Washington’s Turkish Blinders


Massive anti-American demonstrations in Greece have stunned the ClintonWhite House, compelling the president to reschedule and shorten his visittothat country. The conventional wisdom is that the outpouring of rageagainst the United States is either typical fare from radical leftists,still furious about Washington's support of the military junta that ruledGreece from 1967 to 1974, or residual anger at NATO's war against Serbia,which was overwhelmingly unpopular among Greeks.

Both factors undoubtedly play a role, but there is another reason:annoyance at Washington's increasingly evident bias toward Greece'slong-time rival, Turkey. Greeks are especially upset that U.S.policymakersignore or excuse Turkey's behavior -- even when Ankara's actions includemilitary aggression, ethnic cleansing and pervasive human rightsviolations.

Washington's double standard is breathtaking. The United States was intheforefront of demands that NATO take military action against Serbia becauseof its ethnic cleansing in Kosovo. Yet U.S. officials have expressed onlytepid and perfunctory criticism of NATO-member Turkey's ongoing occupationof Cyprus. Turkey invaded that country in 1974, occupied some 37 percentofits territory, expelled more than 165,000 Greek Cypriots from their homes,set up a puppet republic and brought in tens of thousands of colonists fromthe Turkish mainland. If Ankara's actions in Cyprus do not constituteethnic cleansing, the term has no meaning.

The Cyprus episode is not Turkey's only disturbing behavior. For more than14 years, Turkish security forces waged a violent counterinsurgencycampaignagainst Kurdish separatist rebels in southeastern Turkey. Nearly 37,000people perished in that struggle, which only now seems to be winding down.The main Kurdish rebel group -- the pro-communist Kurdish Workers Party(PKK) -- clearly committed terrorist acts. But Human Rights Watch andotherorganizations have concluded that the Turkish military was responsible forthe majority of civilian casualties. Turkey's counterinsurgency campaignalso included the forced "depopulation" of some 3,000 Kurdish villages andthe razing of at least 900 villages.

Given Ankara's track record on aggression and ethnic cleansing, Greekscitethe hypocrisy of the United States and its allies in allowing Turkishforcesto participate in the war against Serbia. But Washington's double standardregarding Turkey extends further. U.S. officials insist that NATO is analliance of democracies and any nation wishing to become a member must havea firm commitment to democratic practices. Yet Washington said little in1997 when the Turkish military gave an ultimatum to the country's primeminister: resign or be overthrown. And U.S. officials do not have much tosay when Turkish authorities routinely jail journalists and academics whohave the temerity to suggest that there is an ethnically distinct Kurdishminority in Turkey -- much less that the Turkish government ought to pursuea less repressive policy toward that minority.

In short, the Greeks are angry because it is all too evident that Turkeyhas become Washington's pet ally and that Ankara can get away withmurder --sometimes literally. The underlying reason for the pro-Turkish bias wasexpressed candidly by U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations RichardHolbrooke. According to Holbrooke, Turkey is as important to the UnitedStates and NATO in the post-Cold War era as West Germany was during theColdWar. A government that regards Turkey as such an indispensable ally is notlikely to let minor blemishes like military aggression, ethnic cleansing orcontempt for democratic norms preclude a close relationship.

Washington's indulgent attitude is short-sighted as well as hypocritical.U.S. policymakers regard Turkey as a bulwark against Islamic radicalism andas a stabilizing influence in the Balkans, the Middle East and CentralAsia.The first assumption is questionable, given the strength of radical Islamicelements inside Turkey; the second assumption is wholly fallacious.

Turkey shows signs of being a disruptive, revisionist power, not astabilizing, status quo power. In addition to Ankara's intransigenceregarding Cyprus, Turkey imposed a brutal economic blockade against Armeniaand has threatened to use force to settle disputes with Syria. Worst ofallis Ankara's conduct toward Greece. Turkish air force planes routinelyviolate Greek air space and engage in other forms of harassment, and Ankaracontinues to press claims to Greek islands in the Aegean. Again, theUnitedStates not only fails to condemn such behavior, it is receptive to Turkey'sdubious territorial claims.

Although there has been much press speculation about an improvement inGreco-Turkish relations as a result of humanitarian cooperation in theaftermath of the earthquakes that damaged both countries, the conciliatoryactions have thus far been overwhelmingly one way. For example, Greece hasdropped its opposition to Turkey's becoming a candidate for membership inthe European Union. Turkey promptly pocketed that concession but has notreciprocated with concessions on Cyprus or any other issue.

It is, of course, not Washington's responsibility to compel Ankara toceaseits offensive behavior. But the United States should at least not beTurkey's enabler. Unfortunately, Washington's flagrant double standardencourages Turkish officials' inflated sense of their country's strategicimportance and may even encourage them to conclude that they can pursueaggressive measures against neighboring countries with U.S. acquiescence,ifnot tacit approval. The demonstrations convulsing Greece are at leastpartly a response to Washington's hypocrisy. It is a message theadministration should heed.