Socialist Worker

Turkey, the Kurds and the F-16 connection

Kurdish activist Mizgin Yilmaz uncovers the links between arms manufacturer Lockheed Martin and US policy towards Turkey

Issue No. 2022

illustration by Tim Sanders

illustration by Tim Sanders


Recently a small article appeared in the Dallas Fort Worth Star Telegram announcing the pending sale of 30 new F?16 fighters to Turkey. According to the article, the Pentagon had already notified Congress of the deal and, if there are no congressional objections in 15 days, the sale will be approved automatically.

Lockheed Martin, the world’s largest arms manufacturer, will produce the fighter jets. But other members of the US defence contractor establishment also stand to gain in the deal. General Electric, Boeing, L-3 Communications Holdings, Raytheon, and BAE Systems are all contributing to the production, according to Market Watch.

“This proposed sale will enhance the Turkish Air Force’s ability to defend Turkey while patrolling the nation’s extensive coastline and borders against future threats and to contribute to the global war on terrorism and Nato operations,” the US government’s Defence Security Cooperation Agency announced.

It is widely known that the Turkish military has used Lockheed Martin F-16s to assist in the obliteration of Kurdish villages in North Kurdistan during the 1990s “dirty war”. The facts are well documented by human rights groups.

In 1995 Human Rights Watch examined arms sales to Turkey, along with related violations of the laws of war by that state. The use of F-16 fighter jets figured prominently among the many gross abuses that Turkey has perpetrated against the Kurdish people.

Yet despite the fact that the US state department issued its first human rights report on Turkey in 1995, US officials remained eager to sell more of their deadly toys to the Turkish government.

Moreover, Turkey was not content to keep its use of F-16s or other aircraft within its own borders. During Operation Northern Watch, the Turkish military routinely bombed Kurdish civilians in South Kurdistan, trying to obliterate those villages that Saddam Hussein had not got round to destroying.

As John Pilger wrote in 2002, “In 1995 and 1997, as many as 50,000 Turkish troops, backed by tanks and fighter aircraft, occupied what the West called ‘Kurdish safe havens’. They terrorised Kurdish villages and murdered civilians. In December 2000 they were back, committing the atrocities that the Turkish military commits with impunity against its own Kurdish population.

“For joining the US ‘coalition’ against Iraq, the Turkish regime is to be rewarded with a bribe worth $6 billion. Turkey’s invasions are rarely reported in Britain. So great is the collusion of the Blair government that, virtually unknown to parliament and the British public, the RAF and the US have, from time to time, deliberately suspended their ‘humanitarian’ patrols to allow the Turks to get on with killing Kurds in Iraq.”

The PKK - the most prominent Kurdish freedom movement - declared a unilateral ceasefire that went into effect on Sunday 1 October. It still remains unilateral - the entire Turkish establishment, from top general Yasar Buyukanit to prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has rejected it, clearly stating their determination to continue the war.

This is despite the fact that the PKK prefers to negotiate a political settlement and indicated their willingness to do so in August. The rejection of a political settlement was echoed by Joseph Ralston, the US’s special coordinator for countering the PKK.

“Ceasefire sort of implies an act that is taken between two states, two actors, to do that. And I don’t want to confer that kind of status on the PKK by saying a ceasefire,” he said in Ankara, the Turkish capital, on Wednesday 27 September.

What is most interesting about Ralston, a retired US Air Force general, is the fact that he is a member of the board of directors of Lockheed Martin - the same corporation whose deal for the sale of 30 F-16s sits in the venerable halls of Congress at this very moment.

What, then, is Ralston really coordinating in Ankara? What are the intentions of the US administration that appointed Ralston to his new post in August? It is difficult to believe that the US administration was unaware of the conflict of interest that the appointment of a board member of Lockheed Martin would create in a matter that has resulted in some 40,000 Kurdish dead.

This obscene conflict of interest is compounded by the fact that both Ralston and Lockheed Martin are closely tied to the Turkish lobby organisation, the American Turkish Council (ATC).

Ralston is a member of the ATC’s advisory board, while George Perlman. a former Lockheed Martin executive, is the ATC’s executive vice president. Lockheed Martin is a corporate member of the ATC, as are General Electric, Boeing, Raytheon, and BAE Systems - all of which stand to profit from the current sale.

This conflict of interest makes it clear that neither the US nor Turkey has the intention of finding a just and peaceful solution to the great opportunity the PKK ceasefire affords them. On the contrary, both countries seek a return to the “dirty war” - in order to reap the profits of repression.


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Sat 14 Oct 2006, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 2022
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