Within days following the horrific attacks perpetrated by Isis in Paris, the G20 leaders are meeting in Turkey to discuss a coordinated response to terrorism. As Turkey itself suffered its worst terrorist act in Ankara only one month ago, the security at this meeting will be unprecedented.
Turkey, however, also has blood on its hands having been involved in subjugating the fourth largest ethnic group in the Middle East, the Kurds. The 20 million Kurds are spread over an area comprising eastern Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Syria and Russia. In each of these areas they are a threatened minority and the rise of Isis is a direct peril to their survival. The Kurds in Turkey have since the First World War been the victims of cultural and religious attacks on their ethnicity and political rights.
The right to speak, write and publish in Kurdish was forbidden and even the use of the word “Kurd” was denied and their leaders have been hunted and jailed. Although the Treaty of Sevres, in August 1920, provided for an independent Kurdistan, after the dissolution of Ottoman Turkey, it was never ratified. Again, following the Turkish war for its independence, its promises to the Kurds to grant them some independence in return for their assistance during the war, came to nothing. Instead after attaining independence, Turkey embarked on a policy of ethnic cleansing and perpetrated several massacres, such as those at Dersim and Zilan, where hundreds of thousands of Kurdish lives were lost. Against the Armenians a genocide of over one million civilians was perpetrated.
This stance against the Kurds continues, under the guise of Turkish support for Nato’s efforts to bring about the demise of Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria. While, ironically, the Peshmerga Kurds represent the only effective ground forces able to withstand Isis and the Assad government forces, Turkey has attacked the PKK Kurdish fighters. Thousands of Kurdish civilians have been killed in these attacks and large swathes of “Kurdistan” are uninhabitable. While the Kurds have only ever wanted autonomy in the areas they are the majority, and do not seek the demise of any states in the region, they are considered by the US and Nato to be terrorists.
Turkey attacked Cyprus, with more than 40 000 troops, in 1974 and still occupies northern Cyprus. Unlike Russia, which is facing European and American sanctions, for attacking the Ukraine and Georgia, Turkey seems to have escaped scot-free and is being honoured by now hosting of the G20 powers.
If the leaders of these powers are sincere in their endeavours to confront terrorism they need to first look closely at their own members, and in particular at Turkey, which is playing on both sides of the field. For Nato to be an effective force against Isis, it needs to rein in Turkey’s duplicitous policies.