United States faces Turkish troubles

Editorial

Most of the commentary surrounding the election in Turkey revolved around the fact that the Justice and Development Party (known as AK), a moderate Islamist party, achieved a solid victory. This in a country that was established in the 1920s by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk who expected to have an explicitly secular rather than a religious-oriented government.

The early election was precipitated by veiled threats from the military, which has seized power four times during Turkey’s modern history, when Prime Minister Recep Erdogan sought to place his foreign minister, Abdullah Gul.

Gul is a religious Muslim whose wife wears a headscarf (a religious statement to secular Turkish elites) in the presidency.

The AK party won a higher percentage of votes than it had in 2002 (46.6 percent to 34 percent) but has fewer seats in the Parliament because more parties won at least 10 percent of the vote, the qualifying threshold to place people in parliament.

So speculation is rife: Will the AK prove that a democratically elected Islamist party can govern without posing a threat to moderate Muslims, people of different religions and secular institutions? Will it provide a model for other Middle Eastern countries?

Such questions may be of less concern than others, however.

James Coyle, director of the Center for Global Education at Chapman University and who served two years in the U.S. Embassy in Ankara, said “the Turkish voter has voted for a booming economy, not necessarily for an Islamist ideology.”

Whatever its theological bent, the AK party has presided over economic growth that has reached 7 percent a year, and Turkey is thriving.
Turkey’s politics concern the United States in part because Turkey has long sought membership in the European Union.

Prime Minister Erdogan has pushed reforms to make Turkey more eligible, but there is resistance in France and Germany.

But the major concern for the United States lies in Turkey’s eastern provinces bordering Iraq.

These provinces have a significant Kurdish population and a Kurdish separatist movement, led by guerrillas of the Kurdish Worker’s Party (PKK) has been under way for decades.

Lately the PKK has conducted raids from “safe havens” within the Kurdish-dominated regions of northern Iraq, and the Turkish government has faced pressure to conduct cross-border raids to wipe out the PKK.

There have been rumors of Turkish troops massing on the border and even small-scale raids or probes into Iraq.

The United States, as de facto proprietor of Iraq, faces a dilemma. With all the troubles in other parts of that country, can or should the U.S. divert resources to control the Kurdish nationalist outfit PKK (designated a terrorist organization by the State Department) at the behest of Turkey, a NATO ally?

If it doesn’t, how will it respond if Turkey does conduct military operations over the border and inside Iraq — with military resistance or stern notes through diplomatic channels?

Coyle puts the chances of Turkish military action against the PKK in Iraq at 50/50, so the U.S. may soon face that difficult choice.