For years Turkish politicians and the capitalist elite they curry favour with have dreamed of entry into Europe and of the new markets that this would open up to them. Two obstacles had always stood in their way—the opposition of Greece, stemming from Turkey’s invasion of Cyprus in 1974 and. arguably less importantly, Turkey's abysmal human rights record.
In early March of this year Greece finally abandoned its opposition to Turkish entry into Europe, in return for a guarantee that the EU would initiate membership negotiations with Cyprus within six months of the 1996 Conference to review the Maastricht treaty.
The customs union Turkey would from now on enjoy would “benefit everyone" reported the Economist:
"The EU would get improved, tariff-free access to a market of 60 million, with which in 1993 it enjoyed a $6 bn trade surplus. Turkey would get access to 36 7 million customers . . . Turkey would get access to 1 billion ecus ($1.2 bn) in aid blocked by Greece's veto . . . [and] ... the European Union's eastern flank would be guarded by a prospering Turkey, a NATO ally" (11-17 February, 1995).
The deal couldn't have come at a better time for a country facing economic ruin. Prices have risen by 150 percent in Turkey in the past 12 months while wages have only increased by 30 percent. Unemployment is soaring and the trade unions claim 500.000 have lost their jobs in the past year. Furthermore. Tansu Ciller's government, with the help of an IMF loan is struggling to reduce a huge national deficit in the wake of years of overspending and economic mismanagement.
Within a week, the ink on the customs union agreement hardly dry, Turkey sent 35,000 troops across its border with Iraq in pursuit of the separatist rebels of the PKK and into the Kurdish “safe haven" set up by the allies after the Gulf War.
It was a move that immediately brought international condemnation from European governments, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees and from the International Committee of the Red Cross. While international law was cited as having been breached, the Turkish government argued the invasion complied with international law because it was intended "to exterminate a threat to the lives and security of Turkish citizens" (Independent, 23 March).
Operation Steel, involving troops, tanks and war planes can, however, be seen in a different light. For one thing. Turkey's war against the 10,000 members of the PKK accounts for 25 percent of the national budget annually—some 315,000 troops are stationed in southern Turkey. With the country experiencing severe recession, and with the prospect of an economic boom on the horizon, the decision to invade the Kurdish safe haven can be seen as a last ditch attempt to rid Turkey once and for all of a major obstacle to recovery.
Again. Turkish intellectuals are pointing to what cognisant British workers have come to regard as the "Falklands Factor", seeing the invasion as an attempt to bolster national pride and to deflect attention from domestic ills. Indeed, the Independent (29 March) recently reported that "the sense of national pride is higher than at any time since the invasion of Cyprus in 1974".
Ciller’s attempt to crush resistance in northern Iraq can also be interpreted as a consequence of her desire to stabilise relations with Saddam. UN sanctions on Iraq have severely interfered with the flow of crude oil into Turkey, costing Turkey over $20 billion since 1991. The unsanctioned oil reaching Turkey nowadays ($800 millions-worth last year) does so by lorry via the Kurdish-controlled safe haven, from which a sizeable levy is extracted by the controlling KDP (Kurdish Democratic Party).
While the European Parliament frowned upon the invasion, threatening to block the EU customs union between Ankara and Europe if there were resultant human rights abuses, and while Germany's Chancellor Kohl was freezing a $107 million military aid package in protest, support was to be found in the good old US of A.
For the US, the Kurds, and for that matter the Turks, are but pawns in the international game of political chess (see Socialist Standard, November 1994). The Kurds have lost their interest and more importantly their strategic value to the West. For Adrian Hamilton, writing in the Observer "the reality is that the west is looking to a well armed Turkey . . . to contain both Iraq and Iran" (26 March). Ferhat Azizi was to say as much a few days later, believing that "the Americans . . . are still haunted by the 1979 Iranian revolution and are unwilling to upset an ally they see as a bulwark against Islamic fundamentalism" (New Statesman and Society, 31 March).
Evidence now suggests that Iraq is rearming and that Iran is once again flexing its muscles, massing forces on its Gulf coast. In recent weeks newspapers have run scores of headlines regarding Iran's war readiness, with alarm bells ringing all that more poignantly in the light of rumours concerning its nuclear capacity. From the West’s point of view, the Gulf states are armed to the teeth and trigger happy. Ironically it was the West that armed them when the Gulf War ended, providing $55 billions-worth of military hardware. Turkey, therefore, is ideally situated from a strategic point of view. Not solely because of its close proximity to unpredictable Middle East regimes. but increasingly lately because it also straddles the Balkans and the Caucasus—further potential flashpoints of Islamic fervour.
Neither can Britain claim to have merely a passing interest in Turkey's affairs. It is now no secret that the RAF has provided Turkish military chiefs with aerial photographs of the Kurdish safe haven taken by allied warplanes. Nor that allied warplanes based in Turkey suspended their policing of the safe haven while Turkish bombers took off from the same bases to bomb PKK positions twenty-five miles south of the Turkish border.
Britain and the US know only too well the debt Turkey, a NATO ally, will owe the West should Turkey become a full European member. In the meantime they make their hackneyed token protests while turning a blind eye to human rights abuses, while Turkey allows itself to become a bastion against the spread of Islamic fundamentalism, guarding capitalist Europe's eastern flank like a rear gunner with a full swing on the Balkans, the Caucasus and the Gulf region where "ignorant armies clash by night". None of which surprises the socialist, all too aware of the hidden agendas, the corruption and barrel-scraping stunts capitalism must continue to pull in its endless pursuit of profit.