This article will focus on the challenge of Kurdish nationalism within Turkey, particularly as it affects Turkey's relations with Syria and the distribution of the waters of the Euphrates, Tigris and Asi rivers, with which the "Kurdish problem" is inextricably linked.1
The Kurds are estimated to number some 20-25 million living largely in four Middle East countries: Turkey, with 10-12 million; Iran, with 5-6 million; Iraq, with 3.5 million and Syria, with 1 million. Some 70,000-80,000 Kurds also live in Armenia and in Azerbaijan. Recent reports suggest there are 300,000-1 million Kurds living within the Russian Federation. Since the bulk of Kurds live in contiguous areas, they have possessed a sense of community and shared space since medieval times at least. This sense of identity was reinforced by the a growing sense of nationalism during the last two decades of the nineteenth century. The Kurds consider themselves to be direct descendants of the ancient Medes (although modem scholarship doubts this), who, because of military conquests, defeats and the collapse of empires, began to migrate around 2,000 years ago to the mountain fastnesses where they live today. From these strategic and almost impregnable locations, the Kurds were able to preserve their communities while at the same time participating in the great Armenian, Greek, Byzantine, Arab, Turkish, Iranian and Ottoman empires that dominated the region's history right up to the collapse and partition of the Ottoman Empire at the end of World War I. The Kurds were promised the possibility of an independent state in articles 62 and 64 of the Treaty of Sevres, signed on August 10, 1920.
But there was to be no Kurdish state. The main reason for this was the emergence of a strong Turkish nationalist state in the aftermath of the war and the subsequent suppression of Kurdish nationalist revolts in 1925, 1930 and 1937-38. There was not to be another Kurdish nationalist challenge to the Turkish rule until the emergence of the PKK in the early 1980s and especially after the Gulf War. The Kurdish movement in Iran was also contained by a strong nationalist government in Iran during the inter-war and post-World-War-II periods. The one exception was the brief year in 1946, when the Kurds were able to establish a nationalist government in Mahabad before it fell to the vicissitudes of the emerging Cold War.
It was only with the Islamic revolution in Iran in 1978 and during the 1980s that the Kurds in Iran were once again able to press vigorously their demands for more cultural and political autonomy. The Iraqi Kurds' situation was substantially different from that of the Kurds in Turkey or Iran because Britain, which became the mandatory power in Iraq in 1920, supported, in varying degrees, Kurdish nationalist demands for cultural rights and local administrative autonomy. The British never advocated or supported an independent state in Iraq during the period (1920-58) when they were in control of the country. The British supported cultural and some limited political autonomy for the Kurds in Iraq mainly as a counterpoise to Arab nationalism and to the largely Sunni Arab government in Baghdad. Ever since the British were expelled from Iraq in 1958, the Kurds in the north and the Iraqi government have been intermittently at war.
It was only in the wake of the 1991 Gulf War that the Kurds in Iraq seemed to have gained an opportunity to establish an independent state or, at least, an autonomous entity federated with the rest of Iraq, as a result of Allied (U.S. and European) policies aimed at defeating Saddam Hussein. The Allied forces supported a Kurdish insurrection against his regime. Its defeat and the subsequent flight of the Kurds to the mountainous regions bordering Iran and, especially, Turkey created further support in the West for some kind of sanctuary for the Kurds in northern Iraq. Of course, the Kurds desired to make this "safe zone" as autonomous as possible. I would argue that the perceived intent of the Kurds to create an independent state in northern Iraq led Turkey and Syria to conclude a series of national security agreements, all of which failed due to differences over the Kurdish question and the water problem.
TURKEY'S RELATIONS WITH SYRIA
Prior to the Gulf War, Turkey-Syrian relations were dominated by two major concerns. Until 1980, Turkey's 1939 annexation of Hatay (formerly Alexandretta), made possible by France's desire to neutralize Turkey's entrance into World War II, still rankled in Damascus. The second major problem between the two countries was the already growing concern over the distribution of the down flow of the Euphrates from Turkey to Syria. The differences over water grew in the 1970s and 1980s as Turkey continued to build a series of dams and irrigation projects, which it called the South Anatolia Project, generally known by its Turkish acronym GAP (Guney Dogu Projesi). The Keban dam was constructed 1964-74 and the Karakaya dam, 1976-1987; the Ataturk dam and irrigation project is still being completed. During the construction of the darns, Turkey generally kept the down flow of the Euphrates to Syria at around 500 cubic meters (cm) per second, except during periods when it was filling the dams' reservoirs. During such times, tension generally rose between the two capitals. Another major problem in the late 1960s and 1970s was Syria's policy of granting asylum to Kurdish and Armenian guerrilla groups, both of which the Turks considered to be terrorists.2
In 1980 another development occurred that, in addition to the water question, has continued to dominate relations between the two countries right up to the present. This was Syria's decision to give sanctuary to Abdullah Ocalan, the leader of the Kurdistan Workers' party popularly known by its Kurdish acronym, PKK (Partia Kakaren-i-Kurdistan).3
The PKK is a Kurdish nationalist organization that has its origins in the late 1970s. Relations between the PKK and Syria became closer in 1980 as a result of the September 12 military coup in Turkey and the subsequent crackdown on all leftist and Kurdish nationalist groups. Military repression impelled Ocalan and some of his PKK cadres to seek refuge in Syria. Because of its grievances over Hatay, the water question, and probably because of some intelligence cooperation between Turkey and Israel, Syria decided to shelter and support the PKK.4 The outbreak of the war between Iran and Iraq on September 22, just ten days after the military coup in Turkey, gave further cause to Syria to aid the PKK in establishing itself as a credible challenge to the Turkish state.
That eight-year war and the power vacuum that it created in northern Iraq allowed the PKK to mount a serious challenge to the Turkish government. Headquartered in Syria and at times in Lebanon, and with bases in both countries as well as in northern Iraq and Iran, by the end of the Iran-Iraq War in 1988, the PKK had become a formidable guerrilla organization that was beginning to preoccupy Ankara's domestic and foreign policies. Damascus' support for the PKK stuck in Ankara's craw, but, short of military action, there was little that could be done. Military action on the part of Turks had its risks: It could disrupt relations with its Arab neighbors and might not be successful in destroying the PKK camps or in finding Ocalan. There was also the possibility that Syria would retaliate, perhaps in the sensitive province of Hatay.
The situation had become serious enough that even before the end of the Iraq-Iran War, Turkey and Syria thought it in their interests to sign a security protocol. In 1987 Prime Minister Turgut Ozal himself went to Damascus to conduct the negotiations.5 The 1987 protocol, however, resulted only in a temporary assuaging of differences.6 The Syrians would not even admit that Ocalan was in the country; to cover their denial, they sent him temporarily to the Beqaa Valley in Lebanon. Ismet G. Imset claims that soon after the protocol was signed, Syria allowed Ocalan to meet with Soviet officials in. Damascus.7 Syria continued to aid PKK activities right up to the Gulf War in 1991, and Turkey continued to restrict the downflow of the Euphrates.
Ankara and Damascus were allied temporarily in the U.S.-led coalition against Iraq. Both countries benefited from the alliance, although it did nothing to resolve the differences between them concerning the PKK and water. But the Gulf War provided the environment for the first significant security protocol between the two capitals. In April 1992, top Turkish officials headed by Foreign Minister Hikmet Cetin, Interior Minister Ismet Sezgin and Gendarmerie Commander Esref Bitlis (subsequently killed in a suspicious helicopter crash) made their way south to negotiate with President Hafiz al-Asad, Foreign Minister Faruk Sharaa and top Syrian military officials. The negotiations resulted in what Sezgin characterized as "the most important protocol ever signed with Syria."8 The Turks held a four hour meeting with President Asad. The negotiations took place even as Turkish Prime Minister Suleyman Demirel threatened that Turkey might bomb PKK bases in the Beqaa.
The security agreement of April 1992 is worthy of detailed examination: 1) both countries would cooperate against terrorism, "including its international form," and prevent terrorists from crossing from one country to the other; 2) neither country would give permission to any organization outlawed by the other to organize, train or make propaganda, and any captured member of an outlawed organization would be returned; 3) both would exchange information regarding outlawed organizations; 4) both would undertake measures to prevent infiltration and smuggling; 5) both would take measures to prevent "unnecessary" armed incidents on their borders. In order to ensure this cooperation, security officials would meet every three months. The final article of the agreement was the most important: "The Turks stated their objections in detail regarding PKK terrorist activities, and the Syrians declared the PKK an outlawed (yasaklanmis) organization in Syria (my italics) and that any members of the PKK apprehended would be delivered to the respective judicial [Syrian] authorities."9 Upon the signing of the agreement, Turkish Defense Minister Nevzat Ayaz said that if Syria abided by the agreement there would be "no need to bomb the Beqaa."10
The April 1992 security agreement defused the tension between the two countries but was short-lived. After a brief respite, PKK activities emanating from Syria resumed with attacks on targets in Turkey itself. Damascus could not give up the Kurdish card, and Ankara continued to play the water card.
In the spring of 1992, relations between the two countries once again began to heat up. On November 19-20, 1993, just after Turkey and Syria had signed a security protocol regarding the PKK and other "terrorists," Major General Adnan Badr al-Hasan, Syria's chief of security at the Ministry of Interior, stated that Syria would not be a thoroughfare for "those who are against Turkey's interest."11 A few days later Nasir Kaddur, Syrian minister of state for security, said in a television interview referring to the security protocol that Syria had "begun to ban the PKK on President Hafiz al-Asad's orders." Kaddur added that PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan and other "terrorists" would not be allowed to use Syrian territory or pass through Syria for operations against Turkey. The security chief noted that some PKK members had already been arrested. He further implied that henceforth Ocalan would be unwelcome in Syria. Kaddur concluded his interview saying, "Turkey's stability and integrity are important for Syria and the region. Therefore there is no room for any groups perpetrating terrorism and causing trouble for Turkey."12 Turkish officials were undoubtedly delighted to hear the Syrian security chief characterize the PKK as a terrorist organization. This was the first time that a high-ranking Syrian official had done so and marked a significant foreign-policy departure for Syria, which had supported the PKK since it gave sanctuary to Ocalan in 1979.
On August 23, Syria participated in a foreign-minister-level summit conference with Iran and Turkey in which the Kurdish question figured prominently. Ali Akbar Velayati of Iran, Faruk Sharaa of Syria and Milmtaz Soysal of Turkey, who would officially only become foreign minister on August 27, expressed their unalterable opposition to the fragmentation of Iraq.13 They announced their vehement opposition to the planned election in 1995 in northern Iraq, declaring it would contribute to the fragmentation of that country. The ministers, especially Soysal, expressed their displeasure at not being invited to attend the Kurdish conference held on July 23 in Paris, although officials from Britain, France and the United States did attend.
At the Damascus summit, Sharaa did not specifically denounce the PKK as a terrorist organization, as Turkey demanded, but he did say that Syria was adamantly opposed to the fragmentation of Middle East countries, an apparent reference to the Kurdish nationalist challenge to Turkey as well as to Iraq. In tum, Soysal announced that Turkey would soon place new restrictions on entries, especially on representatives-of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), into Iraq at the Habur/Khabur crossing, the main entry point between Turkey and Iraq, located at the town of Jizre (Jazirat Ibn Umar) on the Turkish side of the border.14 Some two weeks later the Turkish government did announce that it was closing the Habur crossing to representatives of human-rights organizations and members of foreign parliaments. Only personnel connected to U.N. programs in northern Iraq, and Turkish and Iraqi journalists would be allowed passage. A Turkish authority was quoted as saying, "Northern Iraq is our back yard. Of course, we will control who comes and goes."15
The August summit meeting in Damascus made it clear there is a direct connection between the Kurdish question and the distribution of the Euphrates' water. The Turks emphasized they would not pursue earnest negotiations on the water question until Syria assured them that they would no longer support PKK activities or shelter Abdullah Ocalan. Until agreement was reached, Ankara stressed that it would be difficult to move forward on other problems such as the distribution of the Asi (Orontes) River (al-Asi in Arabic), which flows through Syria before entering Turkey's Hatay province. The Turks want an agreement that will prohibit the Syrians from severely restricting the Asi's flow before it enters Hatay. Ankara also indicated that it sought indemnification for property in Syria belonging to Turkish citizens, some cases of which go back prior to World War I. The Syrians are also interested in putting the question of the sovereignty of Hatay/Alexandretta on the agenda. Hatay was a province of Syria prior to being annexed by Turkey in 1939 with the support of the European powers in return for Turkey's hoped-for neutrality in the increasingly bitter conflict between Germany and her European neighbors.
The Turkish foreign minister stated, however, that the two countries should try to solve the least intractable problems first. Some Turkish editorial writers declared that the August summit marked "a new era" in Turkish-Syrian relations. All three foreign ministers declared their unalterable opposition to the creation of an independent Kurdish state in northern Iraq. Prior to the Damascus summit and just after being appointed foreign minister, Soysal announced publicly that he believed it was the West's policy to establish an independent state in northern Iraq.16
In late 1994 and early 1995 relations between Turkey and Syria took a brief upswing. On December 5, Yahm Erez, president of Turkey's Chamber of Commerce and Commodities Market and a close adviser of Prime Minister Tansu Ciller, led a 100-person delegation to Damascus to engage in trade discussions. Syrian Foreign Minister Muhammad Imadi made it clear that Syria was interested in improving trade relations especially if Syria's $300-million trade deficit with Turkey could be reduced, and he suggested that one way to reduce the trade deficit would be for Turkey to import phosphates from Syria rather than from Tunisia. Erez indicated that Turkey would strive to reduce the trade deficit. Turkish press editorials were largely in favor of improved relations with Syria. Ankara was hopeful that, when signed, a peace agreement would open up greater opportunities for Turkish trade and business ventures, especially for construction companies, in Syria, Lebanon, the West Bank and Gaza. The Turkish delegation stated emphatically that their country wanted to participate in the reconstruction and development in the Arab region. Editors close to government circles stressed that better relations with Syria were a key to Turkey's participation in the "millions" that would be spent on reconstruction and development in the region. If Ankara and Damascus did not improve their relations, the West would "eat all of the pastry."17
By February 1995, despite differences over the issue of Damascus, continued support for the PKK and the agreement that greater trade was desirable, the amount of water released by Turkey from its upriver dams on the Euphrates remained a bitter issue between the two capitals. However, in early February 1995, Prime Minister Ciller announced that Turkey was ready to sign a "water protocol" with Syria guaranteeing a flow of at least 500 million cubic meters per second if Damascus would abandon its "protection of PKK terrorists."18
By mid-summer, however, reports that the PKK was attempting to establish an organizational structure in Hatay, once again soured what seemed to be improving relations. In July the commander of the People's Liberation Army of Kurdistan (ARGK), the military wing of the PKK, announced that PKK guerrillas were engaging in operations in the Taurus mountains and in Hatay. The commander stated that the PKK first stationed forces in these regions in 1994 and that Turkish intelligence first became aware of the PKK presence in early 1995.19 He claimed further that the Turkish National Security Council met to discuss methods of eliminating the PKK presence and decided to send "thousands of soldiers to the region and hoped to achieve a victory over us [ARGK] by means of military operations. Because they could not achieve such a victory, they built up a system of contraguerrillas and village guards in urban centers such as Cukurova, Hatay and Adana." The commander went on to report that in the first six months of 1995, ARGK killed 25 Turkish soldiers, village guards and fascists (in the PKK lingo, those individuals and groups who collaborate with the Turkish military and security apparat). The ARGK spokesman said only two of its fighters had been killed. He added that the Turkish people showed a great deal of interest in the struggle of the PKK.
The story of the PKK presence in Hatay first broke in the Turkish press on September 17. Hurriyet reported on that date that Abdullah Ocalan proclaimed he "would tum Hatay into Bohtan." Bohtan refers to the area south of Lake Van, extending into areas in northern Iraq in which bloody battles have occurred during the past decade between the PKK and the Turkish armed forces. Hatay too, said Ocalan, "must be turned into a bloody lake."20
According to Hurriyet, the PKK first attempted to infiltrate the Adana, Mersin and Hatay regions in the early 1990s but were successful in winning over only a few recruits in the hinterlands of Adana and Mersin. By the early 1990s these cities were already swelled with Kurds fleeing the scorched-earth policies of the Turkish armed forces in the southeast. But the PKK had tough sledding in Hatay because of the tight security blanket thrown over the entire region by Turkish security. In spite of setbacks, the PKK persisted in trying to establish itself in the region, as Hatay shares a border with Syria where the PKK have sanctuary. The PKK operatives tried to ensconce themselves along the road from Lataqiya in Syria to Samadag, a village in the Amanus mountains in Hatay. This is a road used heavily by smugglers and drug traffickers which the PKK hoped to exploit to their advantage.
An estimation of the demographic composition of the province of Hatay has to be based on guesswork. The population includes a large number of Arabs who are largely Alevi/Alawite. (The Alawites of Syria have been in control of the higher echelons of the Syrian government since 1970; Hafiz al-Asad is an Alawite.) The Turkish population is predominately Sunni. There is also a Turkoman population, which was settled by Turkey in the province after it was annexed in 1939 in order to increase the Turkish ethnic and Sunni religious component. The Turkoman population may approach close to 200,000. The Kurdish population, which has taken refuge in and immigrated to the province during the past decade, is probably largely Sunni as well, but may include 15-20 percent Alevis, approximately the proportion of Alevis among the Kurds of Turkey. The Hurriyet account emphasized that the PKK hoped to exploit the religious and ethnic diversity of Hatay. One of the first operations of the PKK was to attack the Sunni-Turkomen villages. When the Turkish government then armed the Turkomen, the PKK countered with propaganda that the state was arming Sunnis against Alevi-Arab, Turk and Kurd. When, again according to Hurriyet, the PKK found themselves unable to advantageously exploit the religious and ethnic differences, they attempted to ingratiate themselves with the local population by purchasing food provisions at prices substantially higher than the market price. All transactions were carried out in German marks. Prices spiked: one egg sold for two OM (65,000 Turkish lira); a 50-kilo sack of flour sold for 1,000 OM (33 million lira). By their largess, the PKK hoped to establish support and receive protection from the indigenous population.
In addition to exploiting the different religious and ethnic groups in Hatay, the PKK, alleged Hurriyet, also tried to take advantage of the traditionally strong leftist sentiments in Hatay by proclaiming themselves a Marxist organization. They had abandoned this strategy in the southeast to portray themselves as a moderate leftist-Islamist organization to take advantage of the Islamist upsurge of the last decade. Reports of further clashes between the PKK and Turkish armed forces during the first days of December 1995 suggest that there was truth in the comments of the ARGK commander and in Hurriyet's report.
If the above-mentioned reports were correct, it indicates the PKK's intention to expand its guerrilla war from the southeast to the shores of the Mediterranean with hundreds of thousands of Kurdish refugees fleeing from ethnic cleansing. An increase in guerrilla warfare in Hatay would suggest that the PKK was bold enough or felt sufficiently compelled, whether from perceived weakness or strength, to take its war against Ankara out of the predominately Kurdish southeast region. The choice of Hatay is as significant as it is sensitive. The attempt of the PKK to enlist the minority Alevi/Alawite, Arab, and economically marginalized population against the dominant Sunni and Turkish population is bound to create more friction between the two capitals. Reports in summer 1995 of the PKK's attempts to move into Hatay further iced relations between the two countries. When the PKK attacked the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) in northern Iraq on August 25, 1995, as a result of its unhappiness with the results of the first Drogheda (Dublin) conference, Turkey was quick to announce that Damascus, as well as Iran, encouraged the PKK to attack.
It is easy to understand Turkish suspicions that Damascus is behind the PKK's attempts to establish bases in Hatay. The PKK's movement into that province was bound to drive relations between the two countries to another nadir. It would further confirm Ankara's position that Damascus supports the PKK and the Kurdish nationalist movement as instruments to weaken politically, militarily and diplomatically its big northern neighbor.
It is beyond the scope of this article to discuss all the reasons for Syria's slight change of policy vis-a-vis the PKK during the years 1993-96, but obviously its continued negotiations with Israel and with the United States and its desire to participate in the Middle East peace process have played major roles in this change of policy. Antiterrorist remarks and positions were also clearly preparation for the summit meeting between President Asad and President Clinton in Geneva on January 16, 1993. Syria no doubt thought its antiterrorism remarks could aid in the removal of Syria from the U.S. Department of State's list of those countries supporting terrorism. The removal of Syria from the list was again discussed by President Asad and U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher during meetings in July and December 1994, March 1995, throughout 1996 and into the early months of 1997. Improved relations between Turkey and Syria depend a good deal on the Middle East peace process. If Syria does not sign a peace accord with Israel, or continues to respond more slowly than Israel or the United States desires, it will obviously be less amenable to allowing Turkish companies to participate in the reconstruction and development of the region.
There was, however, another dimension to Syria's anti-terrorism remarks with reference to the PKK. Syria seems to finally realize that Europe and the United States do not want the destabilization or weakening of Turkey as a result of Syrian support for the PKK. When Syria, other Arab states, the Palestinians and Israel finalize their peace negotiations, Syria may well have a role to play in the regional water-sharing schemes that now abound. Any pipeline carrying water from the upper reaches of the Euphrates and the Ceyhan and Seyhan rivers located in south-central Turkey would have to traverse Syrian territory. Syria will want to extract as much diplomatic, political and economic leverage as possible from this potentiality. Such a role demands, however, that it no longer pursue policies against the course of wider regional water, trade and economic agreements and geostrategic understandings. In turn, this would mean less support of PKK activities against Turkey. Syria would also be less able to use the Kurdish card against the Baathist regime in Baghdad. In short, the emerging geopolitical and geostrategic trends in the Middle East from 1995 through early 1997 indicate that Syria's continuing support of the PKK would be a declining asset for achieving its foreign-policy goals.
The issue of Syria’s support of the PKK reared its head again in late 1995, when Ocalan had contacts with high-ranking German political and intelligence officials in Damascus. On September 30, Heinrich Lummer, a political ally of Chancellor Helmut Kohl, met with the PKK leader in the Syrian capital. After the Lummer visit, German media announced that several high-ranking intelligence officials had met with Ocalan before Lummer's visit.21 The stated reason for the visit was to discuss German concerns that PKK demonstrations and political activities in Germany were creating intolerable disorder. The Germans also brought to Ocalan's attention their unhappiness with the PKK's involvement in drug trafficking. For his part, Ocalan stressed his desire for Germany to recognize the PKK as a legitimate entity and stop characterizing it as a terrorist organization. Thus, Damascus was the site of negotiations which, if implemented, would prove detrimental to Turkey's policy of delegitimizing the PKK by referring to it as a terrorist organization.
One of the major questions concerning Turkish-Syrian relations at the end of 1995 was this: If Syria's support for the PKK is so strong, and if one of Syria's objectives was to support it as a bona fide nationalist organization, why didn't Ankara take stronger, even military, actions against Syria? The answer seems to be twofold. Ankara undoubtedly did not want to attack a major Arab country, especially when it was involved in peace negotiations with Israel, negotiations supported by the United States, a strong ally of both Israel and Turkey. Such an action would hurt Turkey’s relations with the entire Arab world, albeit in varying degrees. The second reason seems to involve cost-benefit analysis. An ill-planned attack on the PKK in Syria could yield little in the way of destruction of PKK facilities. On the other hand, it could produce a persistent diplomatic migraine.
At the end of 1995, Syria's sheltering of Ocalan and support for the PKK - especially the move into Hatay - in addition to the water problem remained the principal reasons for the sour state of relations between the two countries.
The differences over the water issue that flared near the end of December, occupied the limelight in early 1996. The six GCC countries - Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates - and Egypt meeting in Damascus issued the Damascus Declaration, which demanded a "just agreement" for distributing the Euphrates waters. The declaration strongly criticized Ankara1 s intention to build another dam, this one at Biricik on the Turkish-Syrian border, as part of the GAP project and complained that the water coming from Turkey was heavily polluted.22 Ankara denied the charges and called for three-way talks with Syria and Iraq to attempt to resolve the quarrel. Deniz Baykal, Turkey's foreign minister, stated bluntly that if Syria did not abandon its policy of serving as the headquarters of a terrorist organization, it could not expect any increase in the down flow of the Euphrates.
Leading editorials were quick to point out that the annual flow of the Asi River was estimated to be 1.2 billion cubic meters (cm), of which only 120 million cm reached Turkey at its border with Syria in Hatay and that farmers had only that amount to use for irrigation along the river's 88-km path before it emptied into the Mediterranean. This meant, said the editorialists, only 10 percent of the Asi's water was available for use by Turkey, and this amount was expected to fall to 25 million cm, or less than 2 percent, when Syria completed the building of two dams (Zayzun and Qastun) on the river. Furthermore, editorials claimed that Turkey used only 25 billion cm of Euphrates and Tigris water for itself, allowing 50 billion cm to down flow to Syria and Iraq. The Turks alleged further that the water loss from the Tabqa dam was four times greater than from the Ataturk dam, which was four times larger.23
Relations between the two countries took a nosedive in February. It was revealed in the Turkish media that Ankara had sent Damascus two diplomatic demarches. The first concerned five international transport trucks full of explosives and arms, allegedly originating in Iran, that were heading for the Syrian border when they were stopped. Ankara alleged that the arms were intended for the PKK. Although the trucks and arms were said to have come from Iran, Ankara chose to soft-pedal this aspect of the affair, leaving its harsh words for Damascus. It irritated the Turks even more that the Syrians did not see fit to respond to its demarche.
A second note was not long in coming. At the end of January, Ankara demanded that Syria extradite Abdullah Ocalan. While Turkey had previously made clear its unhappiness with Damascus' sheltering of the PKK leader, this marked the first time that it publicly announced its demand. Ertugrul Ozlcok, the leading editorialist for the daily Hurriyet, known to be close to government, military and intelligence officials, claimed that the demand was made as it was the only alternative to cutting relations with the Asad regime. Ozkok added that another reason for the demarches was the progress of the peace talks between Syria and Israel.
Ankara stated bluntly that if Ocalan was not extradited to Turkey, it would do everything in its power (apparently in league with Washington) to ensure that Syria would not be removed from the list of "countries sponsoring terrorism." If the Ocalan problem was not solved, it would seek to undermine the talks between Syria and Israel and any U.S.-Syria rapprochement resulting from the talks.
According to Ozkok, if Damascus responded that the PKK leader was not in Syria, Ankara would provide evidence that he was; if Damascus said it would not deliver him, then Ankara would attempt to use its influence to sabotage the peace talks. Facing such alternatives, Damascus did nothing. Ozkok trumpeted the fact that Tehran had been much more responsive to Turkish "sensitivities" than Damascus concerning "the truck affair." Nurettin Nurkan, the foreign ministry's spokesman, said that "if Syria did not extradite Ocalan it would open a road that would be hard to repair between the two countries."24
On February 21, a week after Ozlcok's editorial, Mehmet Ali Birand, a respected journalist, published an article in the daily Sabah echoing many of Ozlcok's claims. According to Birand, Damascus had arrested in 1995 a few PKK activists in accordance with the security agreements signed between the two countries following the Gulf War, and so expected that Ankara would respond by increasing the down flow of the Euphrates. Ankara did not do so, claimed Birand, because of "the truck affair." But more important was the increased PKK operations in Hatay that Turkey thought were supported by Syria or at least carried out with Syria's knowledge.
Birand reported that Syrian officials suspected that even if they handed Ocalan over, Turkey would not increase the down flow of the Euphrates, at least not to the rate Syria says it needs for irrigation and hydroelectric purposes.25 Thus, the two countries were at an impasse. Each believed that the state and its government would be weakened if it gave up its strongest cards without iron-clad agreements to protect its real concerns: water, and the increasingly close relations between Turkey and Israel in the case of Damascus aid the desire to destroy the PKK on the part of Ankara.
The impasse between the two capitals regarding the PKK's and Ocalan's presence in Syria seems to have been a major factor in Ankara's announcement on February 24 that it had signed a "Military Education and Cooperation Agreement" with Israel. The agreement was signed in Jerusalem by Cevik Bir, the second ranking official of the general staff of the Turkish armed forces and a former commander of the U.N. forces in Somalia.
Early discussions of the content and import of the military agreement emphasized that it is Turkey's policy to achieve "balance" in its relations between Israel and the Arab countries. Leading editorialists in the Turkish press claimed that the Arab summit in Damascus in December 1995 and Arab criticism of Turkey's water policies played a role in Turkey's signing of the agreement. Ankara was chagrined that its Gulf War allies would proffer such biting criticism, especially Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Some commentators interpreted the Damascus summit as the beginning of a change of policy pursued since the Gulf War on the part of some Arab states. There was also comment that the agreement was in "retaliation" for the military agreement between Syria and Greece that had been signed in 1995, an agreement that purportedly allowed Greek aircraft the use of Syrian airbases in case of conflict with Turkey.26 Subsequent reports that Israeli military personnel would help train Turkish military and intelligence units along the border with Syria, Iraq and Iran fueled speculation that one of the main aims of the agreement was to increase Turkish effectiveness against the PKK camps in these three countries.27
In late December 1996, Cemil Bayilc, the ARGK commander and right-hand man of Abdullah Ocalan, in an interview with well-known journalist Sheri Laizer charged that the PKK is one of the main targets of the Israel-Turkey military agreements. He charged that Israel "is supplying weaponry and high-tech security supplies for the border." (Bayik was apparently referring to the Turkey-Iraq border). Israel's aid, said the ARGK commander, includes "the laying of land mines, rolled barbed wire and trip wires that illuminate the border." Israel may also have had advisers in Isikveren, a village close to the border on the Turkish side, where mine-laying operations took place.
Baytk also claimed that Israeli officers played a planning role and provided technological advice during Turkey's March 1995 incursion into northern Iraq. This allegation, if true, means that intense Israeli-Turkish cooperation against the Kurds commenced at least as early as 1994 and possibly earlier. It is, of course, well known that Turkey and Israel have cooperated and shared information regarding activities of the PKK, other Kurdish nationalist organizations and the PLO for decades. It cannot be ruled out that the warming of Turkish and Israeli relations and the visit to Israel of then PM Ciller and President Demirel in 1995-96 and President Weizman's 1996 visit to Turkey may well have had to do with Turkish efforts to solicit Israel's help in its fight against the PKK. It is also possible that the February military agreement allowed Israeli aircraft stationed in Turkey (near Ankara) to use Turkish air space to gather air intelligence along Turkey's borders with Syria, Iraq and Iran.
There were obviously many geostrategic and geopolitical reasons for Turkey and Israel to sign such a military pact, not least of which was the fact that it was supported by the United States and Europe. These two thereby ensured their control over the resources of the Gulf and Israel's dominance over the Levant. The agreement also contributes to U.S. efforts to contain the Iranian challenge in the Gulf and disturb Iranian ties with Syria and with Hizbollah in south Lebanon.
On the heels of the Military Education Cooperation Agreement came a second pact, in which Israel would refurbish some 54 F-4 Phantoms, signed on August 26 in Ankara. The estimated $600-million deal was to be financed by the Israeli government and Israeli private banks. Necmettin Erbakan, leader of the Islamist Welfare party (WP), had vowed before becoming prime minister on June 28 that he would block the deal, but he subsequently decided to let it go forward, personably at the insistence of the chiefs of the General Staff. He did so immediately after a mid-August trip to Iran, where he signed several natural-gas, trade and security agreements.28 Erbakan referred subsequently to the deal to allow Israel to refurbish the F-4s as simply a "business deal."
While much has been written about the Turkey-Israel agreements, which some call military pacts, one of the first and only semi-official texts was published in Hurriyet ort July 14. According to this text, the bulk of the agreement consisted of the following: 1) an exchange of military personnel, 2) an exchange of aircraft and pilots, 3) visiting rights in designated ports and air bases for the other's air force and navy. Another stipulation of the agreement was that all information gained would be kept secret, as agreed in the two countries March 31, 1994, Secret Security Agreement.29 The right of Israel's air force to fly training missions over Turkish air space was implicit in the section referring to mutual exchange of air force aircraft and personnel. There was nothing in the published text stating that Israel would participate in training Turkish military and intelligence units along the Syrian, Iraqi or Iranian borders.
One of the major objectives of Turkey in increasing its military cooperation with Israel was obviously to put more pressure on Syria to stop supporting the PKK and to stop sheltering Abdullah Ocalan. The agreement illustrates Ankara's goal of destroying the PKK and its leaders at any cost. Since the end of the Gulf War, Ankara's war against the Kurds, estimated to be costing $6 to $8 billion a year, was limiting Turkish foreign policies in the Balkans, Central Asia and the Middle East, as well as its diplomacy with Russia and the European Union.30 The military agreement with Israel seemed to be another attempt by Ankara to stop the hemorrhage.
The 1996 defense agreements between Turkey and Israel were followed by others. In early December 1996, the two countries agreed to engage sometime in 1997 in joint military maneuvers in which the United States would participate.31 ln February 1997, the joint commanders of U.S.-Israeli naval exercises then being held discussed the possibility that Turkey would join such exercises in the future.32
In 1996, business and trade agreements were signed between the two countries. Earlier in December, the Turkish-Israel Business Council had met in Istanbul to implement the March trade agreement. There were 40 representatives from Israel and 97 companies from Turkey present. The Istanbul conclave was followed by another meeting of the Council in Jerusalem on December 26, in which Turkey and Israel signed a customs agreement lowering tariffs for goods traded between them. The Turkish press reported gleefully that the meeting was kept secret in order to hide the WP government's growing relations with Israel in several areas other than military cooperation.33
Concerns about the Turkey-Israel military agreements were emphasized during the visit of Turkey's chief of General Staff, Ismail Hakki Karadayi, to Israel February 24-28, 1997. Karadayi was accompanied by 13 journalists, an indication of the increased public as well as media interest in Turkey's increasing close relations with Israel. The media hype was due to supposed differences between the armed-forces high command and the WP, especially Prime Minister Erbakan. For example, Karadayi stated he saw no need to meet with the prime minister before leaving for Tel Aviv.
In an interview prior to his departure, Karadayi stressed that one of the issues he would discuss with the Israelis, in addition to the procedures for implementing the already-signed agreements, was the transfer of short-range (40-50 km) Russian-made SCUD missiles from Iran to Syria. The chief of staff claimed that the missiles were flown to Syria from Iran over Turkish air space in cargo aircraft. Although the Iranians labeled the cargo "humanitarian aid," Karadayi stressed that such missiles deployed on the Syrian border with Israel would be able to reach Israeli settlements and towns. He said further that he would emphasize to his Israeli counterparts that Turkey was also apprehensive that the missiles could fall into the hands of the PKK, who would use them for attacks against and within Turkey. Karadayi stopped the interview at this point, leaving everyone to speculate on what Israel could do to stop the transfer of missiles via aircraft flying over Turkey, if Turkey itself seemed unwilling to do anything.34
Prior to Karadayi's departure, the Turkish media announced that among the issues to be discussed with Israel were the strengthening of military agreements already signed. Turkey was especially eager to obtain electronic weapons systems, in particular, radar systems that can detect plastic as well as normal mines.35 The two countries also announced that they would increase their exchange of intelligence information. Karadayi also sought Israeli help to buy four Sea Hawk helicopters from the United States. Israel stated that it was willing to sell U.S.-made Popeye missiles to Turkey. Such a transaction indicates that Washington is willing let Israel sell to another country the missiles it receives from the United States free of charge. This in tum suggests that it is U.S. policy to make Turkey and other Middle Eastern countries, especially Jordan, dependent on Israel's superior military technology.
Barlaz Ozener, Turkey's ambassador to Israel, made the observation during Karadayi’s visit that Turkey sought to purchase more weapons and arms from Israel because the United States was an "unreliable partner." He added that the two countries' military cooperation must be increased and that "great steps must be taken as a result of the valuable time lost because of the WP's objections to Israel's modernization of the F-4s."36 In various interviews with the Israeli press, Karadayi stressed that the major mutual concern of Turkey and Israel was their fight against "international terrorism." His statements caused consternation in Damascus and Tehran. The latter capital was still seething over the accusation by Cevik Bir, Karadayi’s deputy chief of the General Staff, that Iran was a "state that supported terrorism."37 Bir made the charge just a few days before Karadayi’s visit to Israel, while speaking at the annual meeting of the Turkish-American Business Council in Washington.
Another reason for Israel to join Turkey in a closer geostrategic posture is its long-term interest in obtaining further access to its water resources. The headwaters of the Euphrates and Tigris rivers are both in heavily populated Kurdish areas of Turkey. Ironically, too, other sources of water for Israel and its Palestinian and Arab partners, the Seyhan and Ceyhan rivers, flow through the Cilician plain, which, though outside Turkish Kurdistan, became more heavily populated with Kurds in the 1980s and 1990s, a result of the ethnic cleansing carried out by the Turkish government in efforts to destroy the PKK resistance. Adana, the largest city of the region, with a population of some 2 million, through which the Seyhan runs, may now have a population that is nearly half Kurdish. This is a region through which run two oil pipelines emanating from Iraqi Kurdistan and terminating at Yumurtalik on the Mediterranean Sea.
The two oil pipelines and the four rivers symbolize the confluence of two of the world's most prized commodities: oil for the West and Japan and potential water for Israel and its new Arab partners. The latter, especially the Palestinians and Jordan, need water to ensure sufficient economic growth to control nationalist/ Islamist unrest. Increased Arab nationalism in the eastern Mediterranean always presents the risk of spreading to the Gulf and threatening the regimes that control the oil supplies.
The increased strength, growth and success of the Kurdish nationalist movement in Turkey, especially the PKK, presents obstacles to Israel and some of its Arab partners to gaining access to this water. This may be why Israel decided to support, more publicly than before, Turkey's war against the PKK. Israel may see the agreement as a stone that could kill two birds: Asad and Ocalan. By tightening the pincers on Asad, Ankara and Tel Aviv hope to compel him to make Ocalan leave Syria. In late February, just prior to General Karadayi's visit to Israel, there were repeated demands in the Turkish media that Damascus extradite the PKK leader to Turkey. Ocalan’s flight from Syria or his death would weaken the PKK and the dominant role it plays in the Kurdish nationalist movement in Turkey, northern Iraq and Syria. If Israel could aid Turkey in achieving this goal, Ankara would undoubtedly be most obliging with its water when conditions are favorable for a downward flow. The fact that even Erbakan's Islamist-led government has agreed to continue Turkey's military and security agreements with Israel is strong evidence of this policy. Such actions also support the WP's policy of expanding trade relations with all the countries of the Middle East, including Israel and Iran. While Washington castigates the Islamist WP's growing trade with Iran, it approves strongly its growing trade with Israel.
By spring 1995 it was clear that Turkey and Israel were earnestly cooperating. During Israel's April assault on Lebanon, Turkey indicated that Israel had every right to militarily strike at "terrorists" in neighboring states. After all, Israel's assault on Lebanon occurred just a few weeks after Turkey's late-March 35,000- man incursion into Iraq against PKK "terrorists." The Turkish press reported gleefully that maybe Israel would bomb and destroy-the PKK camps in the Beqaa Valley as part of the two countries' new military agreement.
Binyamin Netanyahu, leader of the Likud coalition, after being elected prime minister on May 29, 1996, made it clear that he wanted to continue close cooperation with Turkey, including the "second" agreement to refurbish Turkey's fleet of aging F-4s. In addition to these two military and defense agreements, the Tansu Ciller-Mesut Ydmaz government also signed a trade agreement with Israel on June 16.38 The trade agreement had six main components: 1) each will facilitate the passage of the other's trade with third countries; 2) each will forgo the customs and import taxes for materials and products to be exhibited at trade fairs etc.; 3) each will cooperate in technical and scientific fields to encourage economic development; 4) each will cooperate comprehensively in exchanging research data; 5) both will exchange scientific specialists and technicians and 6) both will share information regarding scientific and technical research in the industrial and agriculture sectors.
On May 24-25, Israel's ambassador to Turkey, Zvi Elpeleg, along with some intelligence and military officials, visited Hatay just a few days after Prime Minister Mesut Ydmaz had visited the region. Less than ten days later, there was a series of explosions in northern Syria. Clashes between Turkish and Syrian troops were reported, and on May 6 there was an assassination attempt on President Asad. Some of these actions were reported to have been carried out by ethnic Turkomen (mentioned above) who live in Hatay and have brethren in Syria. Ostensibly the Hatay Turkomen were angry with the Asad regime's treatment of their Syrian brethren.39 It is difficult to establish the Turkomen population, either in Syria or Hatay; Turkish accounts estimate it at 500,000 in Syria, but that figure seems high. It is possible, however, that the combined population of the Turkomen in Hatay and in Syria may reach 500,000. As was mentioned above, the PKK operations in Hatay targeted the Sunni Turkomen that Turkey had settled in the province after annexing it in 1939 in order to counter the Shii majority. However, given the tense relations at the time between Ankara and Damascus, it would seem doubtful if the Turkomen would have carried out such attacks without a green light from Ankara. Turkey was extremely unhappy with the PKK's efforts to establish itself in Hatay with Syrian support, and it could well have supported the Turkomen in a tit-for-tat effort to destabilize the Asad regime. By the middle of June, the Turkish press was reporting that Hatay had become the major conduit for PKK infiltration into Turkey. According to Zeeb Maoz, head of the Jaffee Centre for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University, one explanation for the attacks in Syria was that Damascus, in retaliation against Turkey for signing the military agreement with Israel, had given the green light for PKK guerrillas in Syria to attack targets in Turkey.40
There were other developments that seemed keyed to the series of explosions in northern Syria. Michael Jansen reported that "informants in Beirut believe Washington may have given Ankara a "green light" to explode a few bombs in Syria to "unsettle" government which has not had to deal with destabilization attempts since the Muslim Brothers were crushed in the early 1980s."41 Well-placed sources in Beirut had "the feeling the Americans are preparing the atmosphere for putting pressure on Syria to make concessions in the peace process."42 In late May and June there were reported troop build-ups by Turkey and Syria along their border. Tensions between the two capitals continued right up to the March "Terrorist Summit" held in Sharm al-Shaykh, Egypt, in the wake of the Hamas-led suicide attacks against Israel. Pressed by other concerns, the Arabs retreated somewhat from their demands of the December 1996 Damascus summit. President Suleyman Demirel stated that Turkey had submitted testimony to the summit that Syria was "a state that gives support to terrorism" and that under no circumstances would Turkey enter negotiations with Syria on the basis of "more water for no terrorism." Furthermore, Turkey would not give concessions on water to facilitate negotiations between Israel and Syria.43
In response, Syrian Foreign Minister Faruk Sharaa refused to categorize the PKK as a terrorist organization, but rather called it an "outlawed" (yasaklarum ) organization.44 Turkey secured some satisfaction from the inconclusive outcome of the Kurdish conference held in Damascus April 2-3 in an attempt to resolve differences over policies in northern Iraq. But the fact that Syria was willing and eager to host such a "Kurdish summit" was provocative. Reports that Syria was completing construction of a chemical gas plant near Aleppo did nothing to soothe relations either.
Prime Minister Mesut Ydmaz underscored this tension during a visit to Hatay to celebrate the anniversary of the creation of the province in 1939. After accusing Syria of supporting "bandits" who wanted to fragment Turkey, Ydmaz said there was no way, given the situation, that Turkey would increase the down flow of the Euphrates. He stated, "We Turks are a patient people, but when our patience runs out, our response is harsh."45
There was a brief respite from the barrage of accusations when Erbakan, leader of the opposition Welfare party, met on May 7 with Syria's ambassador to Turkey, Abul Aziz al-Rifai. Erbakan declared to a surprised press that in his opinion Syria did not support the PKK and that, furthermore, the Beqaa Valley was in Lebanon, not Syria, and that PKK guerrillas did not infiltrate into Turkey from Syria but rather from northern Iraq. The Welfare leader claimed further that charges that Syria sheltered the PKK was propaganda promulgated by the West to destroy the good relations between the two countries. The West does this, said Erbakan, in order to designate "a Muslim state as a terrorist state."46 Al-Rifai responded that the PKK, in the view of Syria, "is an illegal organization, and Syria is ready to help Turkey against all harmful actions."
The tone between the Arabs and Turkey softened a bit in June. After an Arab gathering June 8-9, again held in Damascus, Foreign Minister Amr Musa of Egypt declared that the Arabs were no longer so anxious regarding the February military agreement between Turkey and Israel. Musa skirted questions regarding the water issue between Turkey and the Arabs.47
There was some tension regarding Syrian-Turkish relations at the Arab summit in Cairo on June 22-23. But the unanimity displayed at the previous Damascus summit was lessened by differences among the Arabs regarding positions taken toward the Israel-Turkey military agreements. King Hussein and Prime Minister Abdul Karim Kabariti defended Turkey's right to sign the military agreements with Israel and strongly rejected President Asad's accusation that Amman had joined Ankara and Tel Aviv in the pact. King Hussein was opposed to having either the military agreement or the water issue appear in the summit's final communique, and the water differences were deleted from the final document. Jordan joined Turkey in stating that it, too, thought Syria was a state that supported terrorism. King Hussein reportedly gave Asad a dossier documenting 56 such cases against Jordan perpetrated by groups with Syrian aid.48 Omer Akbel, Turkey's foreign-ministry spokesman, announced that Ankara thought the summit's final communique was "balanced and reasonable."
The potential improvement of Turkish-Syrian relations was realized with the formation of a new government in Turkey headed by Necmettin Erbakan, leader of the WP, who was appointed prime minister on June 28, after forming a coalition with former Prime Minister Tansu Ciller's True Path party (TPP). Damascus responded immediately to this good news via the official Syrian newspaper Teshrin, which reported that Syria was ready "to improve relations with the Turkish people, and to see stability and security prevailing in the whole region."49 Syrian officials quoted President Asad as saying that Erbakan's election "opens new horizons to establish ties on the bases of mutual trust and common interests." Syria issued this message at the same time that Foreign Minister Sharaa was in Tehran to brief President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani on the results of the Cairo summit, developments in Lebanon, and both countries' relations with Syria, especially with regard to the Kurdish question.50 Tehran was still steaming over Turkish helicopters penetrating its air space in order to attack PKK camps (six people were killed). Iran suggested that Iran and Syria sign a comprehensive military pact in light of the Turkey-Israel military agreements and new Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's constant categorization of Syria as a terrorist state.
Damascus was able to take some shelter from Netanyahu's cascade of epithets when Erbakan's government won a vote of confidence in early July and Erbakan made good on his previous position that Syria did not support the PKK's attacks on Turkey. Another good omen for Syrian-Turkish relations occurred when Erbakan met with Ambassador Abdul Aziz Rafai of Syria a few days after the vote of confidence in the Turkish parliament. The meeting was held, notably, in the WP's headquarters and, reportedly, without foreign-ministry approval.
Syrian-Turkish relations may well have been the focus of Hosni Mubarak's one-day trip to Ankara on July 11. Mubarak's aim was ostensibly to encourage Turkey to review its February military agreement with Israel and a second military cooperation agreement to be signed in August. There were some media reports, however, that the real reason for Mubarak's mission was to dissuade Turkey from launching a military attack on PKK camps in northern Syria.51 Media accounts on July 16 stated that Syria was ready to "sacrifice" Ocalan, rumors of which, it was reported, set off a panic and raised tensions among the PKK leadership in Syria.52 Such reports/rumors did, however, give the impression that both capitals were interested in mending relations.
Right up to Erbakan's departure for his ten-day trip to Iran, Pakistan, Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore on August 11, differences continued between Erbakan and his close advisers and the foreign ministry, including his own foreign minister, Tansu Ciller. The latter proclaimed that Syria was a terrorist state that aided and abetted PKK attacks on and within Turkey. Erbakan continued to cling to his position that Syria did not actively support the PKK, in spite of intelligence reports stating otherwise given to him by MIT (Milli Istihbarat Teskilati), the Turkish National Intelligence Agency. After Erbakan's mid-August trip, differences between Erbakan and the foreign ministry abated. In an interview on his return from Indonesia, Erbakan retreated from his early position and stated that, indeed, PKK attacks in Turkey had their origin in Syria. He also said that, in his view, Turkish-Syrian negotiations on the water question had not been in good faith. However, when asked whether Syria would be willing to "give up" Ocalan, the prime minister replied that he "did not know." He said he was sending Abdullah Gill, a state minister sometimes referred to as the shadow foreign minister, to Damascus to discuss these matters prior to his own visit scheduled for mid-September. The PKK and water questions had already been discussed on August 20 by Sevkat Kazan, justice minister and a close Erbakan confidant, with Abud Aziz Rifai.53
The seriousness with which Erbakan's government and Damascus were pursuing negotiations seemed confirmed when it was announced by Minister of Energy and Natural Resources Recai Kutan that Turkey was ready to divide and not just allocate the waters of the three rivers. This was a marked difference from previous Turkish governments. Kutan made clear, however, that this was still not an official government position. He stated that such an offer had been made to the Syrians, but that in response, Damascus suggested that only the waters of the Euphrates be considered and that the use of the waters of the Tigris and the Asi could be discussed later. But Kutan stated this was unacceptable, as Turkey's need for irrigation and hydroelectric generation required that it utilize one-half of the Euphrates' water. He indicated, however, that Turkey would be willing to compensate with additional water from the Tigris, although he did not say how water from the Tigris would benefit Syria. The offer of Kutan suggested that a solution to the water question between the two countries would have to involve Iraq and not just Turkey and Syria.54
By September 1, 1996, after two months in power, it was clear that the Erbakan government's longevity depended to a very large extent on its handling of the Kurdish question. It seems unlikely the Turkish military or the influential business community would have agreed to his coming to power unless they thought that he should be given an opportunity to try new approaches. His government with its Islamist credentials might be better able to succeed than the previous hard-line Kemalist [secularist] governments. The Kurdish question is also more important for the success of the WP because of its larger Kurdish constituency, than for other political parties. Over 40 of the Welfare party's MPs are of Kurdish origin.
The WP managed to win 21.3 percent of the vote in the December 1995 parliamentary elections only by securing an estimated 6-7 percent of the Kurdish vote. Other aspects of the WP's ideology also distinguish it from the democratic-left and secular-right parties. Most important in establishing the WP as a contending party in the late 1970s was its lack of a Kemalist ideology. This is perhaps the primary reason it was able to establish itself as a contending party in the late 1970s.
There are other reasons for the WP's appeal to the Kurds. In spite of its Islamist rhetoric, it has always been a pragmatic party, amply demonstrated during its first few months in office. The WP emphasized that Islam is the main bond between Turk and Kurd: Kurdish nationalism is to be shunned. The WP supports tarikats (Muslim brotherhoods), especially the powerful Nakshbandi order, as instruments to transcend ethnic boundaries and hatreds. In many southeastern towns, Welfare is Kurdish-administered and Kurdish-staffed. Significantly, Welfare managed to come to power through elections rather than violence. This appeals to many Kurds, probably the majority. While there is sympathy for the PKK, it has not been effective in achieving Kurdish interests.
Many Kurds think that the decade-long war between the government and the PKK has been devastating to the Kurdish people. These characteristics of the WP and the political impasse among the other parties contributed to convincing the powerful industrialists to persuade the generals and even portions of the jingoistic secular press to give Welfare a shot at power.55
The Erbakan government's first months in office indicated the top priority assigned to dealing with the Kurds. Negotiations with the United States over the extension of Operation Provide Comfort (OPC) stressed the concerns of Ankara. The Erbakan government claimed that it extracted from Washington 11 conditions pivoting on four central Turkish concerns: The United States 1) must not pursue policies to fragment the ''unity" of Iraq, i.e., it should not support an "independent" Kurdish state in northern Iraq; 2) should stop supporting NGOs pursuing policies to establish an infrastructure for an independent Kurdish state; 3) must follow U.N. resolutions and not its own objectives, i.e., an independent state in northern Iraq; and 4) must support Turkey's war against the PKK. both with.in Turkey and in northern Iraq. In order to achieve the above objectives, Ankara demanded unsuccessfully th.at the number of Turkish personnel in Zako be increased. In addition, Ankara demanded that the number of Allied sorties over northern Iraq be reduced from 40-50 per day to 2 or 3. The intention of this demand seems to be have been to gain favor with Baghdad.
It seems unlikely that the Erbakan government will achieve all of its conditions, because of Iraq's late-summer incursion into Arbil, which lies just north of the "no-fly" zone, but it demonstrated that its position is stronger than that of previous governments in dealing with the United States, at least as far as the Kurdish question is concerned. No one really expected the WP to challenge Washington directly so soon after coming to power with the narrowest of margins and just three months prior to the U.S. presidential elections. Mr. Erbakan knew that Bill Clinton inherited George Bush's mantle of "hero of the Gulf War" and that he wanted to ride it into the November elections.
Erbakan's handling of the July prison rebellion, which he confronted immediately after coming to power, provides a good example of the pragmatism of the WP's Islamist politics as practiced with regard to the Kurdish question. According to the Turkish media, there were approximately 2,000 leftist prisoners participating in the rebellion joined later by 4,000 Kurdish prisoners. But it is reasonable to suppose that many of the "leftist" prisoners were also Kurds. Even Turkish prisoners have sympathy for aspects of Kurdish grievances. The prison rebellion and hunger strikes were part and parcel of the Kurdish question that challenges the government. It was noteworthy that the Erbakan government solicited the help of Yar Kemal, the noted Turkish author, a Kurd who has been an ardent critic of what he calls "Turkey's dirty war against the Kurds." The Ciller government had indicted him for "treason against the state." Kemal entered the prison cells and negotiated with the prisoners under Erbakan's blessing. Kemal's negotiating apparently played a role in resolving the prison rebellion without further bloodshed.
But domestic politics requires that Erbakan pay dose attention to the PKK question. In July, 11 Kurdish MPs from the WP met with Erbakan and stated that if some Kurdish demands - education in Kurdish job creation (especially in the southeast), a Kurdish TV channel (they suggested the channel be set up in northern Iraq to circumvent Turkish constitutional restrictions!), a fair court system, etc. - were not implemented, they and some 35- 50 other MPs from the southeastern provinces would consider leaving the Welfare party. The abdication of even 33 MPs from Welfare would mean a 25- percent reduction of its total members. Such an abandonment would spell the end of the WP as a viable political party, let alone a contending one.
Erbakan's policy toward Iran with regard to the PKK is intimately tied to its relations with Syria. Both countries have large contingents of PKK personnel, and both support PKK actions and organizations. Erbakan’s August 10-12, 1996, visit to Tehran (his first foreign trip), indicated the pivotal significance that he and the WP attach to solving the PKK challenge. Erbakan and Rafsanjani conferred twice with no one but their translators present.56 It seems clear that the Kurds were the focus of the talks and not the $23-billion natural-gas deal and associated trade and pipeline agreements signed between the two countries that received so much attention in the West and the United States, due to the congressional legislation, approved by President Clinton, calling for sanctions on those companies investing more than $40 million per year in the gas and oil industries of Iran.
The pivotal role that Tehran has come to play in northern Iraq after the failure of the U.S.-backed Drogheda conference in 1995 was amply demonstrated by the Iranian military’s 100-km thrust into northern Iraq just one week before the prime minister's visit. Prior to departure to Iran, Erbakan and his lieutenants stated that only the four countries -Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria - in which the vast majority of Kurds live could "solve" the Kurdish question. The Erbakan government's position was that the PKK question had to be solved before a host of other issues among the four countries could be tackled. While Iran made promises to Erbakan that it would honor its security agreements with Turkey and protect their mutual borders, there was apparently no agreement on Iran's activities in northern Iraq and whatever relations it might have with the PKK in that region.57
It was, of course, Iran's activities in northern Iraq that concerned Ankara. Prior to Erbakan's departure, the Turkish press aired some of the government's concerns, many of which directly or indirectly affected the Kurdish question. First is Ankara's worry that Tehran's policy, supported by Damascus, is to prevent Turkey from becoming a major transit route and terminal for oil and gas from the Caucasus and Central Asia, a goal, it was suggested, that Tehran shares with Moscow. Turkey is also concerned with Iran's support for Armenia and its lukewarm relations with Azerbaijan, in spite of the fact that Armenia still occupies 20 percent of that country as a result of their war in the early 1990s. Tehran, of course, was still miffed over its exclusion from the consortium to lift and carry westward the oil from Azerbaijan's Caspian Sea wells. Tehran feels strongly that Ankara acquiesced much too easily to U.S. pressure to exclude Iran. Ankara also thinks that Iran supported, at least up to Iraq's August 30 incursion into Arbil, an "understanding" between the PKK and the Kurdistan Democratic party (KDP). and that it did so in cooperation with Syria. PKK-KDP cooperation would provide a potential corridor via northern Iraq between Syria and Iran. Iran's increasingly strong role in northern Iraq since mid-1995 has made it a major player there. The close relations between Tehran and Damascus inclined the Erbakan government to pursue a four-country approach, and while in Tehran Erbakan called for a September summit in Damascus. At first, Iran and Syria were cool to the inclusion of Iraq in the proposed summit. Saddam Hussein's late-August incursion into Arbil and the U.S. response assured that Baghdad would not be present at the proposed summit.
Erbakan's initiative with Syria did not go far either. When the Turkish National Security Council (NSC) met on August 27 to consider Recai Kutan's proposal to divide the waters of the three rivers, it met a cold response. A spokesman for the NSC stated bluntly, “If we solve the water problem with Syria today, tomorrow they will bring up the subject of Hatay. "58 Thus after Erbakan's mid-August "Islamic" initiative, the water question and the related PKK problem with Syria remained as intractable as ever.
It seems unlikely that Saddam Hussein's incursion into Arbil will affect the long-term strategy of the Erbakan government in its efforts to corral the PKK. While the prime minister was in Tehran, two of his chief lieutenants, Minister of Justice Sevkat Kazan and Minister of Education Mehmet Saglam, and a coterie of high-profile businessmen were in Baghdad. While the reopening of the Kirkuk-Yumurtabk oil pipelines and the attendant potential revenues were major topics of discussion, it was clear that the focus of the Kazan-Saglam mission was to discuss policies and establish measures to defeat the Kurdish challenge.
On the two ministers' return from Baghdad on August 16, Kazan made it clear that the negotiations had revolved around the Kurdish question. He stated that if the Turkish parliament decided in December not to renew the mandate of OPC (which it did), the Iraqi army, relying on Kurdish peshmergas, would extend its control right up to the Turkish border. Kazan did not state which peshmerga Baghdad would cooperate with, but since the KDP controls the border with Turkey, it was clear that it would have to be the KDP. Indeed, Iraq's August 30 incursion into Arbil was on the side of the KDP and cleared the way for an open road from Iraqi-controlled territory via the KDP controlled region to the Turkish border. It is this possibility that seems to account for the reversal of alliances. Since the end of the Gulf War, Baghdad had been more inclined to support the PUK of Jalal Talabani than Massud Barzani's KDP because of the latter's close relations with Turkey. But the possibility of extending an Iraqi presence through agreement with the KDP would fulfill Baghdad's objective of reasserting its presence in northern Iraq.
There was a flurry of criticism from Damascus regarding Turkey's announcement that it was to set up a 3 to 9- mile "security" zone in northern Iraq to prevent PKK attacks into Turkey. The government-controlled AI-Baath, complained that "...insisting on this course of action would undoubtedly have negative results on future Arab-Turkish ties."59
In addition to the Kurdish question, the water problem, Turkish-Israeli agreements, and the peace-process negotiations, other unexpected developments also demonstrated the fragility of Turkey-Syria relations. In early January 1997, it was revealed that Mustafa Duyur, one of the confessed killers of Ozdemir Sabanci - a scion of Turkey's wealthiest family and its major multinational company who was spectacularly murdered on January 9, 1996, in the family's office-tower headquarters in central Istanbul - had found his way to Syria. Duyur and the other killers were apparently members of the left-wing radical Revolutionary Peoples Organization Party Front (DHKP-C). Whether Duyur was assisted by any PKK operatives is unclear. In the middle of December 1996, Duyur decided to give himself up and sought refuge in the Turkish embassy in Damascus, allegedly without the knowledge of Syrian officials. Turkey claimed that Duyur was in Syria with the approval of the Syrians. In an operation conducted by the Turkish Intelligence Agency (MIT), the Turks smuggled Duyur back to Turkey on the evening of December 30.
The Duyur episode caused another freeze in Turkish-Syrian relations. Ankara claimed that not only did Damascus harbor the hated PKK, but it was giving sanctuary to the despicable DHKP-C as well. Syria, it seemed, was sheltering a den of terrorists, all eager to destroy the Turkish state.60
In February 1997, the two countries' differences spread to television wars. In mid-February, Ankara requested that Lebanon not broadcast a Syrian-made television series, "Brothers of the Earth," which had already been shown on Syrian television and which the Turks characterized as being perniciously anti-Turk. The Turkish demands were to no avail.61
Turkish relations with Syria, especially with regard to the Kurdish question and the water problem, are intimately tied to Turkish relations with Iran and the Arab countries. Ankara needs the cooperation of Iran and Syria, particularly if it is to contain and destroy the PKK. It has also adopted the position, increasingly since the coming to power of the Welfare party, that better relations with Baghdad will aid in containing or eradicating the PKK in northern Iraq. Ankara hopes to accomplish this by fostering closer dependency between the KDP and Baghdad- a dependency that could increase now that Iraq was been allowed to sell oil within U.N. guidelines.62 But as long as the Erbakan government remains in power, it is likely to continue to try to improve relations with Baghdad in order to satisfy both its need for oil and its need for Baghdad's help in evicting the PKK from northern Iraq.
Better relations with Syria depend in large measure on the improvement of relations with Iraq and Iran, especially the latter. If Ankara manages to improve relations with Baghdad and Tehran, then more pressure will be put on Damascus to reduce its support for the PKK and evict Abdullah Ocalan from Syria/ Lebanon. Syria will obviously keep a close eye on Turkey's relations with Iran and Iraq and gear its position on negotiations over the PKK and water to Turkey's relations with these two countries. If Turkey's relations improve further with Baghdad and especially Tehran, because of its close relations with Syria, then Damascus will be compelled to become more accommodating to Ankara.
Syria must also consider the growing military, geopolitical and geostrategic relations between Ankara and Tel Aviv. The signing of an extensive trade agreement with Israel on June 16, 1996, a "second" military agreement with Israel on August 26 and the subsequent trade and customs agreements indicates that the Erbakan government has no intention of abrogating the military pacts or trade agreements with Israel for which it has received so much criticism from Arab countries and Iran. It is noteworthy that the Erbakan government intends to pursue its military, defense and trade agreements with Israel despite considerable opposition within his own party. This means that good relations with Israel, especially good trade and tourism relations, are essential to the strategic vision of the WP. It seems clear that their Islamist anti-Israel rhetoric will be confined largely to domestic political and electoral contexts. Thus, Syria now confronts not only a belligerent Israel occupying its Golan district and southern Lebanon but an Israel aligned with Turkey, a powerful neighbor whose archenemy Syria is accused of harboring.
It is quite possible that the major concern of Israel in strengthening ties to Turkey is to have access to the waters in the southeast (Euphrates and Tigris) and southcentral (Seyhan and Ceyhan) Turkey. This is a policy supported strongly by the United States, Europe and Israel's American supporters. All of the above feel that such access is necessary to provide the future water needs of Israel and its Arab dependencies. Such a policy may explain the acquiescence of Europe and the United States in Turkey's ethnic cleansing of much of southeast Turkey around the area of the GAP project. Reducing the number of Kurds in this area reduces the possibility of attacks on GAP installations, which increases the potential for investment, both domestic and foreign (including Israel), in the GAP region.63 Thus, Europe, the United States and Israel all have a common interest in removing PKK headquarters and sanctuaries in Syria.
The August 31, 1996, alliance between the KDP and Baghdad scuttled, perhaps for some time, the (slight) rapprochement between Syria and Turkey. The KDP Baghdad alliance might result in Baghdad and its KDP ally expelling the PKK from northern Iraq. This would greatly reduce Damascus' leverage in Ankara and Syrian and Iranian influence in northern Iraq. It would also weaken Syria's geopolitical influence with regard to the interstate aspects of the Kurdish question. This in turn would make Syria more vulnerable to pressure from Tel Aviv and Washington to be more "flexible" regarding the "peace process." It is worthy to note that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was in Washington during the first days of the Iraq incursion north of the 36th parallel.
Turkey's intention to occupy, perhaps for some time, a security zone of 6-9 miles along its border with Iraq also bodes ill for an improvement in Syrian-Turkish relations. The security borders that Israel has established in Lebanon for 19 years and on the Golan Heights for 30 suggest that the Turkish security zone will be hard to remove. The Lebanon and Golan Heights zones directly affect Syria's national and strategic interests. But for the Turkish security zone in northern Iraq, Damascus will undoubtedly want to play its Arab-nationalist card, much as it does with regard to the water question.
The February and August 1996 military agreements and the February 1997 intelligence cooperation agreements between Turkey and Israel, as well as the August and December trade and customs agreements, cast further doubt on Damascus' willingness to meet some of Ankara's demands with regard to the PKK. Indeed, the tightening of the pincers on Syria by Turkey, Israel and the United States suggests that conflict rather than rapprochement between the two countries may well be in the offing.
* The author wishes to thank Hafeez Malik, editor of Journal of South Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, for permission to use material here that first appeared in Journal of South Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, vol. XIX, no. 1 (Fall 1995).
1 For the role of Turkish foreign policy in the immediate aftermath of the Gulf War see my, "The Creation of a Kurdish State in the 1990’s?" Journal of South Asian and Middle Eastern Studies vol. xv, no. 4 (Summer 1992), pp. 1-25.
2 For more on this topic see Suha Bolukbasi, "Ankara, Damascus, Baghdad, and the Regionalization of Turkey's Kurdish Succession," Journal of South Asian and Middle East Studies, vol. xiv, no. 4 (1991), pp. 15-36.
3 For the origins of the PKK see Ismet G. Imset, The PKK: A Report on Separatist Violence in Turkey (1973-1992) (Ankara: The Turkish Daily News Publications, 1992; Michael Gunter, The Kurds in Turkey: A Political Dilemma (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1990), pp. 57-96.
5 Ismet G. Imset makes a point of stating that Ozal was accompanied by Hiram Abas representing Turkey's National Security Agency (MIT) and who was of Jewish origin.
6 There is a copy of the nine articles of July 17, 1987 Protocol of Cooperation on Matters of Security Between the Arab Republic of Syria and the Republic of Turkey as well as articles 6-10 concerning the water issue in the Protocol on Economic Cooperation Between Turkey and Syria signed by prime ministers Turgut Ozal and A. R. Kassem in Fahir Alayam, "Turkish-Syrian Relations," Turkish Review of Middle East Studies, vol. 8 (1994-95), pp. 1-18.
7 Imset, The PKK... p. 174.
8 Ibid, p. 175.
9 Ibid, p. 178.
10 Ibid, p. 178.
11 Newspot no. 93/24 2 December, 1993, p. 4. There is a copy of the November 20, 1993 Joint Memorandum of Minutes on Security Issues signed between Turkey and Syria in Fahir Alayam, "Turkish-Syrian Relations," in Turkish Review of Middle East Studies, vol. 8 (1994-95), p. 15.
12 Newspot,no. 93/25, December 21, 1993, p. 4.
13 For a copy of the comminique see Fahir Alacam, "Turkish-Syrian Relations," Turkish Review of Middle East Studies, vol. 8 (1994-95), pp. 15-17.
14 Hurriyet, August 23, 1994.
15 Hurriyet, September 11, 1994.
16 Hurriyet, August 24, 1994.
17 Hurriyet, December 4-6, 1994.
18 Hurriyet, February 11, 1995. As of the writing of this article no agreement over the flow of water had been reached.
19 Kurdistan Report, no. 22 (September-October 1995), p. 25.
20 Hurriyet, September 17. 1995.
21 Hurriyet, November 22-26, 1995.
22 Hurriyet, December 30, 1995.
23 The capacity of the Atatork dam is 48.7 billion cm while that of the Tabqa is 12 billion cm. See Hurriyet January 8-9, 1996.
24 Hurriyet, February 15, 1996.
25 Sabah, February 21, 1996.
26 Hurriyet, February 24, 1996.
27 Although it is important to note that the original source of this particular claim was Israel's Armed Forces radio. See Hurriyet, April 9, 1996.
28 Hurriyet, August 1, 1996.
29 Hurriyet, July)4, 1996.
30 In this regard see Robert Olson, "The Kurdish Question and Chechnya: Turkish and Russian Foreign Policies Since the Gulf War," Middle East Policy, vol. iv, no. 3 (March 1996), pp. 106- 118.
31 TRKNWS-L (Turkish News Service on Internet), December 2, 1996.
32 TRKNWS-L, December 11, 1996.
33 In January 1997 the bill to ratify the Turkish-Israeli Free Trade Area Accord cleared the Turkish parliament's Industry and Foreign Affairs committees. The accord envisages lower customs duties in stages over a period of two years. The customs tax on Turkish textile exports to Israel is currently 62 percent. Israeli textiles imported to Turkey were subject to a 12 percent tax prior to the accord. The accord also envisages mutual concessions regarding agricultural products as well as provisions to develop trade services.
34 Hurriyet, February 24, 1997. In January 1997 the Turkish press was full of stories that Turkey was interested in signing another $150 billion military agreement with Israel for a 25 year period. There was no official announcement in either the Turkish or Israeli press that such an agreement would be on the agenda during Karadayi's visit to Israel.
35 Hurriyet, February 26, 1997.
36 Cumhuriyet, February 25, 1997.
37 TRKNSW-L, February 25, l 997.
38 Hurriyet, June 17, 1996.
39 Robert Olson, "An Israeli-Kurdish Conflict?" Middle East International, no. 529 (5 July 1996), p. 17.
40 Christian Science Monitor. April 29, 1996.
41 Michael Jansen, "Clearing the Air," Middle East International, no. 528 (June 21, 1996), p. 7.
43 Hurriyet, March 10, 1996.
44 Hurriyet, March 16, 1996.
45 Hurriyet, April 22, 1996.
46 Hurriyet, May 8, 1996.
47 Hurriyet, June 11, 1996.
48 Hurriyet, June 24, 1996; Reuter's Wire Service, June 24. 1996.
49 Reuters, July 1, 1996.
50 Ettela'at, July 1, 1996.
51 Hurriyet reported on July 12, 1996, relying on an account in the Egyptian newspaper Al-Arabi. The same report in Hurriyet stated that a few days before this Egyptian Foreign Minister Amr Musa had sent a message to Damascus encouraging Asad to expel Abdullah Ocalan.
52 Hurriyet, July 16, 1996. The death by strangulation of Ahmet Gormez, a top PKK. official in Europe was cited as an indication of such differences. Turkish media stress constantly alleged fractional infighting among the PKK leadership.
53 Hurriyet, August 22, 1996.
54 Hurriyet, August 23, 1996. There were reports in both the Turkish and Syrian media that Syria suggested that the down flow of the Euphrates be raised to 800 to 1,000 cm per second from the current flow of 500 cm per second. ·
55 For more on this topic see, Hamit Bozarslan, "Political Crisis and the Kurdish Issue in Turkey," in The Kurdish Nationalist Movement in the 1990s: Its Impact on Turkey and the Middle East (Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, 1996), pp. 135-53.
56 Hurriyet, August 13, 1996.
58 Hurriyet, April 21, 1996.
59 Al-Ba'th, September 5, 1996.
60 Hurriyet,January7-15, 1996.
61 Turkish Daily Press Review, Internet, February 17, 1997.
62 Iraq opened its oil pipeline via Turkey to the Yumurtalik on the Mediterranean on December 10, 1996.
63 There are two opposing views on whether GAP will dampen Kurdish nationalism. The United States and Turkey hold that GAP, by increasing economic development in the southeast, will reduce the attractiveness of the PKK and, therefore, its threat to GAP installations. The contrary view is that Turkish ethnic cleansing in the Southeast and the subsequent migration of some two million Kurds to the west has increased the challenge of Kurdish nationalism. For the first view see, Carl E. Nestor, "Dimensions of Turkey's Kurdish Question and the Potential Impact of the Southeast Anatolian Project (GAP): Part I," The International Journal of Kurdish Studies, vol. 8, nos. 1 & 2 (1995), pp. 33-78; Part II, vol. 9, nos. 1 & 2, pp. 35-78. For the second view see, Robert Olson, "The Impact of the Southeast Anatolia Project (GAP) on Kurdish Nationalism in Turkey," The International Journal of Kurdish Studies, vol. 9, nos. 1 & 2 (1996), pp. 95-102. One of the best articles to appear on the GAP project is Servel Mutlu, "The Southeastern Anatolia Project (GAP) of Turkey: its context, objectives and prospects," Orient, vol. 37, no. 1(1996), pp. 59-86. Mutlu's caution on GAP is based on his view that the funds allocated for development of irrigated agriculture may not be sufficient and that the agricultural extension and training system is inadequate. A host of other problems, including attracting appropriate industrial capital and personnel, according to Mutlu, "will make long-term sustainable development difficult if not impossible" (p. 81).