Peace Corps Writers
Turks and Kurds (page 5)
Turks and Kurds
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     If that is not enough, the Turkish population is opposed to the war. The populations of most European countries are opposed, but other countries are not on the border with Iraq, so the demands on Turkey from the Untied States are more strident, more specific, and primary to the execution of the impending war. The irony is that Turkey is a secular democracy (one we are proud to point to as an example to other Middle Eastern countries), and we are asking its government to disregard the opinions of 95 percent of its population.
    What is there for Turkey and Turks to gain? Continued friendship with the United States? Cash? A hunk of Iraq. A piece of the oil action after the war? The latter might be the big stick that is prompting the new Turkish government to consider a new vote on allowing American troops to deploy. But the gains seem so far outweighed by the potential losses: loss of faith with voters; further loss of trade; strife in southern cities where diverse populations might get caught in some kind of Balkanized uprisings; Kurdish chaos in two, three, or even four sovereign states; and a reinforcement of European fears of warrior Turks, Moslem Turks, alien Turks — there is no way that involvement in an Iraqi war will further Turkey’s aspirations for entrance in the European Union.

The Kurds
Other than a resurgent awareness that this ancient people still exists, I see no good in this war for the Kurds either. They are a tribal people with extensive populations in four different nation states: Turkey, Iraq, Syria, and Iran. They have been suppressed by the Turkish government in its move towards a modern Turkish state, crushed in Iran at Mahabad in the 1940s when some of their tribes declared an independent Kurdish state, used by both sides in ongoing feuds between Iraqi Arabs and the Iranian state, and trampled and gassed by Saddam Hussein in Northern Iraq. The Iraqi Kurds have a measure of autonomy now, and have made attempts at modern political parties. A war in Iraq might give Kurds greater power there, but it might also bring a wary Turkish government into the country. Any large Kurdish nationalist movement that crosses other state lines, say into Syria or Iran, will surely bring reactions from those states.
     Even if it became possible to create a new Kurdistan that would take in some of the areas from some of the four states now in play, there is no assurance that the people who would share the Kurdish language within its borders would share enough else to make a state. There are major differences in religion, education, and culture among the Kurds. And then the new state would have to deal with the Turkish, Arab, Armenian, Persian, Christian, Zoroastrian and Sunni and Shia Moslem minorities in its midst.

A central question
This gets to the crux of the problem across the Middle East. How do countries which exist on a twenty first century map due to the caprice of English and French diplomats, a persecuted people’s quest for a homeland, shrunken empires, and a Turkish war hero’s vision remain viable themselves and get along with each other — and with the rest of the world — when their citizenry flows over borders and weaves into villages, cities, and countryside along pathways of language, religion, and tribe that are as old as Western Civilization? The Kurdish cause, it seems to me, will be better served by the quiet workings of diplomacy and the furthering of education within and without the current geographic range of Kurdish peoples than it will by war. And the Turkish cause, and those of the Iraqi Arab and Persian Shiites, the Ba’hais, Zoroastrians, Palestinian Moslems, Arab Christians, Armenians, Druze, and the European and Sephardic Jews. War is easy; peace, civility, civilization are the difficult things. Especially now, in this part of the world that gave us much of what we now ironically call Western Civilization.

Rich Wandschneider was a Rural Development Volunteer in Turkey and then a Peace Corps Fellow in Washington before returning to Turkey in 1968 as an Associate Peace Corps Director. After the Peace Corps he moved in 1971 to Wallowa County, Oregon to work with Oregon State U Extension Service in rural community development.
     His plans were to spend a year or two before moving on. He has now lived in Oregon for 23 years. In 1976, he opened a book store and owned it until 1988, and then became the founding director of Fishtrap, a writing center that produces workshops, conferences, writer’s residencies, etc. He writes a weekly column for the local paper and has been published, among other places, in
Northern Lights, High Country News, The Oregonian, and Adoptive Families. Rich Wandschneider can be reached at

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