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    Middle East
     Oct 23, 2007
Page 2 of 2
Turkey approaches its 'finest hour'
By Sami Moubayed

member state would be considered an attack on all of them combined, calling for collective defense. Turkey has been a member of NATO since 1952, and since then Article 5 has only been implemented once, after September 11, 2001, when it came to defending American security. The Turks claim that the PKK is to them what al-Qaeda is to America. They wonder whether the US would tolerate a silent Turkey if al-Qaeda launched a new

terrorist attack on Washington, DC, or New York City?

The international media are abuzz with editorials on how far the Turks will go in their military threats against the PKK. Many say very far. Others, however, remain skeptical, saying that Turkey will not engage in a full-scale war that could damage its relations with Iraq and the United States. One Turkish columnist even wrote: "If Turkey intervenes in northern Iraq, it will be the beginning of the break-up of Turkey." That argument is hard to believe; it sounds almost ludicrous that a military operation could spell Armageddon for Ankara. On the contrary, a standoff with the PKK, or a "surgical strike" into Iraqi Kurdistan, would do wonders for Erdogan.

Turkish unity
Let us not forget that combating the PKK is one thing on which all Turks seem to agree. There is no disagreement at any level of the political spectrum, from radical secularists to ultra-conservatives, on the need to root out terrorism on Turkey's border with Iraq. By taking a tough stance against the PKK, Erdogan brings disgruntled secularists - and the military officers - under his wing.

The officers, loyal to the secularism of Kemalist Turkey, have believes for the past four years that Erdogan had a hidden Islamic agenda. Signals coming out of the Prime Minister's Office were wrongly received by members of the military establishment - sometimes on purpose. The fact that his wife is veiled, that he has improved relations with Palestine, Iran and Syria, and that his party does have a moderate Islamic program all sent alarms ringing in the Turkish army, whose officers consider themselves "vanguards" of secular Turkey.

Changes in Turkey's foreign policy, however, did not negatively affect its relationships with the European Union, to which Turkey is seeking admittance. Erdogan has always argued that a party pursuing a leftist Islamic agenda would never seek membership in the European Union. The officers and secularists were not listening, busy trying to discredit the government.

They panicked when the AKP ran for office again this year, claiming that its platform, and the candidacy of then presidential candidate Abdullah Gul, were "a threat to the secular and democratic nature of the Turkish Republic". The thought of a veiled woman - Gul's wife, the current first lady - at the presidential palace, was seemingly too much for them to bear. The military delivered an unusually sharp warning to the AKP and secularists came out with approximately 400,000 people, demonstrating against the ruling party in the capital Ankara. One of the slogans read: "We want neither sharia [Islamic law] nor another coup, but a democratic Turkey."

In the past, the Turkish general staff has often proved that they will not hesitate in using brutal force to defend their powers. The Turkish military has carried out no fewer than four coups in recent history; in 1960, 1971, 1980 and 1997. They were seemingly on alert to do it again. Justice Minister Cemil Cicek denounced the threats and declared that, according to the constitution, "the army is subordinate to the prime minister". In a democratic constitutional state, it is "inconceivable" that the general staff sets itself against the government, he said.

This summer, some observers believed that if the seculars failed to win the elections, the US and Israel would spark off a confrontation between the PKK and Erdogan, via the Iraqi border. That would give the military establishment enough ammunition to use against the prime minister, having failed to nail him at the polls. It would give them justification to launch a coup, claiming that he was unable to bring security to Turkey.

Well, clearly, they have tried to do so, not expecting an ultra-nationalistic stance from the prime minister. He literarily overshadowed seculars and officers who claimed to defend Turkey better than the prime minister. The US today cannot find a single officer in Turkey - if they are contemplating a coup to oust the AKP - willing to jeopardize his career by coming to blows with Erdogan. The man has simply become too popular.

Written appeal
Not only has Erdogan stretched a hand to adversaries like seculars and officers but also to disgruntled Kurds and Armenians. To the Kurds he has pumped a lot of government money to improve their districts in southern Turkey. As for the Armenians, they are furious that the US Congress has delayed passing a nonbinding resolution, claiming that the Ottoman Army committed genocide against Armenian Turks during World War I. Put up by the Democrats, it was strongly opposed by Ankara, and postponed by Bush, who feared that Erdogan could respond either by shelling Kurdistan or by cutting off supply lines to US troops stationed to Iran, running through Turkey.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates also lobbied against the resolution, saying that congressional approval could damage relations with Turkey, "perhaps beyond repair". He added, "Having worked this issue in the last Bush administration, I don't think the Turks are bluffing. I think it is meaningful to them. I think there is a very real risk."

Erdogan recently wrote an article for the Western media, saying, "While we search for ways to address this painful issue [the events of World War I] and develop our relations with Armenia, we cannot live in the past. Our sincere efforts for dialogue and reconciliation is on the table." He then proposed a joint historical commission to revisit the killings of 1915. His article may not be enough, but it is a symbolic message telling the world, "We want more friends and fewer enemies for Turkey."

And then there is Kirkuk
One theory says that in addition to anger at what the PKK is doing, Turkey is opposed to the very essence of Iraqi Kurdistan. The Kurds (including the PKK) want to create a Kurdish state out of southeastern Turkey, northeastern Iraq, northeastern Syria and northwestern Iran. They now have their eyes set on oil-rich Kirkuk, which as of the late 1990s still had a reserve of 10 billion barrels.

They plan on annexing it to Kurdistan. If given to the Kurds, with its 1 million barrels per day, the city would add tremendous political, geographical and financial wealth to Iraqi Kurds, which in turn would threaten neighboring countries like Turkey, Iran and Syria.

The Turks fear that autonomy and stability in Kurdistan mean that the Kurds will encourage more violence against Turkey and instigate, either directly or by virtue of their "success story" in Iraqi, their Turkish counterparts to demand similar autonomy within Turkey.

That should never happen, believes the prime minister. Remembering British statesman Winston Churchill's famous quote during World War II, that Britain's "finest hour" had come in resisting Adolf Hitler, Erdogan and Turkey could now be approaching their "finest hour".

Sami Moubayed is a Syrian political analyst.

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