Turkey‘s Syrian Policy; The Kurdish Problem Blow up!
“Peace at home and peace abroad “,Kemal Ataturk - founder father and modernizer of the secular Turkish republic from the ashes of the Ottoman empire.
During my first posting to Ankara (Turkey) , in 1969 when I first visited Diyarbakir in south east , the largest Kurdish city, I was greeted by young boys singing Kurdish songs but repeating in Turkish “Ben Kurdum’ ( I am a Kurd) .In 1980s when a Turkish minister admitted that he was a Kurd , he was charged for sedition .It was only in 1991 when Turkish President Turgut Ozal admitted his part Kurdish ancestry and admitted that there were over 10 million Kurds in Turkey that the taboo on use of the word Kurd was removed . There are still many constraints in the use of Kurdish language in education and communications . The taboo was a harsh consequence of British instigated armed conspiracies in Turkey’s south east Kurdish region in early decades of the republic ,which were ruthlessly suppressed by Ataturk so that he could concentrate on building a unitary secular modern republic out of the ashes of the moribund Ottoman empire defeated in WWI , which had allowed limited religious, linguistic , cultural and freedoms to its ethnic ‘millets’. Conspiracies led by major powers and neighbours with local quislings have continued as in north Kurdish Iraq ,recently against Libya and now Syria .
Before moving to Ankara from Amman (1989-92,I used to motor down to Damascus.I found the Syrian immigration officials at the border very friendly and hospitable even during Ramazan .But I noticed that Turkish province of Hatay (Antakya –old Antioch ) was shown in the maps on the offices in Syria .
During my first stint in Ankara ( 1969-73) I had once enquired about the problem of Hatay from the Syrian ambassador , a legal luminary. He said that the Syrian province of Antakya was stolen after a fraudulent referendum in 1939, but Damascus had not filed any legal claims in any international judicial forum . Kurdish aspirations for a state were then dormant but a Syrian diplomat jokingly said that a planned Greater Kurdistan even included the Syrian port of Latakia.
During my second stay in Turkey (1992-96) as ambassador and a journalist , I was further able to travel all over Turkey and admire its over forty civilizations , even Kurdish insurgency infested areas around , Lake Van ,Batman and Tur Abadin nearer to the Syrian and Iraqi borders ,From Mardin heights one canthe Euphrates valley receding far towards Syria and Iraq .I found the Turkish officials very friendly and hospitable . Another recent Syrian complaint has been Ankara’s refusal to discuss sharing of the waters of Euphrates , which originates in Turkey but is the life line of Syria . Turkey has built many dams in spite of Syrian protestations , which the latter considers a strategic threat as well .One Turkish prime minister declared that Ankara had full rights over its waters like Arabs have over their oil resources . Euph-rates and Tigris , which touches Syria in north-east later flow through Iraq and were the main underpinning of the Mesopotamian civilisaion , verily the mother of most civilizations including the European .Mesopotamia or modern Iraq now lies divided and destroyed in the wake of US led illegal invasion of 2003 and its brutal occupation.