Page 2 of 2 Turkey fears Kurds, not
Armenians By Spengler
national integrity. If the American Congress accuses the Turkey of genocide
against the Armenians (as 22 countries already have), the Kurds will have a
stronger argument for autonomy - despite the fact that the Kurds dominate
eastern Turkey precisely because they slaughtered the Armenians. The Kurds may
not deserve nationhood, but “’Deserves’ got nothing to do with it,” as Clint
Eastwood’s character offered in the movie Unforgiven.
When the issue of Armenian genocide erupted, I immediately looked for news
about the Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk, winner
of the 2006 Nobel Prize for Literature, and the only Turk with a global voice.
Pamuk reportedly spent his prize money on a Manhattan apartment, suggesting
that he has no plans to return to a homeland that threatened to jail him for
mentioning the Armenian massacres to a Swiss interviewer. That speaks volumes
about the Turkish frame of mind.
Pamuk’s novel Snow comes as close to a national tragedy as Turkey is
likely to produce. Set in the eastern border city of Kars, it shows how Islam
is filling the hollow spaces in the secular Turkish society created by Kemal
Ataturk, the great modernizer who fashioned the post-Ottoman state. Young women
hang themselves in protest against the proscription of Islamic garb, and young
men turn to Islamist terrorism. The decaying mansions of the murdered Armenians
of Kars look down upon the tragedy like a spectral chorus. In past essays I
have recommended Pamuk’s work to anyone who seeks to understand Turkey (The
fallen bridge over the Bosporus, Oct 31, 2006;
In defense of Turkish cigarettes, Aug 24,
2006). To his own chagrin, Pamuk has become the conscience of his nation, and a
nation that exiles its conscience becomes a danger to itself and others.
Iraq never has been viable as a national entity, not when the British Colonial
Office cobbled it together out of former Ottoman provinces in 1921, nor when
Saddam Hussein ruled it by terror, and surely not under the present American
occupation. As the US Senate has had the belated wisdom to recognize, it will
break up. The Ottoman Empire never was viable - at its peak half of its
population was Christian - and its Anatolian rump, namely modern Turkey, may
break up as well. Iran, the mini-empire of the Persians who comprise only half
the population, may not hold together, nor may Syria, a witches’ cauldron of
ethnicities ruled by the brutal hand of the Alawite minority.
America is not responsible for chaos in the Middle East. The Middle East has
known nothing but chaos for most of its history. The colonial policy of the
European powers after World War I left inherently unstable structures in place
that must, one day, meet their reckoning. But America’s obsession with the
surgical implant of democracy in the region forces it into a murderous game of
whack-a-mole with a welter of armed ethnicities.
How should American strategy respond to violent expressions of existential
despair by failing ethnicities? One approach was suggested by Washington Post
columnist David Ignatius on October 14: “A starting point is [former Carter
Administration National Security Advisor] Zbigniew Brzezinski's new book, Second
Chance, which argues that America's best hope is to align itself with
what he calls a 'global political awakening'. The former national security
adviser explains: ‘In today's restless world, America needs to identify with
the quest for universal human dignity, a dignity that embodies both freedom and
democracy but also implies respect for cultural diversity.'"
I suppose Brzezinski means that America should avoid offending Turkish dignity
when speaking about the Armenians, and do the same with the Armenians when
speaking of the Turks. What makes the appeal to “cultural diversity”
preposterous is that the self-expression of Seljuk Turk culture is the
suppression of the Kurds, the self-expression of Sunni identity is to suppress
the Shi’ites, and so on and so forth. Ethnic tantrums in response to perceived
indignities are amplified by a sense of failure in the modern world that cannot
be assuaged by American “respect”.
Live and let die, I propose instead. For the past seven years I have argued
that the West cannot avoid perpetual conflict in the Middle East, and, rather
than seeking stability, should steer the instability towards its own ends.
Washington should forget about Turkish support in Iraq, allow the Mesopotamian
entity to disintegrate into its constituent parts, while helping the Kurds
maintain autonomy against Iraq. That would teach the Turks to bite the hand
that feeds them. A pro-Western Kurdish state would strengthen Washington’s hand
throughout region, with adumbrations in Syria and Iran as well as Turkey.
One should, of course, take Turkish interests into account. To restore its
national dignity, Turkey should be encouraged to incorporate the
Turkish-speaking (“Azeri”) minority of Iran, and so forth. Turkey ultimately
may concede territory to an independent Kurdistan, but more than replace it by
annexing portions of Western Iran. One cannot accord respect to failing
nationalities; one can only let them fight it out. Breaking up Iraq will not
foster stability. On the contrary, it will make the old instabilities a
permanent feature of the regional landscape.
In the case of Iraq, the danger associated with partition stems from Iran’s
influence among Iraqi Shi’ites. But Iran, as noted, is just as vulnerable to
ethnic disintegration as Iraq, and Washington should do its best to encourage
this. If, as I expect, the West employs force against Iran’s nuclear weapons
development capacity, the ensuing humiliation of the Tehran regime would
provide an opportunity to undo some of the dirty work of World War I-era
cartographers. All this is hypothetical, of course; the little men behind the
desks in Washington do not have the stomach for it.