With Turkish troops poised to invade the Kurdish sector of Iraq over Washington’s protests, it seems helpful to understand why Turks hate America more than any other people in the world. This is surprising given the 60-year history of military alliance, a thriving Turkish economy and functioning democratic institutions.

In June 2007, the Pew Research Center polled citizens of 47 countries on their attitude toward the US. Turkey turned up at rock bottom, with 83% of respondents holding an unfavorable view of the United States and only 9% of Turks expressing a favorable view, compared to 21% of Egyptians and 29% of Indonesians. [1] In 2000, 52% of Turks expressed a favorable view of the United States. This is not a general result. Only 46% of Nigerians held a favorable view of the United States in 2000, for example, compared to 70% in 2007.

A national tantrum against the United States is in full flourish, expressed in popular culture through such things as the rabidly anti-American film Valley of the Wolves. Wildly successful, and hailed by most of Turkey’s leading politicians, the film shows American soldiers shooting Iraqi civilians in order to harvest their organs for sale to Jewish doctors. From the American way of looking at things, the Turks seem to have gone barking mad.

There are many obvious reasons for Turkish discomfort about America, but the intensity of Turkish hatred had me puzzled – until I read a two-year-old paper by Omar Taspinar, the resident Turkey expert at the Brookings Institution. [2] The culprit, he argued convincingly, is Washington’s misguided promotion of Turkey as a model of “moderate Islam.” The abominable stupidity of American policy towards the region – I would use stronger words if I could find them – is in large measure responsible for the looming catastrophe.

Professor Taspinar, who also teaches at the National War College, is one of America’s best-known experts on his native country, and I am chagrined to have overlooked his analysis until now. He places most of the blame on Washington’s portrayal of Turkey as a paragon of the “moderate Islam” it wants to sell to the rest of the Muslim world.

As I wrote last week, the humiliating spectacle of Washington trying to squelch a congressional resolution on the Armenian genocide points up fundamental failings in American foreign policy, as well as foundational flaws within Turkey itself. Taspinar’s paper in the main reinforces my view of Turkey’s weakness; Turkish rage and paranoia express conflicts in its national identity.

Dr. Taspinar writes,

As the Cold War came to an end, so did the era of ideology. It was as if Turkey had suddenly once again returned to its formative decades of the 1920s and 1930s, during which Ataturk’s Ankara faced multiple Kurdish-Islamic rebellions challenging the secularist and nationalist precepts of Kemalism. This is mainly because the central point that I would like to emphasize is that Turkey’s anti-Americanism essentially stems from Turkey’s own identity dilemma. At its roots, Turkey’s current wave of distrust of the United States is Kemalist identity problem.

By promoting “moderate Islam” on the Turkish model, Taspinar adds, America undermined the secular state founded by Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the modern Turkish state after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire after World War I. That is why secular Turkish nationalists hate America just as much as Turkish Islamists.

Taspinar writes:

America’s advocacy of “moderate Islam” against the “radical Islam” in the Middle East worries Turkey the most. Turkey being portrayed as a model within the moderate Islam project has been conceived as a support for the moderate Islam in Turkey, thereby led to a clash between America’s approach and Turkey’s laic and Kemalist identity. Already alarmed over the landslide victory of Justice and Development Party (AKP), the Republic’s laic reflexes have become overwhelmingly concerned with the “model” expression of the US, which allegedly promoted Turkey’s moderate Muslim identity. In the aftermath of his victory, Washington’s invitation to the AKP Chairman Tayyip Erdogan, who was not confirmed as a prime minister then, was perceived [by the Turkish intellectuals] as the weakening of the secular foundations of Ataturk’s republic by the United States.

Ataturk suppressed Islam ruthlessly, banning Islamic dress, emancipating women, requiring universal secular education, and crushing armed Islamist resistance to his reforms. Ultimately he failed; the artificial secular culture of Turkishness that Ataturk sought to conjure from the pre-Islamic Anatolian past left a vacuum which the new Islamism gradually has filled. Nobel Prize winner Orhan Pamuk, as I reported earlier, portrays this vividly in his novel, Snow.

Turkey is enmeshed in a terrible battle for its national identity, in which neither the secular nor the Islamist parties have any use for “moderate Islam”. The Islamists do not wish to be moderate, and the Kemalists know that the Islamists are not moderate. By pursing the phantasm of a “moderate” Islam as harmless as George W Bush’s Methodism, Washington’s strategists have succeeded in enraging both sides in the battle.

I have never believed that such a thing as “moderate Islam” exists, any more than I believe that “moderate Christianity” exists. Either Jesus Christ died to take away the sins of the 

world, or he did not; if one believes that Jesus was just another preacher with a knack for parables, one quickly will be an ex-Christian. Either God dictated a final revelation to Mohammed which invalidates the corrupted scriptures of Jews and Christians, and the sign of the crescent should rise above the whole world, or he did not. Turkey’s Islamists are not moderates; they are Islamists, and they despise the United States for religious and cultural reasons, as much as Turkish nationalists despise the United States for making Turkey into a laboratory rat for religious reform.

The common hatred of Kemalist nationalists and Turkish Islamists for America bears on why Turks have the worst opinion of Christianity of any people in the world. According to a 2005 Pew survey, only 21% of Turks have a favorable opinion of Christianity, compared to 33% of Moroccans, 58% of Jordanians, and 58% of Indonesians. [3] The Kemalists dislike Christians because the Kemalists are atheists, and the Islamists dislike Christians because they are Islamists. Christian America gets no sympathy from either side.

That is only part of the story; Kemalism defined as Turks the Kurdish fifth of Turkey’s population, suppressing their language and customs as brutally as it suppressed Islamic dress. As a leader of the “Young Turk” government, Ataturk bore at least some responsibility for the genocide against the Anatolian Armenians starting in 1915. The Turkish government enlisted Kurdish tribes to do most of the actual killing, in return for what formerly was Armenian land. It is this crime that made the Kurds preponderant on Turkey’s Eastern borders, and left them to threaten Turkey’s territorial integrity.

That is where Taspinar’s analysis converges with the thoughts I published last week. He wrote in 2005,

The debate on Turkey’s role in the promotion of “moderate Islam” and as a “model” had already created anti-Americanism within the Turkish elite. The Kurdish issue, in contrast, has carried this anti-American sentiment to public and rejuvenated nationalist reactions. Today almost everyone in Turkey – of course we also include the intellectuals in this category – thinks that Washington supports a Kurdish state in Iraq. The ones who do not necessarily believe that Washington pursues this policy on purpose are nevertheless inclined to think that America’s policies will eventually result in a similar scenario.

As I wrote last week, the prospect of a tri-partite division of Iraq, endorsed by the US Senate in a 75-23 vote last month, confirmed Ankara’s worst fears. Virtually all the Senate Democrats and half the Republicans now endorse partition as an exit strategy for the United States. No one but the most abject toady of the Washington administration or a blinkered ideologue can come up with an exit strategy for Washington other than partition. Partition implies the realization of Turkey’s worst nightmare (and one of the nastier nightmares for Iran and Syria), namely an independent Kurdish state with its capital at Kirkuk, the “Kurdish Jerusalem”, sitting on abundant oil revenues.

In this respect Turkey is far from paranoid: a Kurdish state does threaten Turkey’s territorial integrity, because the state that Kemal fashioned 80 years ago was badly made to begin with. That is something that today’s Kemalists cannot admit, for their only weapon against the encroachment of political Islam is the integrity of Ataturk’s secular constitution.

As Taspinar observed in 2005, “that the Kurds refer to Kirkuk as ‘our Jerusalem’ causes disturbance. In this context, not only Turkey’s reaction evokes fear, but there is also a legitimate anxiety over a potential civil war following from Kirkuk’s uncertainty.” His analysis is correct, but nowhere is it written that Washington must try to avert a Turkish civil war. America’s civil war was the best and bravest thing it ever accomplished; it washed away the stain of slavery with an ocean of blood. The cost was terrible, but human freedom is beyond price. If Turkey requires a civil war to choose between a Western and Islamic identity, who is to say that what was good for America is not the cure for Turkey as well?

Kurdish independence cannot long be prevented; Iraqi Kurdistan is independent in all but name, and the devolution of Iraq is only a matter of time. In a well-ordered world the Kurds of eastern Turkey would be able to vote on whether to remain in Turkey or to join Kurdistan, just as the Saarland chose to join France rather than Germany in 1947. But Kurdish secession would tear apart the fragile bonds that hold the Kemalist state together, and for that reason the Islamists and the Kemalists will unite to prevent it by almost any means necessary.

It does not matter whether the US Congress passes a resolution on the Armenian genocide. Regardless, the tragedy will proceed. I would vote for such a resolution if asked, because my religion forbids me to bear false witness, and the governments of world powers must stand as witnesses to the fate of peoples. But the 3 million citizens of the small surviving state of Armenia are not actors in this tragedy; rather, the ghosts of their murdered brethren in western Armenia haunt the geopolitical stage as a silent chorus.

[1] Global Unease With Major World Powers Pew Global Attitudes Project, June 27, 2007.
[2] The Anatomy of Anti-Americanism in Turkey The Brookings Institution, October 22, 2007.

[3] Islamic Extremism: Common Concern for Muslim and Western Publics Pew Global Attitudes Project, July 14, 2005