Turkey: The Sick Man of the Middle East

September 3, 2012

By the time this article is published, CIA Director David Petraeus will be in Turkey, according to the Turkish daily Aksam.

Petraeus is to conduct talks with Turkish officials on the situation in Syria and the fight against terrorism. The visit will highlight a number of important issues in U.S.-Turkish relations.

But the question remains, in today’s world — or more precisely, in today’s Middle East — how useful is this relationship for Turkey and for the U.S.?

It goes without saying that both are looking to each other as strategic allies, especially with the new Middle East that is emerging before our eyes.

The vision of Turkey and the U.S. is clear: a Middle East where Turkey has the upper hand or is the elder brother. But can Turkey do that?

What is the U.S. doing to help its strategic partner assume this role? Nothing. In fact, it is encouraging Turkey to go the other way.

During discussions over whether Turkey would join the European Union, it was often called the sick man of Europe because of its economic situation and human rights record, including its treatment of the Kurds.

In today’s Middle East — the Middle East of the people — Turkey runs the risk of being the new Middle East’s sick man.

In almost all the countries that have endured change, the people are heading towards equality and working relationships with their compatriots. This is what people discuss during and after uprisings.

Turkey is the only place that is stable, for better or worse. It will neither have a revolution in its Turkish region nor does it seem to be solving the Kurdish issue.

This dangerous limbo that Turkey is in will not make it fit to become a leader in the Middle East either. It may lead now, but not during a time of stability.

All of Turkey’s fears about what goes on along its borders are somehow related to its Kurdophobia. The starting point for settling this issue will be when Turkey takes the PKK as a partner for peace and not a terrorist organization.

Turkey should be cautious not to repeat the Israeli mistake of looking for a peace partner in everyone but President Arafat.

The reality is that all roads in Kurdish politics in Turkey lead to the PKK and Ocalan. Turkey should recognize this reality and that the Kurdish issue is one of a people, rather than reducing it to a matter of terrorism.

Here, the United States must take a different stance. Rather than treating Turkey like a spoiled partner by agreeing with everything it does and talking about “terrorism” at every opportunity, the U.S. should recognize that it needs a healthy partner — and Turkey with the Kurdish problem is not healthy.

The U.S. should also be aware that the Kurds are one of the most pro-America nations. Constantly labeling as a terrorist organization a group that did not conduct any attacks against America may prompt negative reactions among Kurds and raise calls to attack Americans.

“Unless you attack America, you do not get noticed,” said a Kurdish veteran who watched America’s counterinsurgency strategy in Iraq.

The headlines concerning Petreaus’ visit and Turkey’s attitude today have a lot to do with the Kurds: the situation in Syria refers to Kurds on the Turkish border; terrorism is the code word for the PKK.

Had Turkey gotten over its Kurdophobia, the headlines could have been: Turkey supports equal treatment of the Kurds in the new Syria, Iran and Iraq.

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