historical fact and international crime in order to curry favor from Turkey?

Molly Moore: The key issue here is not for the U.S. or any other country to make a judgment -- the key issue is for Turkey to achieve its own reconciliation with Armenians on the issue, to openly and freely debate the issue and come to terms with it.


New York: Do you have any comments on the recent provoking statements made by both Talibani and Barzani regarding how they will be dealing with the situation? Including the Baghdad administration and the U.S., everybody has been saying that Turkey has the right to defend itself but should refrain from carrying an incursion into Iraq, because it is their responsibility to handle the issue there. When Israel invaded Lebanon, it received full support from the U.S. administration. What is the reason of this double standard?

Molly Moore: The U.S. was not occupying Lebanon at the time.


Germany: I realized that in every statement in which PKK is mentioned, it is referred to as an incursion group. Why do you call this terrorist group rebels instead of a terrorist group, which they are in reality?

Molly Moore: "Terrorist" is a term the news media grapples with every day. The policy of The Post, for instance, is not to use the term "terrorist attack." Doesn't it tell you more to know that a suicide bomber exploded himself in the midst of a political rally than to simply say there was a terrorist attack at a political rally? The U.S. has declared the PKK a terrorist group; The Washington Post isn't in the business of declaring terrorist groups. Therefore, we attribute the label to those who have declared it and we try to tell the reader whether these are rebel factions, suicide bombers, militants armed with AK-47s, etc. The reader can choose their own labels for the various actions taken or the people conducting those actions.


New York: You say "key issue is for Turkey to achieve its own reconciliation with Armenians over the issue, to openly and freely debate the issue and come to terms with it," but Article 301 in Turkey prevents this. Wouldn't the Armenian Genocide resolution in Congress force the issue in Turkey?

Molly Moore: At this point in time, the answer seems to be no. A big problem is that you have the confluence of two unrelated events that have become related because of the timing. The PKK has been conducting attacks inside Turkey since the war for autonomy began in 1984. While the attacks diminished somewhat after the U.S. invaded Iraq, they have kicked up again. Public anger over the deaths of soldiers and civilians in the last two to three weeks coincided with the Armenian genocide vote in the House committee and combination is severely threatening relations between the two countries.


Washington: I got an earful from a Turkish cabdriver over the weekend that when this happened, there wasn't a Turkey? Sounds like us arguing about the American Civil War.

Molly Moore: Even Nancy Pelosi said she had nothing against the current government, that it was the Ottoman Empire.


Ocala, Fla.: How large is the current U.S. military presence in Kurdistan? What happens if our forces take casualties, either from the Turks or the Kurds -- do we shoot back or get out of the way?

Molly Moore: Because the situation is relatively quiet in Northern Iraq, there are not huge numbers of U.S. forces there. The U.S. has been trying to get away with not putting many forces in the north, directing them instead to other more troubled regions of the country. The U.S. and Turkey have the two largest militaries in NATO they are allies and likely would coordinate, in one way or the other, any military operations in the area.


Detroit: How close is Turkey to meeting the requirements of the European Union to be eligible for membership, and is the admission of the Armenian genocide part of the requirements?

Molly Moore: Turkey has come a long way on meeting many of the requirements of the EU for membership, but still has a long way to go on issues such as human rights, economics, politics and making sure that the military is adequately subservient to the elected leadership. But many analysts argue that some of the hoops Turkey is being asked to jump through to join the EU are a smoke screen for the EU's reluctance to admit a huge, poor Muslim country into its club. There is a growing xenophobia across Europe today, and a growing fear of expanding immigrant and Muslim populations. So there are two issues here: the requirements the EU is demanding and the public and political sentiments in the EU today.


Anonymous: Does the EU have any say in what's happening on the border between Turkey and its neighbors ?

Molly Moore: No official say, but a huge interest, as do many countries and neighbors. The Turkish prime minister is heading to Britain for talks and the foreign minister to Kuwait. There is a huge amount of diplomacy going on now by many parties that have large interests or stakes in what is happening on that border. Condi Rice called the Prime Minister yesterday before his security council meeting urging Turkey to hold off any attack.


Frederick, Md.: What is the extent of actual denial in Turkey, as opposed to a dispute over language ("genocide" vs. "massacre," etc.)?

Molly Moore: The Turks don't deny there were massive killings; they say it was part of a civil war during the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. They argue large numbers of Turks were killed in the same conflict. The problem of course, is that there's a big difference in the definition of genocide and massacre; and that's where the disagreement lies.


Molly Moore: Thank you all very much for your excellent questions. Many apologies to those we didn't have time to get to this time. We hopefully will have another chance.


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