Some of Washington's stiffest battles are fought among friends. Turkey's harshest critics these days are Europeans, NATO allies all, who charged at a recent hearing of the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on human rights and international organizations that the Turkish military government has jailed and tortured more than 30,000 dissidents since it took power in a 1980 coup.
Amnesty International, which is headquartered in London and discussed human rights in 121 countries in a 1981 report, said after a visit last March that torture "is routine practice in Turkish police stations."
It noted that the government admitted "excesses" and has brought some officials to trial, but added dryly, "It is doubtful if all allegations . . . are subjected to investigation."
Turkish Ambassador Sukru Elekdag interrupted vigorous pressing for an increased foreign aid appropriation to visit several members of Congress and respond to the report. He said, as most nations under human-rights fire tend to do, that things used to be worse: 20 to 30 persons were dying each day in Turkish street riots before the coup.
"Human rights were never mentioned then, only now," he said.
Another Turkish Embassy official, recalling his days at NATO headquarters, reacted with a sigh. "To deal with adversaries is sometimes easier than to deal with friends," he said.
The Greece-Turkey squabble is a good example of the world's ancient, simmering feuds, the kind of struggle between nominal allies that colors everything the adversaries do. It is NATO's worst internal headache, infecting all protocol, planning and military decisions, according to several sources; one Greek official called it "a de facto war."
NATO exercises in the Mediterranean last November foundered on rocks typically invisible to outsiders. The games were canceled when the Greek government, three days before their scheduled start, suddenly announced that it would not participate because the island of Lemnos was not to be included.
Greece has bases on Lemnos, but Turkey wants it demilitarized and, when NATO left the island out of the war games, Greece saw it as a pro-Turkish move. Adding insult to insult, from the Greek viewpoint, NATO had failed to answer a warning letter sent by the Greeks 45 days earlier. "They didn't take us seriously," a Greek official said.
From Turkey's viewpoint, the Greeks are "spoiled children trying to get as much mileage out of us as possible," as one high-ranking Turk put it. The Turks professed astonishment when no other nation supported their 1974 invasion and subsequent expansion into northern Cyprus, which they defended as necessary to protect the Turkish minority there.
They pooh-pooh Greek fears of more such moves, arguing that Greek President Andreas Papandreou is not as afraid of Turkey as his rhetoric indicates. "The Turkish threat suits his purposes for an excuse" not to keep campaign pledges to leave NATO and close U.S. bases, a high-ranking Turk said.
Rhetoric on these bilateral disputes becomes luminous at the United Nations, even though many nations agree with one Turkish official who called the place "basically just a wall of lamentation." The Turks were resigned to losing the debate last May on Cyprus and, like most losers, will ignore the condemnatory resolution. But their U.N. mission began preparing for it in March.
The debates foster odd U.N. alliances. Turkey supports Indonesia's occupation of East Timor because of the rough parallel to Turkey's 1974 occupation of Cyprus. "Besides, they're Moslems," a Turkish diplomat said.
Nations at odds tend to perceive everything through the prism of their own grievances. At least one prominent Greek Cypriot here is convinced that when the Turkish gunman Mehmet Ali Agca was arrested for shooting Pope John Paul II two years ago, the CIA invented the so-called "Bulgarian connection" linking Agca to Moscow because it was determined to defend the Turkish image among Americans.
The Greek and Cypriot left tend to pin growing U.S. warmth toward Turkey completely on CIA plans for helping Israel, ignoring Turkey's NATO role and its own interest in the Israelis. That dates to the 16th century, when Jews fled to Turkey from the Spanish Inquisition, and continues today, when 25,000 Jews still live in Istanbul.
Despite Turkey's anti-Israel rhetoric at the United Nations, Israel regards Turkey as its best friend, or friendliest enemy, in the Moslem world. Turkey's National Security Service joined Iran's SAVAK and Israel's Mossad intelligence agency in 1958 to set up the "Trident" system, according to CIA documents made public by Iranian students who seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran.
The Turkish service provided Israel with data on Arab agents and intentions in return for Mossad information on Soviet activities in Turkey, the papers said. Last year, from the ruins of Beirut, the Israelis provided Turkey with documents linking the Palestine Liberation Organization to Armenian terrorists.
Yet even some sophisticated Turks, ignoring centuries of domestic pressure by Armenians and restive Kurdish nationalists, argue that both groups are run wholly out of Moscow. So anxious is Turkey about perceived threats to its national unity that members of the Turkish media are forbidden to mention the country's 8 million Kurds, nearly one-fifth of the population, and cannot even air their folk music.
The German Lufthansa Airlines sales manager for Istanbul learned this in March, when he was jailed briefly after a Turkish official noticed that the giant globe map of the earth, supplied by Lufthansa for a party, showed "Kurdistan" as a nation. "They thought it was some kind of a conspiracy," a Lufthansa spokesman said.
Greeks and Turks join many other nations in complaining that the United States is perennially surprised by passions that such apparently trivial incidents can arouse, never taking anything seriously until bullets fly. Then, they say, Washington dispatches Cabinet undersecretaries who know only as much about the problem as they can learn by reading on the plane.
Asked about that, a White House official shrugged. "There's only so much trouble you can deal with at once," he said. "Every day is a crisis somewhere."