United Nations

Seeking justice

PUBLISHED : Friday, 19 February, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 19 February, 1999, 12:00am

The tragedy of the Kurds now being carried to the streets of Europe is as intractable as any other internecine struggle troubling the United Nations.

A race of 22 million, dispersed over the mountains of Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Armenia and Azerbaijan, the Kurds have been persecuted ever since Western powers drew up a 1920 treaty which carved up the region on the collapse of the Ottoman empire. A promise of an independent homeland evaporated when Kemal Ataturk founded the Turkish republic and assimilated all minorities into a monolithic state.

Even today, Turkey's 12 million Kurds cannot teach or broadcast in their own language. The Turkish army's brutality, its destruction of 3,000 Kurdish villages and its expulsion of two million villagers has made the captured rebel leader, Abdullah Ocalan, into such a hero to these dispossessed people, even though he is as ruthless as any of his foes.

He has had scores of his own fighters executed, and his guerillas have killed hundreds of unco-operative Kurdish civilians. However great the support he attracts so long as the persecution continues, the Kurds can only damage their cause by rioting in other countries.

Similarly, Ankara is doing nothing for its image by showing their prisoner trussed up and blindfolded. Before his capture, Ocalan called for a UN-supervised dialogue, saying he would give up the fight in exchange for Kurdish self-rule without infringing the safety or unity of Turkish territory.

With so many UN members directly involved in the Kurdish problem, the possibility of consensus seems remote. But this should not deter the international community from trying to bring justice to such a tragically oppressed people.