Film Comedy Highlights Turkish-Kurdish Tensions Film fans in Turkey have made the comedy The Masked Five in Iraq a box-office smash. But the film reflects historical mistrust and hatred between Turks and Iraqi Kurds.
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Film Comedy Highlights Turkish-Kurdish Tensions

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Film Comedy Highlights Turkish-Kurdish Tensions

Film Comedy Highlights Turkish-Kurdish Tensions

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NPR's Ivan Watson reports from Istanbul.

IVAN WATSON: The movie opens in the badlands of northern Iraq, where American soldiers and Kurdish militiamen are posted side by side, guarding an oil well inside a small U.S. fort.




WATSON: Unidentified Man #1: Get me the president.



WATSON: Unidentified Man #2: (Foreign language spoken)


WATSON: After watching the film, a 15-year-old Turkish schoolgirl named Pinar Shesle(ph) said she thinks the portrayal of the Kurds is right on the mark.

PINAR SHESLE: (Through translator) He was exactly like what he would be: a double-faced hypocrite.

WATSON: Turkish columnist Junay Dulciver(ph) says when Turks talk about Kurds, it's not uncommon to hear these kinds of racist stereotypes.

JUNAY DULCIVER: They stab you from behind. They are never trustworthy, and they change sides very easily.

WATSON: That negative image extends to Turkey's own rebellious population of some 14 million ethnic Kurds, but also to the more than four million Kurds living in Iraqi Kurdistan - the semi-autonomous region of northern Iraq.

DOWU AIRGYLL: They are constantly depicted as conspiring against Turkey's interest.

WATSON: Professor Dowu Airgyll is a political scientist who has long studied Turkish/Kurdish relations. He says politicians and media have instilled a deep-seated fear in Turkish society of the emergence of an independent Iraqi Kurdistan.

AIRGYLL: It's not the fear of the Kurds in Iraq. It's the fear that Turkey's Kurds can imitate the Kurds of Iraq and try to carve out a Kurdistan of their own within Turkey. That's the fear. That's the root of the fear.

WATSON: This fear, along with the rising tide of Turkish nationalism, have helped fueled a debate in recent months on whether or not Turkey should intervene militarily in Iraq Kurdistan. Again, Dowu Airgyll.

AIRGYLL: Because it's an election year, it's good, macho talk.

WATSON: The Turkish saber rattling has got Iraqi Kurds worried.

FOUAD HUSSEIN: Of course we are worried about these kinds of statements, and we are not happy about it.

WATSON: Fouad Hussein is chief of staff to the president of the Iraqi Kurdistan region. He offers some not-so-subtle advice to Turkish generals.

HUSSEIN: Perhaps it is easy to enter a war, but it is difficult to get out of war. You see, we are not saying we can defend our cities. But we can defend our country.

WATSON: Out on the streets of the Iraqi Kurdish city of Irbil, men like real estate agents Hider Ali(ph) and Pishti Wannabilla(ph) are quick to say they would take up arms against a possible Turkish invasion.

HIDER ALI: (Through translator) Used to be just like our enemy.

PISHTI WANNABILLA: (Through translator) Turkish are racist and very dirty people. They cannot live with any nation or ethnic groups.

WATSON: So far, this mutual animosity hasn't gone beyond trade disputes and frequent Turkish Internet hack attacks against Kurdish government and media Web sites. But political scientist Dowu Airgyll worries about the future of Iraq's Kurds, particularly if they go ahead with plans to annex the Iraqi city of Kirkuk with its large community of ethnic Turkmens. Kirkuk also straddles enormous oil fields.

AIRGYLL: I believe that after the American military presence ends or weakens in Iraq, there could be a Kurdish massacre if the Kurds want the cake and to eat it all.

WATSON: Ivan Watson, NPR News, Istanbul.

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