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Jewish World Review April 11, 2002 / 30 Nisan 5762

Philip Terzian

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If Turkey wants to be part of Europe, it has to adhere to European standards of national behavior | There was an interesting piece tucked away in the Washington Times the other day. Interesting, that is, and rather sobering as well. The gist of the story, reported by Andrew Bushell in Afghanistan, is that the Turkish army, which is due to succeed the British as the main European peacekeeping force in Kabul, is not quite up to the task.

In just four months the British -- assisted by German, French, Austrian, Italian and Swedish forces -- have transformed Kabul from a dangerous no-man's-land into something resembling a capital city. Whereas the cold January nights were punctuated by the sounds of mortar fire and small-arms duels, you are now six times more likely to be murdered here in Washington than in springtime Kabul. For that, of course, we may thank the interim Afghan government which, precarious though it may be, has striven to reunite its fractious society. But principal credit goes to the British who, with 33 years' recent experience in Northern Ireland, know as much about keeping the peace as making war.

The transition to the Turkish army, which was supposed to occur this month, has been delayed by the Turkish government of Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit, which has raised objections to the cost of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). But according to the Times story, soldiers on the ground would be content if the delay were indefinite. Speaking to officers and noncoms from the various armies, Mr. Bushell paints a persuasive picture of cultural clash. Everyone agrees that the Turks are great fighters, but there is a difference between annihilating your adversary and keeping the peace among disparate factions.

A recent inspection tour of ISAF by a group of Turkish generals merely emphasized the fact. Instead of inquiring about the fine points of military diplomacy, or taking the trouble to learn the differences among factions and parties, the Turks seemed mainly interested in setting up shop as an army of occupation, and keeping their jeeps neatly polished by enlisted men. The comments are chilling: The Turks are "in way over their heads," says one British colonel. "I just hope I'm gone before the Turks arrive," says an Austrian officer. "It will be a different world."

Translation: Instead of defusing incidents, or disarming potential troublemakers, the Turks are likely to aggravate situations and open fire at the first signs of discord. As more than one European officer noted, such attitudes may serve them well in suppressing Turkey's Kurdish minority, or sustaining its brutal occupation of northern Cyprus, but it could have disastrous effects on the war against terrorism. It is not hard to see a Turkish massacre or two reigniting the Afghan civil war; and given the Turkish army's close ties to Israel, such a catastrophe would further inflame the Arab world at a moment when the Bush administration is proposing action against Saddam Hussein.

It also illustrates a problem, and opportunity, for American policymakers. Cyprus is on the verge of accession to the European Union, a feat which Turkey would like to emulate. The problem, of course, is that Turkey has illegally occupied the northern half of that island nation since 1974, and has even threatened to annex the self-styled Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus when the (democratic, genuine) Republic of Cyprus joins the EU, probably next year. Annexation probably won't happen, but the mere fact of Turkish intransigence on the question is yet another example of Ankara's failure to grasp what it means to be part of Europe.

The European Union has been admirably firm: Turkey is welcome to apply for membership in the EU, but only after withdrawal from Cyprus and basic reforms in its authoritarian style of government, which is unofficially run by the army. Despite Turkey's membership in NATO, and close ties to Israel and the Pentagon, the European Union has stood on principle in the matter, as it should. But it is not for nothing that those European officers cite Turkey's occupation of Cyprus, and treatment of its Kurdish minority at home, as evidence that the Turkish army is not quite ready for prime time in Kabul.

This is one instance where the Bush administration could make a genuine difference. In the midst of the war against terrorism, and the Israeli-Palestinian explosion, Cyprus is not high on the list of priorities in Washington. But if American policymakers are determined to orient Turkey toward the West, substantial progress could be made if Washington put pressure on Ankara to do the right thing in Cyprus. If Turkey wants to be part of Europe, it has to adhere to European standards of national behavior. That applies to keeping the peace in neighboring Afghanistan, ending the tragic division of an independent Cyprus -- and who knows? even facing the truth about the Armenian genocide.

JWR contributor Philip Terzian is associate editor of The Providence Journal. Comment by clicking here.


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© 2001, The Providence Journal