Socialist Worker

Turkish tensions threaten US in Iraq

Acknowledging the genocide of Armenians in Ottoman Turkey risks causing yet more problems for the US occupation in Iraq, writes Ron Margulies

Issue No. 2073

The US House of Representatives has voted to call a spade a spade and decided that the massacre of around one million Armenians in Ottoman Turkey in 1915 must be described as genocide.

There is nothing controversial about this outside Turkey. The French parliament had a similar vote recently and passed a law making it a criminal offence to deny the Armenian genocide.

In Turkey, the official line quibbles with numbers, but does not deny that many Armenians died. But it is argued that the killings were mutual, and that these things happen in war.

Questioning this official line can get you in trouble with the notorious article 301 of the penal code. This makes it a crime to “insult Turkishness”.

Nobel prize winning novelist Orhan Pamuk was tried under this law for saying that a million Armenians had been killed. Armenian newspaper editor Hrant Dink was shot dead by a fascist thug while also on trial under article 301.

With the issue being so sensitive in Turkey, the vote in the US has caused a nationalist uproar. The pressure on the government to take retaliatory measures against the US is intense.


The measures discussed have a direct bearing on George Bush’s continuing disaster in Iraq.

Turkey could stop the US using the Incirlik airbase for supplying their troops in Iraq, and it could launch a military operation into northern Iraq to pursue the Kurdish PKK guerillas based there.

Both courses of action would cause serious problems for the occupation forces.

US defence secretary Robert Gates has said that 70 percent of air cargo, 30 percent of fuel shipments and 95 percent of new mine resistant armoured vehicles destined for US forces in Iraq go through Turkey. Closure of Incirlik would wreak havoc with US plans.

A Turkish incursion into Iraq would cause even greater problems. This has been on the cards for some time, even before the vote in the US.

Prior to the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the Turkish army used to cross the border into Iraq regularly to attack PKK bases there.

But the Iraqi Kurds are the only reliable allies of the US in Iraq and the Kurdish area of the country is the only area with a semblance of order. So the US has stopped Turkey from launching these attacks since 2003.

Earlier this month, the PKK scored some serious successes against the Turkish army, killing 15 soldiers in two separate incidents.

Every time this happens, the hawks in the army clamour for a military operation. As the PKK action and the US vote coincided, the clamouring has been even louder this time. Which is why the Bush administration has gone into panic mode.

Condoleezza Rice has been on the phone to the Turkish government several times and two senior US officials have flown out for meetings.

In fact, neither the government nor the military in Turkey are keen on a cross-border Iraqi operation. The government did extremely well in the Kurdish provinces in the general election last July, and any attack on Iraqi Kurdistan would damage their standing.


This is a government that has signalled it would like to resolve the Kurdish issue through political rather than military means. The military high command are also not as keen as they used to be on continuing war with the PKK.

There have even been voices in the usually slavish press saying that more than 20 operations into Iraq in the past yielded no gains, military or otherwise.

It seems likely that the US will succeed in placating the Turkish government with promises and bribes. But the possibility cannot be ruled out that the nationalist pressure on the government and the military will prove too much and an attack will take place.

This would only make the disaster in Iraq bloodier for the US, the Kurds and the Iraqis

Click here to subscribe to our daily morning email newsletter 'Breakfast in red'

Article information

Tue 16 Oct 2007, 18:12 BST
Issue No. 2073
Share this article


Mobile users! Don't forget to add Socialist Worker to your home screen.