Wherever there’s strife, and these days there’s plenty of it, the origins usually can be traced to bitter rivalries — some of them centuries old — between ethnic, tribal, religious or nationalist extremists.
Yet some of the oldest and most intense quarrels — those among fiercely combative Scottish clans of yore come to mind — have faded into the mists of history, and that fact should offer us reassurance that others may some day follow a similar path.
One such success story, unfortunately, has yet to be fully settled but still it is more positive than negative. The struggle in Northern Ireland between Protestants, who are rigorously loyal to the United Kingdom, and Catholics, who desperately seek reunion with the Republic of Ireland, only occasionally erupts into ugly violence.
Around the globe there’s still reason for both optimism, faint or otherwise, despite the abundance of contrary evidence (including the seemingly intractable issues between Israel and her neighbors that had so much of President Obama’s attention lately). But things are looking up for Turkey.
Yesterday, a deep rift between Turkey and Israel ended when Israel’s leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, made a personal phone call to apologize to Turkey’s prime minister for a deadly (there were nine deaths) commando raid on a Turkish vessel in 2010. This sudden reconciliation — including restoration of diplomatic relations between Israel and Turkey — was partly brokered by Obama, all sides acknowledged.
Earlier this week Turkey had other good news: Abdullah Ocalan, the longtime Kurdish rebel leader serving a long prison sentence in Turkey, surprisingly called for a cease-fire and for all Kurdish fighters to leave Turkish soil. Ocalan’s speech was a significant breakthrough, although it remains to be seen if it will have the desired effect.
The struggle that has pitted the Turks against the Kurds — or at least the militant Kurds of Ocalan’s Kurdistan Workers’ Party — has cost nearly 45,000 lives and has deeply scarred Turkey’s political landscape since 1984. Previous cease-fire bids lacked the high-level support of Ocalan’s.
Meanwhile, 10 years after the United States invaded Iraq, bloody strife between the Sunni and Shia Muslims continues to destabilize the country on an almost daily basis. Also, the brutal two-year-old civil war raging relentless in Syria has one branch of Islam trying to oust another. The government led by President Bashar al-Assad (and his father before him) has ruled for decades, leaving rivals to suffer as second-class citizens.
In Myanmar, where recently there were hopeful signs that an emerging democracy has a chance to prevail over the long-standing military dictatorship, it was reported Friday that Buddhist monks had rampaged through the Muslim sector of the city of Meiktila, seeking to avenge the death of a monk the day before.
“The area was like a killing field,” a photographer who witnessed the rampage told reporters. “Even the police told me that they could not handle what they witnessed. Children were among the victims.”
And since World War II ended, there have been at least 56 separate conflicts in Africa, including the horrible Rwandan genocide of 1994. There have been the dire situations in Sudan, Uganda and, most recently, bloody fighting in Nigeria, Mali and elsewhere in Africa. Most of it stems from deep tribal and religious differences rather than merely political priorities. And there’s always the presence of militant jihadists, eager to spread unrest wherever the opportunity arises.
If Turks and Kurds can live peacefully together, maybe there’s still hope for peace on this earth. Maybe, as with the Scottish clans, it’s just a matter of time. Patience, world.
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