Manuscripts/Mixed Material Interview with John H. Kelly
The consular district covered all of south-eastern Turkey to the Iran and Iraq borders. So we attempted to report on the Kurdish issue, which was alive then and still is today. We tried to analyze how accepting they were of Turkish rule and how politically active they were. We traveled widely into Eastern Turkey into the predominantly Kurdish areas. One American member of the Consulate staff did that every month, primarily to distribute 400-600 Social Security checks to wonderful, old retirees who emigrated to the US before WW I, had worked in the US—mostly in the automobile and textile factories—and then returned home to their mountain villages for their retirement. Their checks enabled them to live quite well in Turkey. One interesting aspect of this double migration was that many of those who had emigrated to the US had not married in the US because there were not enough Muslim women there, but waited until they returned to Turkey before taking a wife. Even after returning for retirement, they sired children, even though some were actually bed ridden giving rise to the question of how they had managed to father a child. With each child, the Social Security benefits rose and it happened frequently enough to give rise to some suspicions about true parenthood. Because of the likelihood of fraud, the Social Security Administration in Baltimore would provide travel funds to enable us to go to Eastern Turkey every month to distribute the checks and to investigate potential abuses. We used these travel opportunities to cover political matters at the same time. I must say that we did a great job for the Social Security Administration, but a somewhat less than satisfactory job of political reporting on the Kurds. Part of that was due to the language gap and part because the Kurds worked very much “underground”; they were reticent to talk to us because any Kurd suspected of supporting separatism or autonomy was subject to severe penalty by the Turkish authority. Therefore the political active Kurds tended to work clandestinely; in fact, it was naive to think that an American representative could enter into a meaningful dialogue with a Kurd or even to take the political “temperature” of the region. We did feel some undercurrents and there were occasional clashes between Kurds and Turkish authorities which told us that violence was not too far below the surface, but it certainly was not nearly as active then as it is now. We also have to remember that Southeast Turkey had been an area closed to foreigners until 1964, unless they had a permit from the Turkish authorities. When I got to Adana in 1965, the area had been open for just one year for any traveler, but the Turkish government was very apprehensive about what foreigners might be up to and kept a close eye on us as we traveled through that area.