132. Memorandum From Paul B. Henze of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Deputy Assistant for National Security Affairs (Aaron)1


  • Kurds (U)

This memorandum responds to your two notes (attached at TAB A) on reports of Ambassador Spiers’ discussion with Prime Minister Ecevit on 24 March 1979 during which Ecevit expressed his worries about the Kurdish problem.2 I have no doubt that Ecevit’s worries are genuine. They have been growing ever since Iran fell into crisis. They will have been given impetus by the recent outbreak of Kurdish separatism in Iran. (S)

The Soviets have always found the temptation to dabble in Kurdish separatism irresistible in the past; we have succumbed to it ourselves on a couple of occasions. I have called Zbig’s attention to this issue in two recent memoranda (attached at TAB B if you want to re[Page 409]view them).3 Ecevit has reason to be alarmed if the Soviets decide to make a major investment in Kurds now, using them as they have exploited Palestinians to destabilize the whole area. The Turks have the most to lose because they have both the largest Kurdish population and one which is best integrated into their own state and society. In face of other strains Turkey is experiencing, alienation of her Kurds could have a devastating effect on her stability and on her military strength over the next few years. (S)

What do we do?

• Build up basic Turkish strength (as we are moving to do) to give the Turks the confidence to maintain their strong governmental system which has been more effective in constraining Kurdish nationalism than either the Iraqis or the Iranians have been.

• Use whatever influence we can develop (we seem to have almost none at present) to see that Iranian Kurds are contained.

• Learn more about what is happening among Kurds so that we are operating on the basis of knowledge, not hearsay or fears. We mounted effective intelligence operations 1–2 years ago to find out what was going on among Eritreans. The Kurdish problem is far more important from the viewpoint of our strategic interests than the Eritrean one. We should be able to learn as much about it.4 (S)

Suspicions that we are dabbling with Kurds and that Israelis may be doing so too will probably persist. If we deny them too often we merely reinforce them. We should, however, be in steady dialogue with our Turkish allies on this problem; this should assuage some of the worries we know they have. If we can ever work up the basis for meaningful dialogue with the Iraqis, we should probably also talk to them about Kurds. They have had more experience with Kurdish rebellions than anyone else and should know the dangers of letting the Soviets play around too freely. (C)

It could be, however, that the Soviets are doing less than we think. The plain fact is that we don’t know. The Soviet radio broadcasts 10½ hours per week in Kurdish officially; there are also clandestine broadcasts, I believe. As far as I know, FBIS isn’t listening to any of them.5 Someone ought to be in order to judge what the Soviets seem to be trying to do with the Kurds. The Kurdish-language press in the Soviet Union should also be read. This is only one of many things FBIS is not doing [Page 410]and we are are not having much luck pushing Stan Turner to push them to do more. Zbig has my memorandum to Turner (copy of this package of correspondence at TAB C)6 urging more effort at having FBIS work harder on the whole “soft underbelly” of Asia. I hope he sends it on to him soon. (C)

We need to press CIA to step up more sensitive forms of intelligence collection, too. I am preparing a memorandum on this in response to Zbig’s instruction on reading my memorandum of 21 March.7 (U)

Anything else you suggest we do?

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Country File, Box 75, Turkey: 8/78–3/79. Secret. Sent for information. Next to Henze’s initials at the top of the page, Aaron wrote, “Good Memo.” Copies were sent to Quandt, Sick, Hoskinson, Funk, and Ermarth.
  2. Attached but not printed are two documents reporting a conversation between Spiers and Ecevit. The first, a March 26 reading item, noted that Ecevit asked Spiers to relay to Carter and Vance his concerns that “the Israelis and the Palestinians are exploiting the Kurdish problem.” Ecevit also predicted that the Kurdish nationalists “would become a radical leftist movement.” Aaron marked the item and wrote in the right-hand margin, “What is the true story here?” The second, telegram 2415 from Ankara, March 26, underscored the “depth” of Ecevit’s concern about the Kurdish problem. Spiers reported Ecevit’s suspicions of the West’s involvement in Kurdish affairs and noted that historically only the Kurds had posed a threat to the integrity of the Turkish Republic. Spiers surmised that Ecevit’s concerns were triggered by events in Iran where the possibility of Kurdish autonomy was growing. The Ambassador also sought guidance on how to respond to Ecevit’s request that Washington influence other Western capitals not to exploit the issue of Kurdish nationalism. At the top of the telegram, Aaron wrote to Henze, “Paul—please follow up. Very important.”
  3. Attached but not printed. In a March 21 memorandum to Brzezinski, Henze relayed reports from the Embassy in Tehran on the widening activities of Kurdish autonomists in Azerbaijan. Henze recommended that the issue of Kurdish autonomy “should be taken up in a broader context” and registered his concern that the CIA and others in the intelligence community were insufficiently attentive to this issue.
  4. In the left-hand margin, Aaron wrote, “do this!” and drew an arrow pointing to this paragraph.
  5. Aaron underlined this sentence and wrote, “Get them on the job!”
  6. Not attached and not found. In an April 3 memorandum to Henze, CIA asserted that all discussions with Ecevit regarding the Kurds should be kept to a minimum. CIA attached portions of the Pike Committee report, as excerpted in the February 16, 1976, issue of the Village Voice, which examined U.S. funding of the Kurdish rebellion in Iraq in 1972. CIA wrote that both Spiers and Ecevit “may be reassured specifically that we had no relationships with the Kurds prior to the Nixon agreement with the Shah,” and that the program was separate from the issue of Kurds in eastern Turkey. (National Security Council, Carter Intelligence Files, Box 27, Turkey, 3 Apr 1979–19 Sep 1979) The agreement in question is likely a reference to a deal reached between the Shah of Iran and the Nixon administration for the United States to supply Iran with sophisticated arms until 1980. See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. E–4, Documents on Iran and Iraq, Document 164.
  7. Aaron wrote “good” at the end of the sentence.