Tensions High on the Turkey-Iraq Border
ALISON STEWART, host:
Rice-O-Roni. Can I tell you? In our morning meeting, we're discussing all these heavy topics about Turkey and the Kurds and nuclear power, and that's the one story where everybody in the room went, aww…
(Soundbite of laughter)
MARTIN: You're putting (unintelligible).
STEWART: …oh, because, you know. Everyone likes that little song.
LUKE BURBANK, host:
Although, it's a delicious, delicious morning of news. Turkey, Rice-O-Roni…
BURBANK: …Kurds. Hey, oh. Okay, I'm sorry. Talk about a sticky situation. Seriously, though, Turkey's foreign minister has been summoned to Baghdad today for an emergency meeting with the Iraqi government. The issue is the ever increasing tension - as Rachel was talking about - between Turkey and a Kurdish rebel group just on the Iraqi side of the two countries' border. That group is called the PKK. And just the other day, it ambushed and killed 12 Turkish soldiers.
Now the U.S. doesn't want Turkey to invade the area, but Turkey is still mad at the U.S. for considering legislation in Washington that would brand Turkey's former leaders as genocidal.
And meanwhile, in Baghdad today, this Turkish foreign minister will meet with Iraqi officials who are themselves Kurds. When asked if he would turn Kurdish fighters over to Turkey, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani said he wouldn't even turn over a Kurdish cat to them.
So where are things going from here? Well, Birzo Abdelkadir is a journalist who works for NPR in the Kurdish region of Iraq. He is a Kurd himself, by the way, and he joins us by phone now.
BIRZO ABDELKADIR: Hi. Hello.
BURBANK: Thank you very much coming on. Okay, so the Turkish foreign minister is in Baghdad today. What do you know about that meeting?
ABDELKADIR: Well, in fact, I've said that on the TV this morning, and I said that there was a press conference for the Turkish foreign minister. And in this press conference, he affirmed that Turkey would do - would use all the diplomatic means before taking any military actions. So I think he will - I mean, he was calming things down.
BURBANK: Right. The Turkish prime minister is saying that they want a peaceful solution. Also, the PKK has released a statement saying that they are seeking a peaceful resolution. Realistically, though, what do you think the chances are of that happening, Birzo?
ABDELKADIR: Well, I mean, everybody here wishes that a diplomatic solution would appear. But also, I mean, the Turkey in the past, I mean, had tried chasing the PKK 24 times, and they didn't succeed. So I mean, it is possible that Turkey will try again to chase PKK militarily. This is a possibility, but everybody here wishes that this would not happen.
BURBANK: Can you tell me a little bit more about the PKK? How many troops do they have? I mean, are they really a threat to the Turkish military, or more of an annoyance?
ABDELKADIR: I mean, this problem has always been there. These people are in the mountains, in the harsh mountains that is difficult for anyone to get there. Because even in the '80s, during Saddam's time, Saddam's might couldn't get these people out of these mountains. So, I mean, they have - as it said, they have 3,500 guerillas in the mountains from the Iraqi side, and they have another 5,000 inside Turkey. While - I mean, I believe, my personal opinion, that the PKK is not a real threat or Turkey, but maybe it's annoying.
STEWART: Birzo, the question that I have for you is what do the people in the area think of the PKK?
ABDELKADIR: Well, you know, if you - I mean, the people here, you know - you mean in the Kurdistan region?
ABDELKADIR: I mean, the Kurdistan region, I mean, what they feel is that - I mean, we are part of bigger nation. I mean, they are all Kurds. I mean, everybody have this feeling. But the same time, now we are part of Iraq, and we don't want anyone to disturb the stability and the security that we are enjoying in our region in Kurdistan. So that's why our leaders, many times, repeat it that we want PKK to go back to their territories and fight there on their territories.
BURBANK: Right. Because for people that aren't familiar with this situation, the PKK sort of has their own region along the border that the larger Kurdistan kind of government basically leaves them alone. They're allowed to more or less do what they want, as long as they stay in that region. Is that correct?
ABDELKADIR: Here, the point is that it's not possible to tear this people out of these harsh mountains. And in the history, I mean, they tried to get these people out of these areas, but, I mean, it wasn't possible. Because, I mean, PKK has always been in these areas, and they're familiar with all these harsh mountains. They know how to hide, how to fight, where to go. So it's very difficult to get these people out of these mountains.
BURBANK: You mentioned before, Birzo, that this is an ongoing problem. Turkey has many times tried to route the PKK. The PKK launches counterattacks. Is this is something you think that can ever be solved, or is this just going to go on forever and ever?
ABDELKADIR: Well, they've - something, if Turkey decides to have serious negotiations with PKK, and PKK people always, they ask for this, they want serious negotiations that Turkey, I mean, listens to them, and they'll find a diplomatic solution for this problem. Because this is - I mean, because many Kurds in Turkey, they think that Turkey has not given them their rights - for example, the right to speak their own language, the right, I mean, to have their own identity. I mean, these rights have not - these basic rights, these natural rights have not been given to PKK people. So if Turkey, I mean, decides to give these rights to the Kurdish people in Turkey, I think PKK will be dissolved automatically.
BURBANK: Is there a lot of support for the PKK - which is over in the Iraq side, just to remind people. Is there support in Turkey from the Kurds that live in Turkey for these rebels that fight on the other side of the border?
ABDELKADIR: Well, according to the - to these people in the mountains, the PKK people, they say that they have more than 40,000 people, professionals, working for them. I mean, (unintelligible) and others.
BURBANK: In Turkey.
ABDELKADIR: I mean, non-professionals. This is what they say. And I don't know really, I mean, what kind of support they have in Turkey, but this is what they say.
BURBANK: Well, Birzo Abdelkadir, NPR journalist in the northern part of Iraq, thank you very much for talking with us today.
ABDELKADIR: My pleasure. Thank you very much. Bye-bye.
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