Turkey is under pressure from US government to open its bases and other resources to establish a northern front. The US is offering billions of dollars in economic aid, weapons, and a promise to help squelch any Kurdish uprising in Turkey’s southeast that results from a war.
However, popular opinion in Turkey is overwhelmingly against a war, on the order of 95 percent, despite the economic sacrifice that would result.
A refusal by Turkey to give into the US proposal (blackmail as many in Turkey call it) as well as action to seek a peaceful resolution would affirm Turkey’s democratic principles and make the initiation of war against Iraq less likely. Submission to US demands, on the other hand, would be a blatant betrayal by the government against its people, resulting in public resistance and a subsequent increase in repression by the government. Many Turks felt that progress in human rights would be set back in the case of government and military support of the war.
And obviously, Turkey opening its bases increases the likelihood of war against Iraq.
On Friday, Jan 24 I arrived in Istanbul and was immediately rushed from the airport to the studio of NTV (the PBS equivalent in Turkey) for a live interview. A few hours later I was on CNN Turk along with a Brit from CamPeace. My basic message was this: The best way for Turkey to help America is to facilitate peace, not war. I found myself repeating this soundbyte over and over again throughout my visit.
The next day, the Turkish Peace Initiative held the Assembly of the 100s. One hundred representatives each from 20 different occupation groups (doctors, educators, and even the “unemployed”) making up 2000 people gathered in a large hall in Istanbul. One representative of each 20 occupation groups addressed the crowd, and each of the 14 internationals made an short speech including myself. There were tons of media there and I was a bit overwhelmed. I did another live interview with CNN Turk and a couple of other live interviews with other national television stations, interviews with six or seven other television reporters, and interviews with a half dozen newspapers.
On Sunday morning, I did an interview with Omer Madra from Acik Radio, who is Turkey’s equivalent of Amy Goodman from Democracy Now.
Then we went to an anti-war demonstration (about 15,000 people). It was an illegal protest, so the police blocked off the square where the march was to end for a rally. A famous Turksih actor, Memet Ali Alabora lead the marchers to the square, stopping at the line of riot police blocking the square. One of the policemen said “Hello Mr. Alabora, right this way” and stepped aside to let him pass. As he walked through the police line, he pointed back toward the thousands of people behind him and said, “They’re with me” and the crowd filled the square.
Later that afternoon was a Peace Forum at a university in Istanbul (I can’t remember the name) where each of the international guests gave a 15 minute presentation.
That night a peace program was held at a downtown club, The Babylon. The place was packed with young people. The program was quite a contrast with peace activities here in the US, very lively, and just a little more hip. Less traditional anti-war songs were played, loudly, along with the movie “9-11 Redux” from the Guerilla News Network, a poem by Woody Harrelson, and then 2 Turkish bands played, with another multi-media presentation. Memet Ali Alabora, the movie star, was the MC. And there was tasty Turkish beer, called Efes.
On Monday morning we (9 internationals, a few reps from the Turkish Peace Initiative, and Memet Ali Alabora) flew to Ankara, the capital. First we met with Ertugrul Yalcinbayir, the Deputy Prime Minister. I was encouraged after the meeting because he went far beyond the usual kind of ambiguous statements made by politicians by making a firm statement against the proposed war against Iraq and expressing his opposition to the use of Turkish military bases.
The meeting with the Speaker of the Parliament was encouraging as well. Bulent Arine stated his opposition to the use of Turkish military bases in the strongest possible terms short of speaking for the entire Parliament, but did add that the vast majority of Parliament is against it as well. Best of all, he said that a decision to open up bases would have to go through the Parliament. To top it off, he said something that I couldn’t say any better myself said: “everyone says they want peace, but few of us actually practice peace.”
An interesting point made by Norman Finkelstein (Professor of Political Science at DePaul in Chicago) was that in the first Gulf War, Jordan and Yemen were in the same situation as Turkey. Yemen voted against the war in the UN, and leaders in the US told them that it would be the most costly vote they ever made. Jordan deferred to public opinion and refused to allow the US to use its bases, and the US made threats as well. The refusal of both of these countries to go along resulted in economic and political sacrifices lasting only a short time. It was not catastrophic for Yemen or Jordon, and the same could be said for Turkey.
Anyway, after the Deputy Prime Minister and the Speaker of the Parliament, we met with the chairman of the human rights committee. He stressed the importance of Turkey’s decision in relation to human rights in Turkey.
My message to the Deputy Prime Minister and the Speaker of the Parliament was basically this:
“I am a member of Peaceful Tomorrows, which is a group of people who lost family members on September 11. You might wonder why I’m here, talking about Iraq, especially since Iraq has nothing to do with September 11. I am here because 9/11 is being sold as part of the post-September 11 “war on terrorism”. I know what it is like to lose a family member because of a violent act. If there is a war against Iraq, the same thing will happen to thousands of other people, so it’s appalling to me that 9/11 is being used to sell this war.
I am here out of concern for the Iraqi people, but I’m also here out of concern for the American people. A war against Iraq will inflame hatred against the United States and make terrorist attacks even more likely. Helping in a war against Iraq will not help America, it will hurt America. If you want to help America, the best way to do that is to help avert a war. Whatever the Turkish government decides, I hope that it represents the opinion of the Turkish people.”
That was it for the weekend’s activities.
I left Turkey with a more tangible sense of the impact a war will have on world opinion toward the US. In a country like Turkey, where people have a relatively positive opinion of America, there is more fear of President Bush than Saddam Hussein. “Dictator Bush” is what many people call him (I’m speaking about the “common” Turks, not the peaceniks). After talking with many “common” people, it was clear that their opinion of the US would shift radically from benevolent concern to a deep rejection, dislike, or even hate. So far, people make a clear distinction between the “American system” and American citizens. I’m afraid that could change.
As PT members Jim and Barb Fyfe wrote in their letter to the editor, Bush said that the “war on terrorism” is about “winning hearts and minds.”
In a secular, largely westernized country like Turkey where people have a positive opinion of America, the impact of a war against Iraq would have on the “hearts and minds” of the Turkish people is significant. It makes me wonder how much more extreme the case could be in other countries where the opinion of America is already low.
In the first Gulf War, many people in Saudi Arabia became extremely anti-American after their government allowed the US to use its bases without the support of the Saudi Arabian people or much of the Arab world. It is widely believed that this is when Osama bin Laden turned against America.