Saturday, July 21, 2007

Turkish election important

Turkey is having an election Sunday, and unfortunately, because it has become so entangled in the area, the United States will be affected.

The biggest area of concern for the U.S. has to do with Turkey's shaky relations vis-a-vis northern Iraq, the area populated mostly by Kurds, which is rapidly becoming a de facto Kurdistan. If that were all, it could point a way forward for Iraq -- de facto partition, regardless of what the formal political structure is. However, there are Kurds in Turkey and Iran as well, and especially in Turkey they have been battling the central government for independence, autonomy or something for many years. The Turks haven't exactly been kind over the years either.

The main anti-Turkish vehicle has been the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK. PKK guerrillas have been establishing camps in Iraq, from which they raid into Turkey. Turkey has begun to take a hard line, amassing Turkish troops on the border, threatening cross-border raids (it's probably already done some already) and calling on the U.S. (as if it didn't have enough problems in Iraq) to control the PKK or pressure the other Iraqi Kurds into doing so.

Naturally the Kurd situation is an election issue. The majority party, the Justice and Development Party, the AK, has been relativey restrained regarding the Kurd raids so far, but several nationalist parties are pressuring it to do more. Meanwhile, the AK has other issues. It is a moderate Islamist party, and since taking power with Recep Erdogan as prime minister a few years ago, it has acted moderately.

But Turkey was established as an explicitly secular state (by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in the 1920s, as the Ottoman Empire was crumbling) and Turkey's secular elite is worried about even a moderately Islamist party in power. The military, self-proclaimed guardian of secularism (it has taken power four times) has issued veiled threats. It's especially concerned that Erdogan has nominated a religious Muslim, Abdullah Gul, to be the next president if the AK wins. Turkey's future as a secular state may be in the balance, though I doubt it.

At the same time there's the question of whether Turkey will ever be allowed to join the European Union. Erdogan has done most of the right things, making the kinds of reforms the EU says it wants, but both France and Germany are dragging their feet.

Those who claim to have a handle on such things think the AK will stay in power but with a smaller majority. That's likely to mean more pressure to do something active or military about the PKK Kurds raiding from Iraq, which will almost certainly affect the United States as long as the U.S. maintains a presence in Iraq. Turkey has been considered a U.S. ally or at least generally friendly (though if you remember it didn't allow the U.S. to use its territory to invade Iraq), but that status could be changing.

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