Double Pyrrhic Victory for Turkey's Military

ISTANBUL -- Turkey's generals have had a busy week. After forcing the country's Islamist prime minister to resign, they announced the liquidation of the guerrilla fighters of the Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK) in northern Iraq.Both claims of "victory" on two fronts are at the least premature, if not wrong.On the domestic front, the generals, far from stemming a rising Islamist revolutionary tide, appear to be steering Turkey down the same path of Islamic-versus-secular turmoil that has engulfed Algeria.If the generals are the sword that removed Turkey's first Islamically-oriented government, Turkey's secular media are the blade. For months, the media have been whipping up an anti-Islamist hysteria. The decisive moment came in mid-June when the General Staff announced an emergency conference for judges and prosecutors to spotlight the "Islamist threat." When hundreds of jurists clamored to attend, the generals convened a second session and then a third, the last for select members of the Turkish and foreign media.All three sessions charged the Islamists with "crimes against the constitution" -- including disparaging the memory of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, founder of Turkey's modern state, and inviting non-state sanctioned Islamist leaders to dinner at the Prime Ministry on Muslim holidays. A third charge -- aiding the PKK -- was the most critical.In early June two new Turkish helicopters had been shot down over northern Iraq, resulting in the loss of 13 soldiers (including two colonels). As state and private television replayed footage of their state funerals, a top general blamed Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan's Refah party, which had failed to cover military budget overruns.Next the generals accused the government of turning a blind eye to military evidence that "neighboring powers" were supporting Kurdish separatism and Muslim fundamentalism. Specifically, the generals claimed Iran had allowed the Russian-style Stinger missiles that downed the helicopters to pass through its territory into PKK hands and threatened to retaliate with Turkish commandos.But the real message from the generals was about "internal enemies" and what they expected from courts of law in dealing with the Islamic threat. The generals announced a military boycott of some 1,000 Islamic companies in the country -- including Ulker, the firm that makes most of the nation's cookies. Another Muslim firm, Kombassan, which receives hundreds of millions of Deutschmarks from Turks living in Germany, had its assets frozen pending a state investigation into charges of alleged support of the PKK.The generals drew a line in the sand, placing Prime Minister Erbakan and all Islamist-inclined people in Turkey on its far side. The national and international media smelled a brewing coup -- the fourth in so many decades.Then Erbakan did the unexpected: he resigned as prime minister, claiming victory for Refah's one year in power but also effusively praising the military that forced him out.Erbakan and his party clearly knew when to cut their losses in hopes of better cards in the next deal. They may be right. The apparent "winner" in this round, Mrs. Tansu Ciller and her True Path Party, occupies an increasingly untenable position.Every day someone resigns from her party as charges of corruption against her mount. Almost everyone in the country says there must be new elections in the immediate future, and many predict Refah will come back stronger than ever on the basis of popular disgust with other parties and with the generals -- who have virtually become a political party in their own right.If the situation in the Turkish capital, Ankara, is murky, the other "victory" claimed by the generals in northern Iraq is equally dubious. Billed as the "biggest" anti-PKK operation since the undeclared war began in 1984, in mid-May, thousands of Turkish troops backed by hundreds of armored vehicles and air support, crossed into Iraqi Kurdistan to finally "liquidate" the PKK.The odd twist was that the campaign was launched at the invitation of the Kurdish Democratic Party, the same group that invited Saddam Hussein in last summer to help it root out its Iranian-backed rival, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). Reports suggest that the PUK is giving support to the PKK, including cross-border refuge in Iran.Since the incursion began a month ago, Turkey's border with Iraq has been closed to the media. So press reports on the Turkish army's campaign against the PKK are sketchy. Officially, the military claims to have destroyed scores of PKK bases and put over 3,000 PKK guerrillas out of action. Skeptics are dubious about the body count-- despite similar body count claims by the army in earlier incursions, miraculously the PKK seems to have a never-ending supply of volunteers.Ironically, no sooner had the Turkish military declared the most recent operation a success, reports of fresh fighting began cropping up -- this time north of the border, in areas thought to have been pacified last year.Thomas Goltz was a finalist for the Rory Peck Prize for independent camera work for his documentary on the town of Samashki in Chechnya. His book on Azerbaijan, Requiem for a Would-Be Republic , will be re-issued by ME Sharpe (USA) in early 1997.

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