11/06/2007, 00.00
TURKEY – IRAQ – UNITED STATES
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Erdoğan pleased with Bush’s pledges on Kurdish question

by Mavi Zambak
Turkey, Iraq and the United States agree to take action to defeat PKK terrorism. An armed clash might be avoided but the rights of Turkey’s Kurdish minority remain an open issue.

Ankara (AsiaNews) – Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan went home following a meeting with US President George W. Bush in the White House. “Thank God we got what we wanted,” he said soon after he landed in Turkey. PKK terrorism and the Turkish army’s operations across the border with Iraq where PKK (Kurdish Workers’ Party) sought refuge were the main topics discussed by the two leaders’ in their 90-minute meeting.

The Kurdish group, which was founded by Abdullah "Apo" Öcalan, has been declared a terrorist organisation because its operations have left many civilians and soldiers dead in eastern Turkey.

For weeks, especially after clashes on October 20, Turkey’s population has vented its anger in large scale anti-PKK and, generally, anti-Kurdish rallies, something that could turn into a time bomb of hatred and eventually explode.

Faced with such uncontrolled emotions, the Turkish government has tried to calm people and manage the wave of nationalism and the spate of unjustified lynchings that have occurred across the country without abandoning its goal of intervening militarily across the border, which is what many Turks would like to see happen.

Erdoğan went to Washington aware that without US backing Turkey’s battle-ready 100,000 troops can do little along the border with northern Iraq. Not only do they face a difficult mountain terrain but also Kurdistan’s US-armed peshmerga.

The United States has been sending conciliatory signals for some time, trying to calm people and seeking a diplomatic way out of the conflict, fearful that Turkey’s aim might not simply be the PKK but also the destabilisation of the Kurdish state in northern Iraq.

Bush yesterday said that the United States was prepared to fight the common enemies of Turkey and Iraq which are also those of the United States.

Today’s Turkish press splashed across its front pages titles that refer to a US “green light,” explaining that Turkey, the United States and Iraq will work together to oppose the PKK, stopping arms shipments to the terrorist organisation, cutting off its material support through economic sanctions and embargo.

Mr Bush further reiterated that US-Turkish friendship was too important to be destroyed by terrorism.

What the “green light” might actually mean, no one knows. Erdoğan himself said that he hoped that US and Iraqi support might make military action unnecessary. For him the goal is not to start a war but to defeat the PKK terrorist organisation.

Almost as an outcome of this deal, eight Turkish soldiers held by the PKK since October 20 were freed today, handed over in Arbil, northern Iraq, to a delegation from the Democratic Society Party (DTP). 

Many are hopeful that this development might be a sign of easing tensions and lead to new diplomatic steps to solve this domestic and international crisis.

However, there is also a strong impression that the Turkish government is not ready to accept a global approach, a political action plan with broader goals that might solve the decades-old Kurdish question in ways that protects and values this ethnic minority.

In fact in Brussels the European Commission has released a statement today on Turkey’s progress in the economic and social fields in view of its application to join the European Union. In it the Commission points out that freedom of expression and the protection of religious and ethnic minorities are still not fully guaranteed.

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