Turkish Troops Shouldn't Take Part In Peacekeeping Force in Lebanon

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August 3, 2006
By Harut Sassounian
Publisher, The California Courier

In the past three weeks, hundreds of innocent men, women and children have been killed and thousands injured on both sides of the Lebanese-Israeli border. While the bulk of the blame for the fighting falls on the warring parties, the United States, as the only superpower, has its share of responsibility in this bloody affair.

The disastrous situation in the Middle East is about to get even worse, thanks to officials in Washington who have other agendas than bringing peace to the region. David Ignatius revealed in his July 21 article in the Washington Post that the Bush administration was considering the deployment of a multinational "stabilization force" in southern Lebanon, composed of troopsfrom Turkey and several other countries. Unlike a traditional United Nations peacekeeping force, this would be a robust peace-enforcement unit that would be ready to shoot it out with Hezbollah fighters or anyone else in their way.

The United States and Britain, with their forces bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan, and unwelcome in Lebanon due to their tendentious approach to the Middle East conflict, are looking for others to die in place of their own soldiers. The Turkish Daily News quoted a Washington analyst stating that sending Turkish troops to Lebanon "involves a major risk of serious casualties while doing somebody else's work."

Turkish leaders, on the other hand, despite the obvious dangers posed by such an engagement, are eager to send thousands of their soldiers to the South of Lebanon, not to bring peace, but to extend their country's influence far beyond their borders. Turks know that, up until a century ago, most neighboring countries were a part of the Ottoman Empire. Unfortunately for the Turks and their Washington cohorts, the population of these countries also remembers that infamous Empire, but not so fondly. In addition to Armenians, the ancestorsof the inhabitants of today's Lebanon, be they Syrians, Lebanese, Palestiniansor Kurds suffered untold deprivations and outright massacres under the repressive Ottoman regime.

Of particular concern is the appearance of Turkish troops in a country witha sizable Armenian population, the direct descendants of the 1.5 million Armenians massacred and expelled during the 1915 Genocide. In the 1970's and 80's there were scores of attacks by young Lebanese Armenians against Turkish diplomats in Lebanon and elsewhere. Bringing thousands of Turkish troops inthe proximity of a large Armenian community for the first time since 1915 contains all the ingredients of a bloody clash in the making. In the process of trying to quell one conflict, the Bush administration is sowing the seeds of future new confrontations.

In addition, most Arabs do not look too kindly at the strategic alliance between Israel and Turkey. These two countries along with the United States conduct periodic joint military exercises.

Another complicating factor is that the Turkish soldiers and people in southern Lebanon belong to two different, often rival Islamic sects. The Turks are Sunni, while the Hezbollah fighters and their followers are Shia.

Fortunately, not everyone in Turkey is as eager as Prime Minister Recep Tayyp Erdogan to send Turkish soldiers to southern Lebanon. Several opposition leaders were quoted as saying that Turkey should not enter "such a swamp."

An international force is probably necessary to maintain the peace on the Lebanese-Israeli border, but does it have to include a Turkish contingent? There are plenty of other countries that could send troops to Lebanon without risking a confrontation with the local population. If the United States andIsrael are so enamored with Turkish soldiers, they can station them on the Israeli, rather than the Lebanese side of the border!

As there are several Armenians in the Lebanese cabinet and parliament, they should ask their government to reject the participation of Turkish troops in the proposed multinational force. Such a force cannot be sent without the approval of the Lebanese authorities. When Turkey offered to contribute troops to the coalition in Iraq, the Iraqi government, despite pressure from Washington, refused to accept them, in order to avoid clashes between Turkish soldiers and Iraqi Kurds.

It is simply unacceptable that in the pursuit of their political agendas, the neo-cons in Washington encourage sending Turkish troops to Lebanon. The international community should not allow such irresponsible action that would perpetuate the conflict in the Middle East rather than bring peace and stability to the region.