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The Hidden War in Turkey’

In response to:

The Hidden War in Turkey from the June 23, 1994 issue

To the Editors:

Jeri Laber’s excellent article “The Hidden War in Turkey” [NYR, June 23, 1994] is flawed in only one respect: it fails to reflect adequately the United States’ role in the atrocities Laber so eloquently describes.

That role might initially have been termed largely one of acquiescence but in recent months it has taken on a more sinister cast.

Turkey is of course a strategic ally of the United States (in private conversations one State Department official described our interests there as “almost cosmic”) and this has discouraged the Clinton Administration from raising human rights issues with Turkish officials in a forceful manner. Indeed, in a letter to Prime Minister Ciller summarizing the topics discussed in their February 18, 1994, meeting, President Clinton devoted only half a sentence out of five pages to Turkey’s human rights record. Worse than that, though requested last year by the Senate Appropriations Committee to supply a strategy for addressing human rights abuses in Turkey, the Administration had, as of June 16, 1994, failed to do so, much to the chagrin of the Committee (see Senator Leahy’s report on “Foreign Operations, Export Financing and Related Programs Appropriation Bill, 1995,” p.21).

In a more recent meeting with Prime Minister Ciller, on April 19, 1995, President Clinton showed troubling passivity with regard to Turkey’s military assault against the Kurdish population in Northern Iraq, which was concluded by Turkish withdrawal in early May. The Clinton administration neither condemned the action, as had other Western leaders, nor addressed allegations of human rights abuses by Turkish forces in Iraq. President Clinton, in diplomatic double-speak, unquestionably affirmed Turkey’s right to invade by saying, “… the biggest threat to human rights is the reaction caused by terrorism …So we have to continue to push governments…to be more open to human rights and combat terrorism at the same time.”

More damning than such passivity, however, is the possibility that some of the helicopters used within Turkey to commit the kinds of abuses against the Kurds Laber details (including kidnapping of leaders, bombing of villages, etc.) may be US-supplied. The Senate Appropriations Committee has remarked upon this possibility (“The Committee has…received reports that US military equipment, including helicopters, has been used in attacks against civilians in southeastern Turkey,” see above, p. 88) and Amnesty International has requested State Department confirmation or refutation of this claim, so far to no avail. If US-supplied helicopters are being used in this fashion, the US is in violation of its commitments as a partner in the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) which requires its participants to “avoid [equipment] transfers which would be likely to be used for the violation or suppression of human rights and fundamental freedoms.” Despite all this, the Administration has requested $453,000,000 in military assistance for Turkey and $1,300,000,000 in military sales for FY95.

This story would be discouraging enough even without a final irony: two of the six Kurdish members of Parliament whose immunity has been lifted, thus subjecting them to capital charges, as Laber describes, are being prosecuted in part for testimony which they offered before the US Congress in a CSCE hearing. Leyla Zana and Ahmet Turk must find it particularly galling that their lives are now at risk for exercising free speech in a country which blithely continues to ignore their plight and that of their brothers and sisters.

Dr. William F. Schulz
Executive Director
Amnesty International (USA)
New York City

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