A Day in Istanbul

Oct 25th, 2007 | By | Category: Countries of the World

[UPDATED MAY 15, 2008.] Istanbul today is the former Constantinople and before that Byzantium, as in W.B. Yeats’s poem: “That is no country for old men, The young / In one another’s arms, birds in the trees.” It is also the jewel of any eastern Mediterranean sea cruise, of the sort too many North Americans may be taking these days. Its magic begins as you join the morning crowds on deck for first sights of the city where at least one version of the East still meets the West.

As matters stand, Istanbul is the grand metropolis of the current Republic of Turkey (Trkiye Cumhuriyeti). And some say this is now a real Islamic democracy, with the ultimate emphasis on the second word. Not everyone agrees. But my own brief sea-cruise encounter seemed to support the concept. I came away thinking that the Armenian sins of the old Ottoman empire should probably not be held too aggressively against Turkey today. And the Kurds in northern Iraq should be more careful about the ambitions of their wilder compatriots across the Turkish border.

1. A Day in Istanbul …

My North American travelling companions and I came back from our early fall 2007 cruise of the eastern Mediterranean to discover that Turkey might actually invade northern Iraq – and spark God knows just what in an already too-troubled wider region of the turbulent global village. But when we had our actual day in Istanbul (prefaced the day before by the smaller Turkish city of Izmir, to the south), nothing quite like this was yet in the air.

The shuttle bus from the boat dropped us off on an attractive pedestrian mall in the middle of old Istanbul. It turned out to be a short enough walk from here to three key tourist attractions – the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, and the Topkapi palace of the old Ottoman empire (which follow one after the other, so to speak, not far from the water, where the Sea of Marmara turns into the Bosphorous and the Golden Horn).

Another key tourist attraction of the old city – the Grand Bazaar (or Kapali Carsi, i.e. “Covered Bazaar”) – is not far from the same general area, somewhat alluringly known as Sultanahmet. The closest thing we have to such structures in North America today is the covered indoor shopping mall. But the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul dates back to the middle of the 15th century (though it also “in 1894 underwent a major restoration following an earthquake”).

In Izmir we had shared a cab with two young ladies from the Czech Republic, one of whose parents had worked for several years in Syria. The young lady in question had also visited Vancouver, and even lived for a year in San Francisco. She was well informed on many points of touristic interest. And she explained that many Middle Eastern and/or Arabian cities also have covered bazaars. As it happens, the largest place of this sort is actually in Tehran, in Iran. The Grand Bazaar in Istanbul is nonetheless well worth a lingering visit.

From Sultanahmet you can reach the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul by walking some distance along a street known as Divanyolu Caddesi (or Divan Yolu on some maps etc.), and then turning to your right. On the same street I stumbled into the Galeri Kayseri Bookstore, which boasts “the best collection in the world of books in English on Turkey, Byzantium, Ottomans … Sufism, Islam … Textiles, Iznik Tiles, Carpets …etc.” (It seems to say something about what Turkey is today that there is such an English-language bookstore in downtown Istanbul.)

Inside the Galeri Kayseri I pondered a volume on the city by the Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk, winner of the 2006 Nobel Prize in Literature. The serious young man in charge of the store made some approving remarks. But he said if I wanted to read the very best introduction to Istanbul and modern Turkey in English I should also look at Portrait of a Turkish Family by the late Irfan Orga. The young man produced quotations from various volumes testifying to the virtues of this book. I finally purchased it under his intense urging.

This quite sad but illuminating (and compelling) “autobiographical sketch” by Irfan Orga, who “was born into a prosperous family of the old Turkey under the Sultans,” but eventually wound up living in England, was first published by Victor Gollancz in 1950. Eventually I noticed that the current 2004 edition – “with a new Afterword by Ates Orga,” Irfan’s son, on the ultimate unhappy fate of his father in exile – was published by Eland in London, “in association with Galeri Kayseri, Divanyolu 58, Istanbul.” So the intense young man in the Galeri Kayseri bookstore had particular business reasons for urging the literary merits of the thing with such passion. Many other passionate business reasons of this sort seemed mixed in with even our very short sea-cruise stay, in both Istanbul and Izmir.

My day in Istanbul in any case was full of similar engaging events. It is a city full of raw human interest. As our Czech Republic informant explained later, on the sun deck of our cruise ship, over the past few decades Istanbul has become increasingly “more European and less Arab.” We did not have time to visit such places as the Levent and Maslak financial districts, where this trend is apparently most prominent. But you could see it even in old Sultanahmet. (Especially if you view such things as McDonald’s restaurants from the USA as ultimately “European” – on the theory once put forward by the Canadian economic historian Harold Innis that: “Fundamentally the civilization of North America is the civilization of Europe.”).

2. The Ottoman heritage, articles by Christopher de Bellaigue in the New York Review of Books, and World Bank statistics today

With our eastern Mediterranean cruise behind us now, I have been looking into my day in Istanbul in greater depth. And it seems that, in one degree or another, the “more European and less Arab” trend has quite deep roots in what might be called the modern Turkish past.

Since as long ago as 1923, the present Republic of Turkey has been the reformed and rationalized residue of the old Ottoman Empire – an astonishingly far-flung enterprise at its height in the late 17th century, taking in such present-day places as Greece, Egypt, Iraq, old Palestine, and much of Saudi Arabia and North Africa. Istanbul itself was “the final seat of the Islamic Caliphate, between 1517 and 1924. The personal belongings of Mohammed and the earliest Caliphs who followed him are today preserved in the Topkapi Palace, the Eyp Sultan Mosque and in several other prominent mosques of Istanbul.”

As Irfan Orga also points out in his Portrait of a Turkish Family, under the old empire the Turkish language itself was customarily written in Arabic script. But with the advent of the republic after the First World War, the script was “Latinized.” (So, e.g., what we call “taxis” in English are now called “taksis” in Turkish, as even tourists who don’t read, speak, or write the language can see for themselves.)

Lately we in North America have been especially well informed about this historical background by the writing of Christopher de Bellaigue, who “was born in London in 1971 and has worked as a journalist in the Middle East and South Asia since 1994.” His first book was In the Rose Garden of the Martyrs: A Memoir of Iran and he “lives in Tehran with his wife and two children.” Particular Turkish cases of his recent writing are two articles published in the New York Review of Books – “Turkey’s Hidden Past” from back in March 2001, and “Turkey at the Turning Point?” in the current NYRB issue, dated today, October 25, 2007.

In “Turkey’s Hidden Past” de Bellaigue pointed out that: “Since the foundation of the Turkish Republic from the wreckage of the Ottoman Empire in 1923, citizens of the new state have been encouraged to accept a highly selective version of history. According to this version, the Ottoman Empire and the Turkish Republic are mutually antagonistic-the first is a military feudal system run on reactionary, Islamic lines, the other is a secular republic inspired by the progressive thinkers of the Enlightenment.”

Similarly: “On no subject is Turkish historiography more inflexible than the comparative merits of Abdlhamid II, the preeminent sultan of the empire’s final half-century, and Mustafa Kemal Atatrk, the republic’s founder. Turkish historians like to describe Abdlhamid as a bloody dictator-murderous, paranoid, reactionary.” Kemal Ataturk, on the other hand, remains “the founding father” of what is still best and most progressive and forward-looking in Turkey today.

Yet the burden of de Bellaigue’s New York Review article back in 2001 – only half a year before the September 11, 2001 disaster in the USA – was that this earlier Turkish historiography of the 20th century has more recently started to give way to something more subtle and complex, and inevitably more authentic and realistic as well. On the one hand, it is still true that Turkey continues to become “more European and less Arab.” On the other hand, you might also say that it has lately become somewhat more “Islamic” and less stridently “secular” than it at least pretended to be at the height of Kemal Ataturk’s rule. (And you could see this easily enough during my own two days in Istanbul and Izmir too.)

Rather strangely, some might think, this more complex Turkish Republic of the more recent past has something and perhaps even a lot to do with the growing strength of Turkish democracy. For the vast and sometimes almost bewilderingly kaleidoscopic details of all this, which range from Kemal Ataturk in the 1920s and 1930s to the “conscientious Muslim … Abdullah Gl, whom the Turkish parliament recently elected president” in the year 2007, you can most usefully consult the two New York Review articles by Christopher de Bellaigue.

For my much more limited purposes here, looking into my day in Istanbul in greater depth, it is enough to note that the current and latest very vigorous round of Turkish democratic stirring finally (in de Bellaigue’s language) “holds out the promise of a free public culture, equally open to devout Muslims, secularists, and critics of Turkey’s past politics-something the country has never known.” (And this last point is something to which the ultimate sad life of Irfan Orga in exile would also seem to testify.) Democracy in Turkey today has not created (as, in de Bellaigue’s words again, “a smaller but nonetheless considerable number” of old-fashioned and unreconstructed “Kemalists”in Turkey itself apparently fear, or claim) “a Trojan horse for Islamism as severe as one finds in Iran or Saudi Arabia.”

I want to just round out this part of the contextual background with some recent World Bank statistics on the current Turkish demography and economy. The Republic of Turkey in 2006 was home to just under 73 million people. On World Bank statistics, this makes Turkey the 16th most populous country in the present global village. And it compares with some 82 million people in Germany, 61 million in France, 60 million in the United Kingdom, 59 million in Italy, and 44 million in Spain.

Economically, it is now customary to regard Turkey as an essentially “developed” country, which, as its population suggests, is also in more or less the same economic development ball park as Germany and France and so forth (and logically enough aspires to become a member of the European Union). This seems close enough to some kind of reality when you walk the streets of downtown Istanbul. But Istanbul is not quite the same as Turkey at large (where, e.g., young girls in more rural areas still often start to help weave elegant traditional Turkish carpets in their early teens – as we were told at a small carpet factory near Izmir).

According to World Bank statistics (so-called “Atlas method”), Turkey has only the 20th largest national economy in the world today – ahead of such places as Poland (23), Iran (30), or Pakistan (43), but well behind Germany (3), the UK, France, Italy, and Spain (5, 6, 7, and 8 respectively). Turkey’s per capita Gross National Income in 2006 was only 9,060 so-called “international dollars” (on the World Bank’s “purchasing power parity” calculations) – compared with $11,630 in Russia, $21,470 in the Czech Republic, $30,550 in Italy, $34,610 in Canada, $38,200 in Hong Kong, and $44,260 in the United States.

3. Armenians yesterday and Kurds today

The day after we arrived back home from our eastern Mediterranean cruise, in the fall of 2007, the press was reporting that “Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, came under intense pressure last night to order an invasion of northern Iraq following the deadliest attacks for over a decade on the Turkish military and civilians by separatist Kurdish guerrillas.”

The United States could of course not welcome any such invasion. But it was reported as well that: “While Turkish public opinion has been strongly anti-American since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, much of the logistical support for the US troops goes to Iraq via Turkey. Relations are also under severe strain because of US congressional moves to brand the 1915 massacres of Armenians in Ottoman Turkey as genocide’ … Mr Erdogan sent aides to Washington yesterday to lobby Congress on the genocide’ resolution. Ankara [Turkey’s capital city] is also warning that it could block the logistical support to the US in Iraq if the resolution is passed.”

Since then pressure for a Turkish invasion of northern Iraq, to suppress separatist Kurdish guerrillas there, who, some say, finally want the Kurdish area of southeastern Turkey to join the Kurdish area of northern Iraq (and perhaps the similar area of northern Iran?) in some vast new nationalist Kurdistan, has only grown more intense. (See, e.g., the headlines in an assortment of Canadian newspapers today, October 25, 2007: “Turkey ‘running out of patience’” ; “Turkey pounds Kurdish rebel bases” ; “Ankara accentue la pression sur Bagdad“; “Ankara a le dos au mur – Coinc entre Washington et la colre populaire” ; and “Turkey attacks Kurdish rebel positions, paths … Scope, duration of possible cross-border action discussed.”)

Both the Washington Post and the Guardian in the UK have, no doubt wisely, urged that: “An invasion of northern Iraq would benefit no one but Kurdish extremists,” and explained “Why Turkey’s army will stay home The country’s government is well aware that an all-out attack inside Iraq is exactly what Turkey’s Kurdish separatists want.” As the Guardian elaborated a few days ago (October 22): “Just when the smoke from Turkey’s domestic political conflicts of the past year had begun to clear, another deadly attack by Kurdish separatists on Turkish soldiers has the government threatening military attacks inside northern Iraq. That prospect raises risks for Turkey, Iraq and the United States. But there are reasons to doubt that the situation is as dangerous as recent headlines suggest.”

Yesterday, however, Jeffrey Simpson of the Toronto Globe and Mail reported on how: “Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan is a grave and serious man, with much to be grave and serious about … His country has been attacked by terrorists, aggrieved by a noisy international lobby, let down by allies and treated badly by neighbours. No wonder that Mr. Erdogan barely cracked a smile during a forceful, hour-long presentation Monday night [October 22] at the storied Oxford Union.” (In the United Kingdom of course, where Mr. Simpson apparently was at the time as well, happily enough – and in a traditional anglo or even franco Canadian manner: as, e.g., when the Quebec separatist leader Jacques Parizeau sent his children to UK private schools).

Mr. Simpson went on: “Police were out in droves, but no protesters showed up from Britain’s Kurdish or Armenian communities. Instead, the Oxford students listened intently and responded favourably to Mr. Erdogan. They seemed to understand, better than some governments, how important Turkey remains.” If I had not just come back from two intriguing and agreeable days in Izmir and Istanbul on my eastern Mediterranean sea cruise, these urgings in my local newspaper might not have struck me as forcefully as they did. But as it happened, they seemed to me altogether apt and to the point.

I can only quote a bit more from Mr. Simpson’s excellent Globe and Mail column of October 24. To start with: “The Turks are mad at the Americans [and others] for a number of reasons, but especially for the resolution recently adopted by a House of Representatives committee describing the mass killings of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire in 1915 with the emotive word genocide’ … Various Western legislatures, including ours [in Canada], have succumbed to relentless lobbying by the Armenian diaspora to pass such resolutions. Eight U.S. secretaries of state, Republican and Democrat, implored the House committee not to meddle in a historical dispute, but it paid no attention.”

Mr. Simpson went on: “In Canada, the Harper government, in the first flush of its foreign policy naivet and under the influence of its ethnic-vote chaser, Jason Kenney, formally recognized this genocide,’ thereby compounding the error of a parliamentary vote of this kind under the Martin government … Canada wasn’t involved in the Ottoman Empire. It has no national interest in taking sides, let alone against a NATO partner, in a 92-year-old dispute.” The more recent good or at least somewhat better news is that: “The Harper government woke up (a bit) to Turkey’s importance when the country took in Canadians of Lebanese origin after the Israeli invasion of south Lebanon. It then said, in a 180-degree turn, that Canada’s policy would be to urge Turkey and Armenia to study jointly the events of 1915 – the Turkish position.”

Mr. Simpson is also worth quoting on the current Kurdish question in Turkey: “Turkey has been sorely provoked recently by Kurdish terrorists, who have launched murderous attacks on Turkish soldiers and civilians from their redoubts in northern Iraq … These fanatics, whose organization (PKK) has been condemned by every European country, claim they want Kurdish autonomy within Turkey. They really want separation of eastern Turkey and likely a union with the Kurds in northern Iraq. They claim, as terrorists always do, to speak for the people,’ except that in July’s elections Mr. Erdogan’s party won 53 per cent of the votes in southeast Turkey.

“Mr. Erdogan has understandably been under immense pressure from Turks to respond, and strong pressure from the U.S., Iraq and European nations to show restraint … All his government has done so far is secure permission from parliament to launch attacks across the Iraq border, while trying to get the Americans, the Iraqis in Baghdad and the de facto independent government of the Kurdish territory in northern Iraq to stop the terrorists … If these attacks don’t stop, there’s no doubt the Turkish military will cross the border in force, thereby adding another complication to the Bush administration’s already chaotic predicament in Iraq.”

4. Is Turkey today a real Islamic democracy?

Just why does Turkey, as Jeffrey Simpson puts it, “remain” so “important” in the turbulent global village today? The simplest answer would seem to be that if it really is necessary (or at least highly useful), in the interests of all the free and democratic societies around the world, to have some realistic model of an Islamic democracy today, then the present Republic of Turkey is the closest approximation extant.

The notion that the George W. Bush government in Washington is fighting in Iraq to establish some exemplary model of Islamic democracy there has no doubt always been much more hyperbolic than anything else. In the end, it seems increasingly clear, the Bush-Cheney Iraq war has been about oil. Fighting the kind of terrorism that (almost accidentally?) engineered the devastatingly successful 9/11 disaster has been the lead excuse for this [largely failed?] war about oil. And fighting wars of this sort to extend democracy has been a compelling higher rhetoric of justification, that no serious analyst can take altogether seriously.

Yet if you believe in democracy for where you live yourself, it probably is true enough that its future in the turbulent global village of the 21st century will be stronger everywhere if there actually is some successful Islamic variation on the theme. It is clearly absurd to point to Iraq today as a place with any remotely believable near or mid term future of this sort. But it does seem likely that Turkey increasingly qualifies as a realistic pioneer of some workable form of Islamic democracy in the world today. And if it does finally succeed without doubt in this way, the chances that something more or less sensible might eventually emerge in such places as the neighbouring new/old nation of Iraq would seem to increase quite enormously.

As the writing of such students as Christopher de Bellaigue helps us understand, Turkey’s modern journey towards some authentic free and democratic society in a traditionally Islamic country may have begun as long ago as the 1920s. But it is only much more recently that it has started to reach any serious fruition.

Kemal Ataturk himself was above all a secularizer, who believed in “knowledge and science” rather than religion as the key to a modern Turkish future. As de Bellaigue explained in the New York Review of Books a half dozen years ago: “His 1924 constitution calling for a parliament elected by universal male suffrage may have provided a frame for later democratization; but Kemal ruled as a virtual dictator.” The army of the new Turkish Republic was a key agent of his secularizing agenda, and: “At times, his regime came close to being fascist.”

Kemal himself died in 1938, but it was not until 1950 that the first electoral defeat of his Republican Peoples Party “marked the beginning of multi-party politics” and any serious electoral democracy in modern Turkey. Even in this atmosphere the Turkish army continued to see itself as a guardian of the Kemalist secularizing legacy. And (as de Bellaigue also pointed out in 2001), since 1950 “three corrective’ military coups have reminded Turks of the generals’ unhealthy interest in day-to-day affairs” of the emerging Turkish democracy.

As recently as earlier this year, there seemed some prospect that the Turkish army would intervene yet again, to prevent a democratically inspired Islamist takeover of “the fundamentals of our state.” The encouraging point so far, however, is that this did not finally happen.

This time Turkey’s elected politicians and its generals managed to behave in such a way as to keep their growing democracy within the proper secularist parameters of Kemal Ataturk’s “fundamentals of our state,” without any military intervention. Turkey, to repeat something of what Christopher de Bellaigue has announced just now in the New York Review of Books, in the fall of 2007: “is changing profoundly … To the many Turks who welcome this transformation, it holds out the promise of a free public culture, equally open to devout Muslims, secularists, and critics of Turkey’s past politics-something the country has never known.”

It would be absurd to suggest you could sense such a thing on a two-day sea-cruise visit to Izmir and Istanbul in the same fall of 2007. But something about these places did seem to be working rather well.

If it is now a question of who our own free and democratic Government of Canada should support in yet another anguished conflict in the turbulent Middle East – the government of Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan or what Jeffrey Simpson calls the “Kurdish terrorists, who have launched murderous attacks on Turkish soldiers and civilians from their redoubts in northern Iraq” (or even the “relentless lobbying by the Armenian diaspora”) – there is at this moment no doubt at all in my mind. Turkey is, as Mr. Simpson suggests, very important right now, and it needs as many friends as it can get. My feeling as I ponder my day in Istanbul this fall is that as many of us in North America as possible should volunteer.

UPDATE MAY 15, 2008: A piece by Max Rodenbeck in the issue of the New York Review of Books dated today raises some rather less optimistic thoughts about the future of Turkey’s early 21st century Islamic democracy than those alluded to above.

In this context Rodenbeck, who is the Economist’s “Mideast Correspondent … based in Cairo,” is reviewing Robin Wright’s recent book, Dreams and Shadows: The Future of the Middle East – which holds out some warm enough prospects for the wider future of democracy in the region. But Rodenbeck urges that, since Ms. Wright did most of her research, there has been something of a retrogression in less promising directions.

He notes in particular that: “This regressive trend extends to countries not covered in Wright’s perambulations. Saudi Arabia has talked much of reforming its absolute monarchy, but achieved remarkably little. Tunisia’s dictatorship remains quietly vicious, while Algeria’s looser one, which had just been emerging from a decade of civil conflict, is facing a renewed threat of Islamist violence with renewed curtailment of liberties.”

More importantly for us here: “Even Turkey, whose mild Islamist movement’s capture of power through the ballot box appeared to be a model for similar evolutions in other Muslim-majority countries, shows signs of reverting. The country’s secular, military-backed supreme court now holds a sword of Damocles over the ruling AK party. It has voted to hear a court case which could lead to AK’s liberal Islamists being banned, an act which could call into question the foundations of Turkish democracy.”

None of this is conclusive, of course. But the global village no doubt remains a complicated place, full of many troubling prospects, as well as more optimistic signs.

The counterweights editors can only hope that the optimistic signs Citizen X brought back from his brief visit to Turkey last fall will somehow continue to reverberate, in some significant degree. It is probably a good sign as well that on May 15, 2008 “Queen Elizabeth II of England and the Duke of Edinburgh are continuing their four-day visit to Turkey, their first state trip since 1971. On the second day of their trip the couple reviewed a collaborative environmental project launched by Turkish and British schoolchildren … The state visit is designed to highlight and strengthen Britain’s ties with Turkey. The trip is also thought to be an attempt to bolster Turkey’s bid to join the European Union.”

UPDATE MAY 7, 2008: There have been continuing episodes of conflict between Turkey and the outlawed separatist Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), operating in the northern Kurdish region of Iraq, since the end of last year. As just reported in the English edition of the Turkish newspaper Hurriyet:

“A Turkish delegation, headed by the Turkish Prime Ministry’s chief adviser, Ahmet Davutoglu, last week met Iraqi President Talabani, Prime Minister of the Kurdish administration, Barzani and high ranking officials from the Iraqi government and Kurdish administration to handle the issues that caused tension in relations recently.

“Barzani … said that Turkey’s ground operation in February [2008] against the PKK in northern Iraq was not favorable, adding they preferred a solution based on political efforts.

“In February, Turkish forces conducted a week-long ground offensive against PKK hideouts in the region, drawing protests from Iraqi Kurds and Baghdad. Tensions eased a week after the cross-border operation when Talabani, a Kurd, visited Ankara and pledged cooperation against the PKK.

“Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan said on Monday [May 5] Turkey will continue to hold dialogue with the Iraqi government as well as the regional Kurdish administration, but the level and frequency will depend on concrete action in the fight against the PKK.

“Ankara accuses Iraqi Kurds of harboring and aiding the outlawed separatist Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), whose militants use bases in the mountains of northern Iraq to launch attacks across the border.

“Since mid-December, Turkish warplanes have bombed PKK positions in northern Iraq and at least 150 militants were killed in the latest raid last week, according to reports issued by the Turkish military.”

For further discussion of the latest raid by Turkish warplanes last week, see: “Turkish military says 150 PKK separatists killed in N. Iraq” ; “Turks kill 150 rebels” ; “Kurds dispute toll in Turkey’s airstrikes in Iraq” ; and “Kurdish rebels threaten suicide attacks against US.”

UPDATE DECEMBER 27: According to a report in The Age out of Melbourne, Australia: “TURKISH air strikes on Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq have killed more than 150 rebels and hit more than 200 targets in recent days, the Turkish military has claimed, countering Kurdish claims that only a handful of people were killed in the attacks … The air raids, on December 16 and 22, were the first large-scale assaults on Iraqi territory since the Turkish parliament approved cross-border operations in mid-October against hide-outs of the separatist Kurdistan Workers Party, known as the PKK.”

UPDATE DECEMBER 18: Three headlines sum up the sequence of the latest less than earth-shaking but still intriguing developments: “Turkish soldiers cross border into northern Iraq” ; “Rice makes surprise visit to Iraq … She stops in Kirkuk to address reconciliation efforts. Hundreds of Turkish troops move into Kurdish territory in northern Iraq” ; and finally: “Oil prices retreat as Turkish forces withdraw from Iraq.”

UPDATE DECEMEBER 1: Reuters has reported that today the “Turkish army carried out an ‘intense intervention’ against Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq … sending in special forces a day after the cabinet authorized a cross-border operation.

The action did not appear to be a long-awaited major operation by NATO member Turkey to destroy rebel bases.

A military official said about 100 special forces were sent into northern Iraq to hit Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) rebels. The army also sent between four and six helicopters to bomb a camp used by the PKK.

The NTV news channel said the army used helicopters and artillery in a cross-border operation for the first time in many years. The military official said the special forces had returned to Turkish territory.

UPDATE NOVEMBER 13: An Associated Press report suggests some movement by Turkish forces at last — but still, it would seem, more or less in the spirit of the October 29 report in the New York Times:

SULAIMANIYAH, IRAQ – Turkish helicopter gunships attacked villages inside Iraq on Tuesday, Iraqi officials said, the first such air strike since border tensions have escalated in recent months.

It also was the first major Turkish action against Kurdish rebels since Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan met U.S. President George W. Bush in Washington earlier this month.

Col. Hussein Tamir, an Iraqi Army officer who supervises border guards, said the air strikes occurred before dawn on abandoned villages near Zakhu, an Iraqi Kurdish town near the border with Turkey. There were no casualties, he said.

A spokesman for the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, corroborated Col. Tamir’s account. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to media.

UPDATE OCTOBER 29: For the latest optimistic assessment of how the problem of Kurdish terrorists in northern Iraq might be temporarily resolved (Soon there will be snow … The roads will be blocked. That will be that until next year) see the New York Times report “In the Rugged North of Iraq, Kurdish Rebels Flout Turkey.”

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