Peace Corps Writers
Turks and Kurds (page 4)
Turks and Kurds
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More about Turkey

Language, religion, ethnicity
Turkey is well over 90 percent Moslem — predominantly Sunni Moslem. But, other than religion, Turks share history and culture with Europe and Central Asia as much or more than they do with the Arab world. The Turks ruled Arabs for centuries, and they had fought against each other as recently as WW I. More primally, the Turkish language is central Asian, a Ural-Altaic language, as compared to the Semitic languages of the Arabs and the Indo-European languages of Persians and Kurds. I understand that modern Kurdish dialects are related to older Persian dialects, maybe even to the languages spoken by the Biblical Medes. Ataturk and the modernizers who followed him, rebuilt the Turkish language, took away its “foreign” Arabic alphabet and replaced it with a modern Latin one that made reading and writing easier. They purged the language of Arabic and Persian words and reached back to old Central Asian Turkic dialects for others.
     They built alliances with Israel, because Israel, like Turkey, was a new nation-state bent on modernizing. And Turks had a history with Jews. At the time of the Inquisition in Europe, many Jews fled to the Ottoman Empire, where they were allowed to live and practice their religion as one of the many millets or “peoples,” of the Empire. In my time in Turkey, Turks who worked in technical fields often went to Israel for training, and sometimes Israeli agriculturalists paid return visits. I have read that the current Turkish government, considered the most religiously oriented since statehood, still has strong ties with Israel.

Commenting on current events
I know that my knowledge is more than thirty years old, that the Gulf War brought thousands of Iraqi Kurdish refugees across the border into Diyarbakir, and a Kurdish nationalist movement in Turkey was harshly suppressed by the Turkish government in the ’90s. But I also know that my old knowledge of Turks and Kurds is relevant in a place where history is measured in decades and dynasties as easily and often as it is measured in years.
     I believe that the Turks have many legitimate reasons for skepticism of this war on Iraq. The first Gulf War cost Turkey a large trading partner with oil money to pay for its agricultural and manufacturing products. And it stirred the Kurdish pot that boiled into Turkey and a nationalist uprising. Those who would say that a new stirring might lead to a real Kurdish state should know how diverse, how tribal, and how woven into the Turkish power fabric some of the Kurdish population is. They should also know that there are major divisions in the Iraqi Kurdish community as well; a problem that by news reports has been eased with the gradual withdrawal of Iraqi control of the area but that might be exacerbated by a border free-for-all. There are large Kurdish populations in Iran and Syria as well, so that a regional conflict might spread, with haves and have nots, clans and nascent political parties, religious sub groups, and nervous governments joining the fray or trying to stem it. Turkey is understandably nervous, and wants its own troops along the border. The Iraqi Kurds are nervous, because they have gained a great deal of autonomy and they don’t want to lose it to a Turkish invasion.
     If Turks are proud of anything, it is their military heritage. They came out of Central Asia as warriors. At one time their Empire stretched from the coasts of North Africa across the Arabian deserts and into the European heartland to the gates of Vienna. They defeated the Byzantine Empire in the fifteenth century, and ruled their vast Empire from the city of Constantinople, later Istanbul, which sits astride Asia and Europe. In modern times, Turks are proud of their service in Korea, where they fought alongside Americans. I heard the same Korean War stories — with a great deal of respect — from American veterans when I got back to the States. To ask the Turks to compromise their own military, to tell them that there should be 60,000 American troops on their borders should elicit a strong reaction. I liken it to the Mexicans putting troops on our northern border to deal with a problem that they have with the Canadian government.

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