Adrian Hamilton: You can't blame Kurdish terror on Islamic 'fascists'

In the end, it may be only the larger international community which can assure stability
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The Independent Online

This week's Kurdish terrorist outrages in Turkey are the last thing anyone wanted, or even expected. The "war on terror", after all, was supposed to be about Islamic "fascists" attacking the very roots of civilisation, not a bunch of Kurdish separatists with no apparent religious agenda attacking the vital tourist industry of a country due to join the European Union.

Worse, they were perpetrated by Kurds, the West's favourite group in Iraq, the people whom the outside world moved to protect from Saddam Hussein, and who did so much to encourage Washington and London to invade Iraq to remove the dictator. No wonder the US, which has always seen itself as the natural patron of Turkey, as well as the Kurds, moved so quickly to appoint a special envoy to keep Turks and Kurds on a co-operative path.

But it's not that easy. No one really knows just who the group, the self-proclaimed Kurdistan Freedom Falcons, which carried out the latest bombings in the tourist centres of Turkey, are. They may be an extremist splinter group of the main PKK separatists, like the Real IRA, a last violent expression of men of violence marginalised by the process of political reconciliation. Or they may be an integral part of a broader PKK upsurge.

What we do know is this latest Kurdish action is happening at the worst possible moment in the region. Iraq is threatening to splinter asunder, and the prospect of an independent Kurdistan embracing not just northern Iraq but substantial parts of neighbouring Turkey, Iran and Syria, is producing a fierce reaction around it.

Syria and Iran have moved sizable numbers of troops into their Kurdish areas and are carrying out determined and none-too-civilised campaigns against any signs of separatist activity. They are driven partly by the belief, with some justification, that the US has been deliberately encouraging Kurdish "freedom" movements as a means of destabilising the regimes in Tehran and Damascus.

The same cannot be said of Turkey, where the US is anxious to play down the Kurdish question and to stop Turkey from sending its troops across the border into Iraq to attack PKK camps there, as it has several times in the past. But, conscious though Turkey is of its obligations to treat the Kurds better as part of its campaign to get into Europe, there are plenty of people in Ankara, especially in the armed forces, who are ready to use the bombing of tourists as an excuse for another crackdown.

One can have a good deal of sympathy for the Kurds in this. They are a people much sinned against over the years, trying to make a living out of a mountainous territory amid constant oppression from the countries in which they operate. If I were a Kurd, I would wish for a self-determined homeland and would see that homeland gathering in one's confrères from all around. Geographically and linguistically, it makes sense.

But the consequences could be truly terrible. Iraq cannot be split that easily, not without appalling bloodshed and arousing the temptation of outside intervention. Nor would any of its neighbours allow chinks of their own territories to be detached. You only have to look at the Balkans to see the consequences. And there the racial mix is much less complex than in the Middle East.

Of course, there are solutions over time. The Kurds in Turkey may be brought to feel they are better off as part of a state that could be a member of the European Union than in a separate, poor Middle Eastern Kurdistan - provided the EU doesn't backslide on the negotiations and the Turks don't turn against Europe. It is possible to see a largely self-governing Kurdish province in a confederate Iraq, just as it would be more efficacious if the Syrians and Iranians treated their Kurdish minorities better. Democracy, too, can play a part in allowing diversity in a national framework.

But, in the short term, democracy tends to reinforce the tyranny of the majority, while measures of self-government may not act quickly enough to assuage the ambitions they help feed. Turkish membership of the EU is, if anything, sliding away, and may be propelled even further into the future by the Kurdish bombing campaign and Ankara's reaction to it. The isolation of Iran and Syria is hardly encouraging their governments to play it long with their Kurds, while all the signs are that Kurdistan is losing any sense of Iraqi nationality, as the younger generation cease to speak Arabic and enjoy the benefits of relative security in a country elsewhere falling apart.

In the end, it may be only the larger international community, through the UN and regional associations, which can ensure stability, and the guarantee of territorial integrity necessary to prevent violent upheaval.

Which is why so many of those with knowledge of the area so strongly opposed the invasion of Iraq. It was nothing to do with whether Saddam Hussein was a good or bad man, or whether the world would be better rid of him. It was the consequences of unthinking outside intervention on so volatile a region which appalled them, and on which they have proved right.

George Bush and Tony Blair have sown the wind and have reaped a whirlwind whose blast is being felt as much in the tourist hotspots of southern Turkey as the Muslim communities in Britain.