Wexler's Travels

South Florida's bellicose congressman carves up the Middle East

Even more damning is the genocide of 1.5 million Armenians between 1915 and 1924, an atrocity Turkey has yet to own up to. For the past several years, Turkey has blockaded the border of Armenia to keep goods -- including humanitarian aid like food and medicine -- from reaching that impoverished nation.

If you have the stomach to ignore all of that, Turkey is still far from being a real democracy. Though it is a secular nation of Muslims, which is certainly a worthy attribute, it also has a troublesome history of banning Islamists from running for office. Turkey, in fact, is brutally oppressive to all dissidents, including journalists and political activists. It still employs torture and beatings in its "justice" system, according to numerous human rights groups. They don't call them Turkish prisons for nothing.

The Turkey-Israel dynamo strikes fear in the heart of the Arab world, the region inhabited by 30 million Kurds, Greece, and, of course, Armenia. An article at a popular Greek website (greeksunited.com) conveys some of the consternation felt in the area: "The crude power games played by Turkey and Israel in the Middle East constitute an enormous inflammatory danger to regional peace and to vital American interests in that part of the world."

Human Rights Watch put it this way in its recently released 2002 report: "Turkey's persistent problems relating to torture, free expression, and minority rights kept it as a case apart."

Wexler, in his bullish bid to help Israel and the West dominate the Middle East, seems oblivious to such realities. In May 2001, when the congressman traveled to Turkey on a diplomatic mission, he had war on his mind. "As Iraq's northern neighbor," he said, "there cannot be an anti-Saddam Hussein strategy without the full involvement of Turkey."

This past February, Wexler led a delegation of six members of Congress to Turkey and Israel, where he praised the two countries for their "critical assistance in the war on terrorism... The relationship between Israel and Turkey, which has improved dramatically in recent years, has led to increased stability and security in the region and has improved cooperation on economic, military, cultural, and strategic matters."

In July, the House International Relations Subcommittee on Europe passed a Wexler-sponsored resolution to commend Turkey and Israel. Wexler hailed it in a press release, in which he called upon the Middle East "to follow the example set by these two nations in promoting democracy, peace, and tolerance."

Even as Wexler and the Bush administration have praised the stuffing out of Turkey, the republic has yet to sign on to an Iraq invasion. The issues run deep. During the first Gulf War, Turkey was swamped with Kurdish immigrants -- the last thing that government wants. Today, Turkish leaders fear a repeat of that, and they're afraid that if Iraqi Kurds are liberated, Kurds living in their country will clamor for the same.

The Turkish government especially loathes the mention of one particular word, says Kani Xulam, a Turkish Kurd who runs the Washington, D.C.-based American Kurdish Information Network. "In Turkey, just saying 'Kurdistan' in a political context can get you ten years in prison if you have a zealous prosecutor," he says. "Men like Wolfowitz and Wexler are wrong that it is a model state. Hearing that makes me sick to my stomach. They are pumping up Turkey with what it is not. It has massive problems. It is a dysfunctional, racist state, and its democratic façade is very, very, very thin."

Iraq under Saddam Hussein is even worse, Xulam acknowledges. But he says Kurdish leaders are concerned that America will abandon them when the dictator is gone, just as it did after the first Gulf War. He opposes a U.S. invasion and holds out hope that the anti-Hussein forces in northern Iraq can do the job themselves within the next couple of years.

"The idea of the United States attacking Iraq fills me with great trepidation," Xulam says. "Call me cynical, but I believe the [administration's] wish is that another strong dictator will take over there, only the new top guy will listen to Washington. If I had the ear of Bush, I would tell him that the land is saturated with blood, and adding American blood to it will not make the problem any better. If anything, it will make it worse."

Such concerns don't keep pro-war politicians like Bush and Wexler from constantly referring to the plight of Iraqi Kurds in their pitch for war. In America, Kurds in northern Iraq are deemed freedom fighters while their Turkish brethren are regarded as terrorists. Xulam decries this contradiction and complains that the United States' coddling of Turkey amounts to sheer hypocrisy. "This world we live in can't be home to both tyranny and freedom side by side," he says simply.

It's a bit of wisdom Wexler has yet to acquire.

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