Kurdish referendum and MHP leader’s statement of ‘casus belli…’

Kurdish referendum and MHP leader’s statement of ‘casus belli…’

The head of National Movement Party (MHP) Devlet Bahçeli declared Thursday that Iraqi Kurds holding an independence referendum would be “casus belli,” meaning, a reason for war.

Often I use the expression “It is no big deal for a bachelor to get a divorce” when I come across such oddities. As it is impossible for an unmarried man to get a divorce and live through the related hurdles, it might be normal to consider it as if it can be undertaken every other day. Why would someone who has never ever fought in a war, lost any of his beloved ones to friendly or enemy fire, suffered from the conditions of a society under attack, have any idea what war might indeed be?

I was a small child when I saw a rifle poised at me for the first time in my life. That was all I remember. Apparently, I was so scared, probably because of the constant talk of war, even though in my all-Turkish neighborhood there was no imminent threat of an attack, that I lost myself in the warm arms of my mother and fainted. As a direct result of that encounter, I hated guns, never ever possessed a fire arm. Even in Cyprus as well as in Turkey, hunting has always been one of the most popular sports. How killing innocent and defenseless animals might be considered a sports activity—I have always objected.

Bahçeli was likely trying to help the president in convincing the Turkish nation that what the Iraqi Kurds were intending to do was not something some ethnic people of Turkey may aspire to undertake as well. Was he aware that in many parts of Turkey, some people may have been as delighted as the people of northern Iraq, so that eventually a group of Kurdish people considered going to a referendum and declaring their right to self-determination, self-governance and indeed, statehood? A quick look at social media messages would vividly demonstrate how people in many cities of Turkey have been delighted with the upcoming Kurdish vote that Bahçeli said would be a cause for war.

Can Turkey prevent such a referendum? Unfortunately, not. Can Turkey indeed declare war on Iraqi Kurds because they had participated in a popular vote, accepting or rejecting statehood? We might be happy or unhappy with the Kurds of Iraq having such a referendum, but it is none of Turkey’s business to intervene or even to say a further word on it, than taking its own defensive measures if such a development might pose a threat to Turkey’s own security.

If a country scratches the wounds of the neighboring countries, talks to the clandestine or constitutionally recognized groups of the neighbors, receives them in Ankara, Istanbul and elsewhere as honorable, distinguished statesmen, despite all the expressed displeasure of the neighbors, how can that country now say a vote on independence would be “casus belli?” Who was the man given the red-carpet treatment at the intelligence headquarters, the Prime Ministry, the Istanbul offices of the Prime Minister? Or who was the man traveling around with a green Turkish passport, the kind used for top officials?

Could a country that accorded “special” and “most welcome” treatment to tribal or political leaders of our neighboring countries even though our neighbors were unhappy with such contacts now express displeasure that those groups inclined to walk the road to independence? Which country was it that with the help of the Americans provided all the protective shield under which northern Iraq prospered into a regional government? Which country was it that despite declared opposition of the central government of the neighboring country, engaged in oil trade with a regional government that is today going to a referendum for independence?

Turkey must wake up and see the consequences of having such flip flop approaches in foreign policy. If a country neglects the need of principles of Westphalian peace, in hopes of acquiring the role of a regional super power, diminishing itself into the role of a country at odds with all legitimate and “non-legitimate” governments, can it have any right to comment on such issues like the Kurdish referenda and if it makes any comments, would other regional or international actors give any credence to comments of that country?

Turkey must stop being the bully of its region. Turkey must return to the traditional rules and code of conduct of diplomacy. Turkey’s best interest is in the consolidation of the Iraqi central government and in the improvement of the climate of relations between Baghdad and the northern Iraqi administration.

Similarly, engaging in operations and carving up “liberated safe zones” cannot produce a lasting solution to the situation in Syria. Neither the allergy against a Kurdish group there, nor a diehard hatred and hostility towards the central government can produce a result. Turkey’s best interests is not in using “casus belli” challenges to its neighbors, but in normalization of ties that will indeed help as well as restore normalcy with our neighbors.