The terrorist activities of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) are intensifying. Along with attacks against security forces in regions populated by Kurds and Alevis we see the kidnapping of deputies and the putting of bombs in cities with no significant Kurdish population.
In the past, we’ve seen bombs exploding in trash cans in touristic areas. The purpose of attacking tourists is to deprive Turkey of tourism revenue and to put the government in a difficult position.
However, the last two PKK attacks give the impression that something bigger than cornering the government is being prepared. First was the attack on a military vehicle in Foça, near İzmir. It is well known that the inhabitants of İzmir generally do not have positive feelings about Kurds or Islamists. As expected, when news of the Foça attack broke out, people poured into the streets with Turkish flags, and simultaneously protested against the PKK, Kurds and the government by shouting classical Turkish nationalist and Kemalist slogans. Their demonstration, which at times even had racist connotations, proved once again that the PKK attacks were successfully able to provoke Turkish nationalism.
The Foça attack was the precursor of new attacks aimed at provoking Turkish nationalism in order to create hatred between Kurds and Turks. The Gaziantep bombing was planned in this context. Gaziantep is one of the most important cities for Turkish commerce and its demographic composition has until now prevented the PKK from having an influence there. That is probably the reason why the terrorist organization chose to hit this city: It wants to convey the message that the government cannot even control a city like Gaziantep. In other words, the PKK is now targeting the cities that have political importance for the governing Justice and Development Party (AK Party). Thus it will be no surprise if the PKK chooses to commit its next attack somewhere along the southern coast or in the Black Sea region.
The exacerbating Turkish nationalism and the growing hostility against Kurds are neither good news for the government nor the opposition parties. The consequences of this hostility are frightening to imagine. The initial reaction of ordinary people when these attacks occur is to question the relevance of government policies, and to expect security forces to become more influential in political life. In other words, the growing nationalism makes people believe that the military option is the only option to eradicate terrorism, narrowing the government’s room for maneuver.
This atmosphere makes it difficult for democrats, liberals and intellectuals to express their views; the government, in the hope of controlling the situation, uses the nationalistic rhetoric more and more and in this way the security forces start to occupy the forefront. Thus the PKK, through its increasing activities, is sabotaging the democratization process and further discussions for a new constitution.
An authoritarian and nationalistic Turkey is necessary for the PKK’s survival. Furthermore, such a Turkey will no longer be a reference point for the post-Arab Spring Middle East, thereby weakening Turkey’s position on the Middle Eastern chessboard.
I’m not sure that the PKK’s decision-makers are really concerned about Turkey’s position in the Middle East, so it’s more credible to believe that some other actors are whispering this strategy to them. What is hard to understand is the attitude of the Kurdish deputies, politicians and intellectuals: Do they really want to live in a more authoritarian, less democratic and a less powerful Turkey? Mistakes have been made on both the government’s side and the opposition’s side. However, the risks are now too great.
It is time to insist on more democracy, despite everything. This is the only way to reinforce civilian politics.