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Western Press Review: Iraqi Kurds Constitute EU Problem

  • Don Hill
  • Dora Slaba



Prague, 14 January 1998 (RFE/RL) -- European press commentary and analysis focuses on the Kurds of Turkey and Iraq, their flight northward and westward, and European reaction.

DIE WELT: EU's 'common foreign and security policy proves impotent

Lothar Ruhl says in today's editions of the German newspaper Die Welt that the issue is one of those that have rendered impotent the European Union's putatively common foreign and security policy.

Ruhl writes from Berlin: "When it comes to the real problems of nations the EU's 'common foreign and security policy proves impotent. European foreign ministers become bogged down in woolly appeals and diplomatic initiatives on situations which remain out of Europe's strategic reach, (for example) the situation in Kurdistan, in both northern Iraq and southeast Anatolia. Territorial changes for the Kurds are envisaged that are supposed either to straddle international boundaries, or through changes to Turkey's constitution, be part of a bi-national federation with regional autonomy for the Kurds. Does anyone in any European state chancellery seriously believe that Ankara would be prepared to do that? Can a European minister really tell the Turks how cultural and administrative autonomy should be ordered, so that secession cannot be organized afterwards?"

CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR: What has played in Italy as noble idealism, has been seen in Germany as cynical grandstanding

Most North American news outlets have ignored the Kurdish diaspora in recent days, but writing from Bonn Monday in a news analysis in the U.S. newspaper Christian Science Monitor, Ruth Walker summarizes the issues as follows: "Last week, Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi said the Kurdish refugees fleeing Turkey across the Adriatic Sea in rickety boats would be welcomed with open arms. (But) what has played in Italy as noble idealism, however, has been seen in Germany as cynical grandstanding. Italy's announced decision to grant political asylum to the approximately 2,000 refugees that have arrived since the beginning of the new year touched off a bitter conflict with Germany. Both the German and Turkish governments consider the Kurds economic migrants rather than political refugees. It's a sensitive point for Turkey, whose government does not like being accused of repression against its population: 27,000 people are estimated to have died in the guerrilla conflict between Kurdish rebels and government forces. It's also a sensitive point for Germany, the likely final destination for these Kurds, because of its generous social benefits and the large Kurdish communities already established (there)."

She writes: "Even if Italian authorities decide the incoming Kurds are not qualified for political asylum, they have 15 days to get out of the country, which in many cases means heading for Germany." And adds: "In Germany, sensitivities about the arrival of new waves of foreigners are even keener, (because) many Germans have had their own experiences as refugees: the legions forced out of the Sudetenland in what is now the Czech Republic at the end of World War Two, and the waves of Silesians forced westward into defeated, war-ravaged Germany when the map was redrawn and their communities reassigned to Poland."

SUDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Diyarbakir is one of those alternative destinations for refugees within Turkey

From Istanbul, Suddeutsche Zeitung commentator Wolfgang Koydl illustrates the Kurds' plight with a description of Diyarbakir, the unofficial Kurdish capital in southeast Turkey. He writes: "The war in Kurdistan has swollen the population of the once sleepy provincial town within a very short period. Until around five years ago, 400,000 people lived within the basalt walls of the ancient Roman settlement, but today some two million people are struggling to find a roof over their head, a job, and some prospect in life."

Koydl says: "Diyarbakir is one of those alternative destinations for refugees within Turkey that German immigration officials and Christian Democrats always like to conjure with. Hundreds of thousands of people have landed up here, the chaff left behind by the grinding millstones of the war between the Turkish army and the Kurdish separatist party, the PKK.

"Because they refused to fight for the guerrillas or for the state, their villages and herds were destroyed -- although whoever hurled the burning faggots onto their roofs, or rounded up their goats in the village square and shot them, was all one to the peasants. The result was the same -- they became refugees. Quite a few Kurds remember what the Turkish officers shouted after them as they fled: 'Go to Germany.' "

WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE: Turkey's hottest export these days is illegal immigrants

EU pressures have moved Turkish authorities to obstruct the emigration, James Dorsey and Neil King write in today's Wall Street Journal Europe. The writers say: "A core group of EU countries has pushed for years to create a borderless Europe to accompany the union's increasingly free flow of goods and services." The Journal correspondents write: "Turkey, under intense EU pressure to stem underground flow of immigrants, now is making a show of cracking down on smuggling centers. Even so, they write, "Turkey's hottest export these days (is) illegal immigrants."

SUDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Turkey plays with the fate of these people according to political expediency

The Suddeutsche Zeitung called in an editorial yesterday for an international conference on the Kurds. The newspaper said: "(Turkey) knows exactly who is located where and plays with the fate of these people, according to political expediency. And the German minister of the interior assists. Instead of identifying the cause of the Kurdish flight, (Manfred) Kanther warns Italy to keep a closer watch on its borders, and demands those who have disembarked must on no account be allowed to go on to enter Germany. Rome also receives a warning from Ankara. A good treatment of refugees works like a magnet, and that should not be permitted, says the Turkish defense minister. The model is clear: everyone talks about everyone else, meaning everyone but themselves. But not about the refugees. Otherwise someone with power and authority would have proposed an international Kurd conference. This is urgently needed."

FRANKFURTER RUNDSCHAU: The war with the Kurds is actually the cultural battle with the Muslims

Writing yesterday in the Frankfurter Rundschau, commentator Wolfgang Gunter Lerch says that Turkey's Kurd problem is an extension of the government's drive against Islamic fundamentalism. He says: "The war with the Kurds and the accompanying events in the southeast are actually the cultural battle with the Muslims, currently the most important factor in domestic politics. At the end of the century, Turkey again has an Islamist political party that has attracted 6 million voters: a sign that something must have gone wrong with the Ataturk reforms. Yet is it possible in a democracy simply to ban political Islam, as the authorities and some of the military visualize? Even those who have no sympathy for fanatics should pose this question. Islam clearly reflects the wishes of no small section of the Turkish people. A ban is the least suitable means in an attempt to tame Islam. Many fear that political Islam will be forced underground in such a case and would militarize, as has occurred in other countries in the region."

DIE WELT: Twenty-one men and two women are included in the toll of the desperate

Markus Lesch describes a tragic human dimension of the refugee flow in Die Welt in a commentary today. He writes: "Twenty-one men and two women are included in the toll of the desperate who have perished in the otherwise tranquil (Neisse) river in a quiet and peaceful corner of Europe. They were all tragedies to someone, but the one that remains especially poignant in the memory of officials working the border here was that of an 18-month-old victim. 'The parents were from Afghanistan and the child slipped from the father's arms in the middle of the river,' policeman Steffen Meisel recalls. The distraught parents were nonswimmers but managed to make it to shore and informed the German authorities. They were issued a visa allowing them to stay in the country while the river was dragged. 'But they did not wait that long,' according to Meisel, a hint of bitterness creeping into his voice. 'By the time we found their child they had disappeared into Germany two days before.' "
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