Commentary: NATO and Ethnic Cleansing: Broken Promises, Double Standards (posted October 1999)


NATO and Ethnic Cleansing: Broken Promises, Double Standards

NATO Supports Turkey, which has Killed or Driven Millions of Its Own People from their Homes

October 1999

by Theodore G. Karakostas*

Despite traditionally close ties between Washington and Jakarta, the U.N. Security Council has unanimously authorized the use of force by a substantial peacekeeping force in East Timor, which will include American soldiers. For three months earlier this year, NATO under U.S. leadership pounded both civilian and military targets in Yugoslavia with more explosives than were dropped on Germany during any comparable period in World War II. Both actions were undertaken in the name of human rights.

The time is now ripe for a genuine reevaluation of the one policy that most undermines the U.S. and NATO's credibility regarding their commitment to human rights and international law, namely, their unconditional support of the Turkish state.

While condemning Milosevic's regime in Belgrade, Washington continues to lavish military and political support to Turkey, one of the worst human rights violators on earth according to major human rights groups.

From the 1980's to the present, the Turkish state has admitted to killing as many as 14,000 people through the use of death squads and paramilitary groups -- almost five times more dissidents than were killed under Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet.

The State Department's annual report on human rights has documented the destruction of 3,000 Kurdish villages by Turkey's armed forces and what has amounted to the ethnic cleansing of between one to three million Kurdish civilians from their lands.

In 1974, Turkey launched two separate invasions of Cyprus under the pretext of safeguarding the island's constitutional order subsequent to a failed coup attempt backed by Greece. Far from preserving the Republic of Cyprus, Turkish forces conquered almost 40% of its territory while killings thousands and perpetrating other serious human rights violations.

Under the code name "Operation Attila", the Turkish military ethnically cleansed 200,000 Greek Cypriots, who comprise 80% of the island's population. The importing of Turkey's culture of repression and the introduction of thousands of Turkish settlers to consolidate the seizure of Cypriot property has resulted in the exodus of as much as half of Cyprus' native Turkish population, which has left in search of greater political and economic freedom elsewhere.

Ankara's claim that its large occupation army is necessary for the protection of the island's Turkish minority was discredited last summer when Cyprus' proposal for the demilitarization of the entire island was rejected. U.N. and U.S. diplomats will privately admit what they cannot publicly acknowledge: that intransigence on the part of the Turkish government has amounted to a diplomatic monkey wrench precluding any foreseeable peace talks on Cyprus.

Yet unlike in Kosovo or East Timor, the U.S. has failed to apply any genuine pressure on the Turkish government to withdraw its forces from Cyprus or to curb its ethnic cleansing of Kurds.

Since 1955 NATO and the U.S. have remained silent as the Turkish government destroyed the ancient Greek community of Constantinople, today called Istanbul, through pogroms, mass expulsions, and other discriminatory policies, reducing it from a population of over 100,000 in 1955 to less than 2,500 today.

While the Turkish government showcases hollow Christian shrines to tourists, the Ecumenical Patriarchate -- the last vestige of Eastern Orthodox Christianity as a living faith in Turkey -- teeters on the verge of extinction. To the complete indifference of the West Turkey has banned the Patriarchate's only seminary, and over the last five years there have been four attempts on the life of Patriarch Bartholomeos by extremists.

The Turkish state has arguably been our century's most efficient practitioner of ethnic cleansing. Turkey continues to deny the genocide of its Armenians and, because Ankara has learned that it can count on the unconditional support of Washington and NATO, Turkey will continue to attack its Kurdish minority and deny its Cypriot victims the hope that they may one day return to their ancestral homes. Even our closest allies have been unable to reconcile what amounts to patent hypocrisy vis-a-vis Kosovo, Cyprus and Turkey's Kurds.

The selective use of military force under the guise of humanitarian intervention may have irreparably damaged America's and NATO's moral authority and thus its ability to take any meaningful leadership role in the future

. It is high time that the U.S. and NATO try to salvage this most important quality of true leadership -- in a rudderless and volatile global environment that so desperately needs it -- by addressing our foreign policy 's most vulnerable Achilles heel: our unqualified support of Turkey.

* Theodore Karakostas is an Associate with the American Hellenic Media Project, a non-profit organization created to address inaccuracy and bias in the media and encourage independent, ethical and responsible journalism. Mr. Karakostas' letters and commentaries have been published in numerous periodicals including The Boston Globe, The Boston Herald, The Financial Times, The National Review, USA Today, and The Washington Post.


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