Turkey Threatens Economic Sanctions on Kurds
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
It's MORNING EDITON from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.
We'll spend the next few minutes in a border region that affects the future of two countries, Turkey and Iraq. Turkey has not yet sent its military across the border, but Turkey is preparing other steps in the battle against Kurdish militants. Kurds on both sides of that border depend on trade that crosses the line. So it's significant that Turkey is threatening sanctions and even accusing Iraq's Kurdish leadership of being terrorists.
NPR's Ivan Watson reports.
IVAN WATSON: This year was supposed to be the biggest yet for the annual Middle East industry and trade fair in Diyabakir. Some 200 companies advertising everything from tractors to paint, concrete, cars and banks put their goods on display here. Most of them are trying to get a piece of the billions of dollars in cross border trade between Turkey and Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq. But last month, the surge in violence along the Turkish-Iraqi border between PKK rebels and Turkish security forces killed more than 40 Turkish troops and civilians.
Aysha Yeshil, one of the trade fair's organizers, says the growing border crisis crippled the trade fair.
Ms. AYSHA YESHIL (Organizer, Cross Border Trade Fair): Very difficult. The companies are - not want firstly to come here in Diyabakir.
Ms. YESHIL: Dangerous - because of dangers. They are afraid.
WATSON: Last Friday, there were more Turkish policemen than foreign businessmen browsing the aisles of the trade fair. Organizers said amid threats of a Turkish cross border invasion, many Iraqis were simply too scared to come.
Turkish businessman like Vidat Sapan(ph), who sells security cameras and alarm systems, sees a potentially lucrative market in northern Iraq about to slip through his fingers.
Mr. VIDAT SAPAN (Businessman): (Through translator) Neither side wants, of course. I mean, I wouldn't want to speak on behalf of all the people in southeastern Turkey, but it will definitely hurt this region.
The southeast is where Turkey's long-oppressed Kurdish minority is concentrated. Throughout the '80s and '90s, militants from the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, fought a bloody guerilla war against the state here to carve out an independent homeland for the Kurds. The PKK war further stunted what had already been one of the least economically developed parts of the country. In 1999, Turkey captured the PKK's leader, crippling the rebel movement. Since then, the battle-scarred region has been slowly coming back to life.
On a hillside more than a hundred miles from Diyarbakir stand the ruins of Kurdish village called Kocak. It's here that a Kurd named Abdullah Aslan is hard at work rebuilding the roof of a long-abandoned stone hut.
Mr. ABDULLAH ASLAN (Resident, Turkey): (Foreign language spoken)
WATSON: Aslan says this village was his childhood home until he was deported by Turkish security forces 15 years ago.
Mr. ASLAN: (Through translator) They accused us of helping the terrorists, so they burned the village and forced us to leave. Finally, last winter there was an order that we could come back here. It was cold and snowing, but we didn't care. We returned as fast as we could.
WATSON: Aslan is rebuilding the house, and he has purchased a flock of sheep with money earned working as a driver, hauling truckloads of fuel across the border to neighboring Iraq.
The trickle-down effects of the explosion in trade with Iraq are more dramatic in places like the Turkish border town of Slopi(ph).
(Soundbite of traffic)
WATSON: And endless stream of trucks loaded with exports jams the road leading to Iraq. In the past four years, hotels, grocery stores and trucking companies have sprung up here. On the other side of the border, Iraqi Kurds have embarked on a construction binge to transform their region - with most of the work done by Turkish companies employing tens of thousand of Turkish workers. But the Turkish political establishment is uncomfortable with this, fearing Iraq's autonomous-minded Kurds may declare independence from Baghdad and perhaps inspire Turkey's own restless Kurdish minority.
Professor Dohu Argail(ph) is a political scientist at Anakara University.
Professor DOHU ARGAIL (Ankara University): While there is a political friction between Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan, Iraqi Kurdistan's economy has become much more vibrant by Turkish and Kurdish investment from Turkey. This is such a contradiction which no one wants, no one knows how to solve.
This week, the Turkish government cancelled direct flights between Istanbul and Iraqi Kurdistan. There is also talk of rerouting Iraq-bound trade through Syria to circumvent the Kurdish region, and Turkish government officials have threatened to cut off electricity supplies to Iraq.
Ivan Watson, NPR News, Diyarbakir in southeastern Turkey.
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