Turkey is brutally stomping towards the 21st century as arguably the world's most xenophobic, genocidal, and unrepentant nation of the 1900s. Other contenders (Germany, Japan, Russia, Iraq, Serbia, Rwanda, Indonesia, South Africa, China, USA, UK, France, Guatemala, Israel, etc.) have either reformed their atrocious behavior, or their crimes pale in comparison. Turks alone can ignominiously boast of a consistent 85 years of horror perpetrated upon anyone they're strong enough to beat up.
Armenians were their first bloody victims; 1.5 million members of this prosperous minority were slaughtered by the then-Ottoman Empire from 1915-1923. In the aftermath, Turks have contemptuously refused to even acknowledge the history of this heinous event. Greeks were also "ethnically-cleansed" from the Turkish fold -- 1 million Hellenes were forcibly deported in 1923. Turkey's barbarically-titled "Attila Operation," which began in 1974 with a fit of naked aggression -- the invasion of Cyprus -- continued the trans-Aegean belligerence.
Today, the Kurds are the Turk's predominant prey. This sizable but impoverished minority has been kicked about by the Turkish boot ever since 1923's Treaty of Lausanne reneged on a promise to establish a Kurdish homeland (Kurdistan) for the mountainous region's 35 million inhabitants. Kurds are now the largest stateless nationality on the planet, existing as outsiders in Armenia, Syria, Azerbaijan, Iran, Iraq, and Turkey. Strife characterizes life in Iraq, but even Kurds ruled by the Butcher of Baghdad enjoy freedoms unimaginable to the 20 million chained to the Turkish yoke.
Turkey's government is a bullying Big Brother, ruled by the racist dogma of Mustafa Kemal (Atatürk), the progenitor of post-Ottoman nationalism. Diversity is savagely squashed. For example, all schools have signs that proclaim: "Happy is the man who can say: I am a Turk!" School oaths commence with, "I am a Turk, decent and industrious," and end with, "My life is dedicated to Turkishness." Lineage is praised as noble if it's Turkish; other bloodlines are deemed degenerate. The Constitution itself ominously declares: "No opinion ... that contradicts the history of Turkishness and its moral values ... may be advocated. Nor may such opinions enjoy any protection."
The cucumber-shaped nation is obviously a dangerous place for non-Turks, and the Kurds are brazenly different. The ancient, traditionally- nomadic people speak an Indo-European language similar to Persian, while the Turkish tongue -- transplanted from northeastern regions -- is Ural-Altaic. Kurds are overwhelmingly Sunni Moslems, whereas Turks are Shiite, or secular. Customs and holidays also deviate.
Paranoid of separatism, the militaristic Turkish administration bunkered in Ankara has persecuted its one-third Kurdish minority population for 77 years with a savage cornucopia of human rights violations. Kurdish historical monuments have been vandalized, towns and geographic features renamed with Turkish appellations, and Kurdish personal names deemed taboo: Parents must select from an approved list of Turkish monikers.
The Kurdish language is forbidden in schools, on television, and in radio broadcasts; celebrating Kurdish holidays is a crime. Even the terms "Kurd," "Kurdish," and "Kurdistan" were outlawed until 1991 -- the orphaned people were defined optimistically as "Mountain Turks." The rude overlords even appropriated the downtrodden clan's sweetest charm: Kurdish delicacies have been retitled "Turkish pastry."
Anyone who disobeys an Ankara decree invites filthy incarceration upon his or her flesh (ever heard of a Turkish prison?), plus the refined science of Turkish torture. Inflicting pain is practically an art form here -- the cookbook of cruelty includes cigarette burns, beating the feet and the genitals, electric shock, high pressure cold water spray-cannons, sleep deprivation, hanging by the arms, submersion in cold water, starvation, oxygen deprivation, and anal rape with truncheons and gun barrels. No age group is off limits -- a two-year-old was kicked and burned by Turkish police in 1996, to obtain a confession from his mother.
Unbowed by this sadism, the stubborn Kurds have maintained a heroic quest for autonomy that exhibits no sign of abatement. Kurd resistance is historically divergent in philosophy, but the dominant force since 1984 has been the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), a Marxist-Leninist cadre. The charismatic Abdullah Öcalan, a.k.a. "Apo," a peasant's son born with exceptional organizational and oratorical skills, spearheads the PKK.
Led by Öcalan, the PKK has tormented the Turkish military, killing 5,555 soldiers. However, the PKK are no paragons of humanitarianism themselves -- their terrorist activities include the murder of Turkish teachers, officials, and journalists, the annihilation of "bourgeoisie" Kurd collaborators, and the utilization of young girls as "human bombs" to blow up enemy targets. Still, the Kurdish casualties are far greater: Approximately 30,000 PKK members and sympathizers have been obliterated in the last 15 years. Turkish bulldozers have razed 3,432 Kurd villages, forests have been burned, women have been raped, 560,000 Kurds have been deported to western Turkish cities where they subsist in impoverished slums (many of which collapsed in recent earthquakes), and 11,000 Kurdish political prisoners languish in jails.
Last February, the PKK was dealt a paralyzing punch when Turkish commandos in Nairobi, Kenya, nabbed Öcalan outside the traitorous Greek embassy. After mocking their fearful captive on TV (a sweaty Öcalan begged "please don't torture me" while they laughed) the Turks isolated him in a tightly secured prison on Imrali Island. Was he tortured?
"My personal hunch is that he was," says Kani Xulam, director of the American Kurdish Information Network. "The Turks torture and violate 99 percent of their prisoners... Öcalan has been broken."
Sad facts support his theory: Öcalan, from his cell, urged his fighters to declare a cease-fire, and he compliantly admitted "that mistakes were made" in his leadership. Despite these concessions, he was sentenced to death on June 29th in a kangaroo court that Amnesty International has declared void, due to a biased disregard for due process. Öcalan and his lawyers petitioned for clemency; the Turkish government will announce its response on November 25th (Turkey Day, coincidentally).
The Kurd revolt will undoubtedly grind on without Öcalan, despite their continued isolation in the international community. Various European Green and Communist parties are sympathetic, but Germany, UK, and USA state departments have anathematized the PKK as a terrorist organization. NATO gives $800 million in grant funds annually to Turkey, plus cheap weapons hardware whenever they upgrade, and the Clinton administration sold Ankara $4.9 billion worth of Kurd-killing apparatus from 1992-1998.
Why are Kemalist Turks, with their gruesome resumé, pampered like sultans? Why is the Kurd agony disdained? The answer is: geography. Turkey serves NATO interests as a buffer state between the Islamic and Sadaam madness of the Middle East, and the post-Soviet chaos of the Caucasus. As long as Ankara maintains a secular, capitalistic, pseudo-democratic facade, it will enjoy rich handouts from the West, while eastern mountains and jails flow with blood from the eternal Turkey killings.
Hank Hyena is a columnist for SFGate.com and SF Metropolitan, and a frequent contributor to Salon.