Double Standards Haunt US And Europe In NATO Dispute With Turkey – Analysis


US and European acquiescence in Turkey’s long-standing refusal to honour Kurdish ethnic, cultural, and political rights has come home to roost with Turkish opposition to Finnish and Swedish NATO membership.

The opposition has sparked debates about Turkey’s controversial place in the North Atlantic defense alliance.

Turkey’s detractors point to its problematic military intervention in Syria, relations with Russia, refusal to sanction Moscow, and alleged fuelling of tension in the eastern Mediterranean, calling the country’s NATO membership into question.

Its defenders note that Turkey, NATO’s second-largest standing military, is key to maintaining the alliance’s southern flank. Also, Turkey’s geography, population size, economy, military power, and cultural links to a Turkic world make it a critical link between Europe and Asia. In addition, Turkish drones have been vital in Ukraine’s war with Russia, while Turkey has been a mediator in the conflict, albeit with limited success.

Kurdish rights hardly figure in the debates, and if they do, only as a prop for taking Turkey to task for its slide into authoritarianism.

An ethnic group spread across southeastern Turkey, northern Iraq, northern Syria, and western Iran, Kurds are seen at best as assets in the fight against the Islamic State and at worst a threat to Turkish security and territorial integrity. Turkey’s estimated 16 million Kurds account for up to 20 per cent of the country’s population.

Turkey, or Turkiye as it wants to be known going forward, has used the security argument to make its agreement to Swedish and Finnish NATO membership dependent on the two Nordic countries effectively accepting its definition of terrorism as including any national expression of Kurdish identity.

Turkey has demanded that Sweden and Finland extradite 33 people, some of whom are Swedish or Finnish nationals, because of their alleged support for the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) or exiled preacher Fethullah Gulen, whom President Recep Tayyip Erdogan holds responsible for a failed military coup in 2016.

Turkey accuses the two Nordic countries of allowing the PKK to organize on their territory. Alongside the United States and the European Union, Turkey has designated the PKK as a terrorist organisation. The PKK has waged a decades-long insurgency against Turkey in which tens of thousands have been killed.

Turkey also wants Sweden and Finland to support its military operation against the People’s Protection Units (YPG), a US-backed Syrian Kurdish group that played a crucial role in defeating the Islamic State. Turkey asserts that the YPG is an extension of the PKK.

Mr. Erdogan recently announced that Turkey would launch a new military operation to extend the Turkish armed forces’ areas of control in Syria to a 30-kilometer swath of land along the two countries shared border. The offensive would target the YPG in the towns of Tel Rifaat and Manbij and possibly Kobani, Ain Issa, and Tell Tamer.

Past US and European failure to stand up for Kurdish rights, as part of Turkey’s need to meet the criteria for NATO membership that include “fair treatment of minority populations,” has complicated the fight against the Islamic State, stymied Kurdish aspirations beyond Turkey’s borders and enabled repression of Kurdish rights in Turkey.

More immediately, the failure to hold Turkey accountable for its repression of Kurdish ethnic and political rights within the framework of the Turkish state has enabled Ankara to establish Turkish policies as a condition for NATO membership even if they violate NATO membership criteria.

Those policies include defining the peaceful expression of Kurdish identity as terrorism and the rolling back of Kurdish language and cultural rights since the collapse in 2015 of peace talks with the PKK. Turkey lifted the ban on Kurdish languages and the word Kurd in 1991. Until then, Kurds were referred to as ‘mountain Turks.’

The governor of the southeastern Turkish province of Diyarbakir, widely seen as a hub of Kurdish cultural and political activity, forced this writer under treat of death to leave the region for using the word Kurd rather than mountain Turk in interviews in the 1980s.

Kurdish language programs in universities have dwindled in recent years amid administrative hurdles, while Kurdish parents complain of pressure not to enroll their children in elective Kurdish courses.

Most Kurdish-language services and activities created by local administrations were terminated by government-appointed trustees who replaced dozens of Kurdish mayors ousted by Ankara for alleged links to the PKK. Many of the ousted mayors and other leading Kurdish politicians remain behind bars.

The failure to take Turkey to task early on takes on added significance at a time when NATO casts the war in Ukraine as a battle of values and of democracy versus autocracy that will shape the contours of a 21st-century world order.

For his part, US President Joe Biden has sought to regain the moral high ground in the wake of the Trump presidency that broke with American liberalism by declaring “America is back” in the struggle for democratic and human rights.

Mr. Biden and Europe’s problem is that their credibility rides on cleaning up at home and ensuring that they are seen as sincere rather than hypocritical.

That’s a tall order amid assertions of structural racism on both sides of the Atlantic; controversy over gun ownership in the United States; preferential arrangements for Ukrainian refugees as opposed to non-Europeans and non-whites fleeing war, persecution, and destruction; and foreign policies that treat violations of human and political rights differently depending on who commits them.

The obvious place to start is at home. Kurds could be another starting point, with Finnish and Swedish NATO membership on the front burner. Meeting Turkish demands regarding perpetrators of political violence is one thing; acquiescing in the criminalization of legitimate Kurdish political and cultural expression is another.

That may be a tough bargain to drive home in Ankara. However, it would offer a compromise formula that could serve everyone’s interest and help Turkey solve a problem that promises to be one of the Middle East’s multiple exploding powder kegs.

James M. Dorsey

Dr. James M. Dorsey is an award-winning journalist and scholar, a Senior Fellow at the National University of Singapore's Middle East Institute and Adjunct Senior Fellow at Nanyang Technological University's S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, and the author of the syndicated column and blog.

4 thoughts on “Double Standards Haunt US And Europe In NATO Dispute With Turkey – Analysis

  • June 7, 2022 at 5:20 am

    Contrary to what this article insinuates, Turkey does not have a problem with Kurds nor does the recent drama about Sweden and Finland’s NATO membership have anything to do with minority Kurdish rights. It’s all about the terrorist group PKK and its extensions in Syria. Turkiye gets along fine with the KRG, the Kurdish Administration in Northern Iraq because they disassociate from the PKK. When one finds Swedish made MAN-PADS and other weapons on dead terrorists within Turkiye, it is tough to make any argument in support of Sweden as they clearly play a significant and dirty role in the backing of the terrorist organization known as PKK. Let’s not try to paint the picture of the PKK being some type of “Kurdish minority protector or freedom fighter” because they’re not , infact they’ve killed thousands of innocent Kurds who don’t ascribe to their wicked ways.

  • June 7, 2022 at 10:22 am

    Turkey should be expelled from NATO as it threatens NATO integrity and unity. Its unprovoked and provocative actions against Greece (which is also a vital NATO member since 1951), its refusal to Sweden’s and Finland’s NATO candidature, its occupation of 42 percent of the Republic of Cyprus, its resist and undemocratic behavior against the Kurdish nation, its active support to HAMAS terrorists against Israel, and its ‘silent’ alliance with Russia, make Turkey an undesirable country for NATO membership as well as a dangerous one. Expel it!

    • June 7, 2022 at 9:48 pm

      Friend… if Turkiye leaves Nato and takes sides with China and Russia. US and EU cannot win the next WW. Im tired of reading these articles. They are one sided and idiotic.

      Turkiye is gonna end PKK., and Europe +US are going to either help or give up the throne.

      Golden years of the west is over. Europe or US can no longer force other countries to follow their demands.

      Truth is West is supporting terrorism and refuse to admit it. If Turkiye leaves NATO, there is a new world order and WW3 is right around the corner.

      I promise you, the moment Turkiye leaves NATO, it takes back the greek islands and Cyprus.

  • June 7, 2022 at 12:33 pm

    I cannot believe that the author doesn’t even mention that Turkey is occupying 40% of the Republic of Cyprus since 1974, nor does it say anything about its preposterous claims on Greek Islands, it’s overflights on a daily basis, and the continuous violations of the Greek airspace. I am sure he is aware of all of this. I wonder, why the silence on an issue that could potentially blow up the Southern flank of NATO.


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