October 24, 2007

Diplomacy at the forefront

Diplomacy at the forefront
Wednesday, October 24, 2007

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TDN photos, Selahattin Sönmez

Public pressure mounts from all corners of Turkey as people take to the streets calling for action on the day 12 soldiers killed by the PKK were laid to rest. The government, decides to exhaust all diplomatic means, before resorting to a cross-border operation in northern Iraq, holding high-level talks in Washington, London and Baghdad

ANKARA – Turkish Daily News

Chants condemning the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) filled the streets as the government, under heavy public pressure to conduct an incursion into northern Iraq, carried on with its efforts on the diplomatic front yesterday to avoid a cross-border operation.

The government views a cross-border operation as the final resort to counter the terrorist attacks that have left more than two dozen dead in the course of the past two weeks.

As high-level talks were being held in London, Washington and Baghdad, thousands in Turkey took to the streets yesterday to show their fury, the third day in a row since the deadly attack by the PKK Sunday that left 12 soldiers dead.

While Prime Minister Erdoğan signed a strategic partnership agreement with his British counterpart Gordon Brown in London yesterday, he was quick to say that Turkey could not wait forever for the Iraqi government to act against the PKK, adding that Turkey could launch military action into northern Iraqi at "any time."

Foreign Minister Ali Babacan displayed a more consolatory stance in Baghdad and said that politics, dialogue, diplomacy, culture and economy were the measures to deal with this crisis, at a joint news conference in Baghdad with his Iraqi counterpart Hoshyar Zebari.

Zebari promised Iraq will curtail the activities of the terrorist group based in its northern region and will target its funding.

"We do not want to sacrifice our cultural and economic relations with Iraq for the sake of a terror organization," Babacan said, but pointed out that the Turkish people were losing patience and wanted action.

At the same time, there were protest marches all around the country, calling for an incursion into northern Iraq to wipe out the PKK camps there as the 12 soldiers killed last weekend were laid to rest.

A Turkish-Kurdish-American opera buffa
Wednesday, October 24, 2007

This one features more surrealism than any painting of Salvador Dali


Yes, the first ever Turkish-Kurdish-American opera buffa is at your nearest theater! It's a great production, so much fun blended with tragedy, a 21st century reincarnation of dramma giocoso… So much surrealism one could not even find in Dali's paintings!

The Turks are on the streets, waving their Turkish flags and chanting patriotic slogans day and night. At home they hang the Crescent and Star out of their windows or balconies in tribute to their martyrs. Solidarity is the word. Everyone is a virtual hero. I heard a 19-year old girl from Istanbul speaking on the radio and demanding to be enlisted in the army to fight the PKK.

Turkish mourning and Britney Spears

But which government should logically be accountable if the Turks are suffering immeasurable pain for the security tragedy? The government of Peru? Senegal? Send them to ballot boxes in one of these days of national mourning, the Turks would more than overwhelmingly vote for the party they voted for in 2002 and on July 22.

Can they be putting the blame on the military? Probably no. Ask them which institution they trust the most, they would say “the military” as always. But is the PKK violence tantamount to an earthquake, which fairly cannot be blamed on any branch of what constitutes the state/government? The answer may be hidden somewhere else. In these days of collective anger and dismay, you will see this headline in the country's biggest newspaper's list of top five most read stories: Why does Britney Spears not put on underwear?

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has proudly announced that he gave the Americans “a few more days” before Turkey sets off to what the rest of the world fears it might – and upon request by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Interestingly, a few moments before Mr. Erdoğan made his private diplomacy with Ms. Rice public, Defense Minister Vecdi Gönül confirmed that there would be a military incursion into northern Iraq.

Then President George W. Bush comes into the picture and orders a halt to PKK violence. But why now, and not before? Was there a quota limit to the Turkish death toll? Did President Bush decide PKK violence was something that should stop because that quota limit was exceeded after the weekend's attacks? What was the limit? Would he not “intervene personally” if the PKK did not attack at the weekend, but attacked next month?

But the more gloomy news also came from Washington. A spokesman for the State Department said that the United States was Turkey's best friend. Now the Turks should really begin to worry, if that's the case with their best friends…

But Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, quickly added to the humor content of the opera buffa when he said he was worried about Iraqi civilian casualties in the event of a Turkish incursion. When Mr. Gates expressed his care for the Iraqi civilians the Iraq body count was showing the number of civilian casualties at between 75,000 and 82,000 since March 2003.

But that is hardly surprising. Mr. Gates, after all, is a ministerial figure from a country, which bans the sale of alcohol to anyone younger than 21 years old but sends its 17-year-olds to war in Iraq. In that “dreamland,” you are not old enough to consume alcohol, but enough to fight al-Qaeda in Fallujah!

The Kurdish cat and the Kurdish cat-tamers

Meanwhile, Iraq's tribal chief-turned-president, Jalal Talabani, said that he had talked to the PKK men whom his officials have repeatedly said they could not locate, and won a pledge from them to stop their attacks. Mr. Talabani says he is too helpless that he cannot deliver the PKK's leaders to Turkey, or even “a Kurdish cat.”

Then Mr. Erdoğan says a military operation is underway – what for, to catch Kurdish cats? To kill Kurdish cats? No, Kurdish cats should not be killed. They should stop biting and scratching and begin to behave like decent pets. Massoud Barzani has talked to the Kurdish cats so that they won't bite and scratch – for a while. A ceasefire. But can you teach a cat not to bite and scratch? American vets think you can. Good.

Meanwhile, security forces diffuse a bomb near a primary school in the southeast. They blame it on the PKK. Kurdish “peace-doves” will no doubt claim the bomb had been planted and then diffused by the Turkish state in the usual mis-en-scene.

But is there not enough undisputed evidence that there have been more Kurdish casualties in the PKK's attacks than Turkish, including about a quarter of the security forces? Hundreds of Kurdish villagers? Teachers, doctors and imams of Kurdish origins? Since this is an opera buffa, this act is about “Unarmed Kurds in love with armed Kurds who kill armed and unarmed Kurds for the sake of Kurdishness.” Too complicated? Blame it on the nature of the opera.

Final act. Kurdish MPs who privately love Kurdish cats propose their preparedness for a solution to the problem of biting and scratching. How? What is the problem? What is the solution? Or have the cats gone astray these last months so that the voluntary cat-tamers could take the stage?

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