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April 12, 2009
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President Obama Speaks to Turkey’s Parliament - By Rauf Naqishbendi

Last Monday, President Barack Obama addressed the parliament of Turkey. The tone of his speech was conciliatory. Obama seemed intent on ironing out the wrinkle in the relationship between the United States and Turkey.  He spoke eloquently, differentiating himself from his predecessors by balancing America’s interests and the issue of  human rights.  He went to unnecessary lengths in an effort to appease Turkish pride. At the same time he bravely and diplomatically revealed Turkish intolerance toward its Kurdish minorities, their past genocidal crimes against Armenians, and their problematic meddling in Cyprus. And he bashed the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) and labeled them as terrorist.

Regarding Turkish pride, Mr. Obama asserted “But it is also clear that the greatest monument to Ataturk's life is not something that can be cast in stone and marble. His greatest legacy is Turkey's strong, vibrant, secular democracy, and that is the work that this assembly carries on today.” He said what Turks like to hear and fed their bigotry. Mustafa Kemal Atatürk  was the first president of the modern republic of Turkey (Oct. 1923- Nov.1938). Ataturk was a Turkish chauvinistic leader who initiated a campaign of genocide against the Kurds not long after the Turks were through with their genocide against Armenians. He outlawed the Kurds' mother tongue, changed the names of Kurdish towns and villages to Turkish names, and he denied the identity and existence of all minorities living in Turkey through a constitutional amendment declaring that all citizens of Turkey are Turks. During his fifteen year reign as president, he remained unremorseful andin denial toward Armenian genocide.

President Obama’s reference to Turkey as a secular democracy is an inaccurate notion. Turkey’s military generals are in command in Turkey.  In fact, since 1960 there were three coups d'état. Even though the Turks claimed that Turkey was a secular democracy, in reality the incumbent Justice and Development Party is an Islamic-based political party, and corruption is ubiquitous throughout the country. 

Obama went on to encourage Turkish leaders to “promote education and opportunity and democracy for the Kurdish population here inside Turkey.” This is a very profound statement and strikes deep into the heart of injustices that the Kurds have been subjected to by a chauvinistic Turkish system mandated by the government and accepted by the Turkish people. In the past, in order to cement strategic interests, U.S. presidents have turned blind eyes toward Turkey’s violation of human rights. Surely the Kurds and advocates of human rights should be   gratified, for Mr. Obama is the first American president to make such an open proclamation. No doubt this is the beginning of a new era in American foreign policy whereby human rights violations by our allies will not be tolerated.

Obama further noted that "advancing peace also includes the disputes that persist in the Eastern Mediterranean. And here there's a cause for hope. The two Cypriot leaders have an opportunity through their commitment to negotiations under the United Nations Good Offices Mission." In 1974 Turkey invaded Cyprus in violation of international law and established a separate Turkish state in the north. Since then the United Nation’s resolution has demanded an end to Turkey’s aggression and the withdrawal of its army. President Obama bravely asked for resolution to this problem, implying that the matter must be left to the Cypriots and calling for the Turks to stop meddling in their affairs.

”I know there's strong views in this chamber about the terrible events of 1915. And while there's been a good deal of commentary about my views, it's really about how the Turkish and Armenian people deal with the past.” Again for the first time, an American president has publicly reminded the Turks of their genocidal crimes against Armenians.

The PKK issue is a sensitive subject, to be sure. Perhaps he said what he felt he had to say in his address.  But later on he met with the head of the Democratic Society Party (DTP), which is known for its support for the PKK. In last week’s provincial election, the DTP won by an overwhelming majority. The DTP leader communicated to President Obama that violence is not an adequate resolution to PKK resistance. The genuine solution must be through civilized dialogue, as the PKK advocates, and not through bloodshed as the Turks are pursuing.

The Kurdish community, both in Turkey and abroad, was enchanted with the President of the United States’ pronunciation of their human rights. At the same time, Turks in general and in particular Turkish Nationalists, were not pleased with Mr. Obama’s mention of Armenian genocide, the Cyprus problem and, in particular, revealing the Kurds' human rights issue.  Mr. Obama was scheduled to hold a meeting that included all the heads of the various political parties in Turkey. Reports later explained that the Republican People’s Party (CHP), and the Nationalist Action Party (MHP), refused to meet under such circumstances.

At long last the President of the United States has made a friend of the Kurds, but apparently the only way to please the Turks is to approve all their wrongs, past and present.  They have been accommodated in the past, but the Turks must realize the world has changed. For them to fit in a new world order they have to change and they need to learn to tolerate differences.

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Rauf Naqishbendi's memoirs entitled "The
Garden Of The Poets", recently published. You
may order The Garden Of The Poets (unedited)


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