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August 22, 2012, Wednesday

A bomb at the mountain exit gates

The Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) terrorists have lost their self-control. This is either due to the recent military operations that have killed hundreds of terrorists, or due to the fact that they are now under the control of a different power. Or both! For the PKK of the past, Gaziantep was treated as a terror-free city, for this meant an army-free city also. They regarded Gaziantep as an exit gate from the mountains. The Eid-time terrorist attack that killed 10, including three minors, in the city of Gaziantep marks the end of one era and the beginning of another. The PKK has declared that it is moving to the plains, but not with the intention of engaging in legitimate politics. It wants rather to flame a Syrian Spring in the middle of Turkey. This change in strategy is clearly a sign of change in the leadership of the terrorist organization. The Syrian wing, which is more assertive and violent compared to the Iraqi wing, seems to have the upper hand in recent operations.

Terror, by its very definition, is used to terrorize the general public of an enemy entity so as to force the leadership of that entity to certain political compromises. But if the very leadership of a terrorist organization is terrorized with fears of annihilation, terror becomes an end in itself and gains a dimension of revenge. What a hopeless terrorist hates most is the light of hope in the eyes of his enemies. Recent military operations in southeastern Turkey have annihilated hundreds of militants from the PKK. New military outposts are being built, and for the first time the Turkish military is gaining operational advantage in the region. Turkish-northern Iraqi Kurdish cooperation is making mobility of militants between Turkey and Iraq harder and harder. Thanks to the high performance of the Turkish economy, industrialized regional cities are challenging the mountains as viable sources for earning a livelihood. The unemployment rates are dropping; larger numbers of Kurdish students are gaining entry to universities and with the new primary education reform it will be harder and harder for the PKK to enroll volunteer fighters.

In the face of these developments the traditional PKK leadership has lost its orientation. In the past, absolute independence was the main aim of violent operations, and the PKK had claimed a part of Turkey as Kurdistan. Today some of the PKK leaders are speaking about a kind of democratic autonomy joined with economic dependence on Turkey, while some others are content with cultural and linguistic rights. A majority of the leadership that lives in Europe seems to be interested more in diplomacy than in active violence. And understandably a smaller set is angry with this dilution of ambition among their fighters. The Gaziantep incident was an operation aimed at the hearts and minds of the Kurdish militia rather than those of the Turkish government. It wanted to cut off any hope that the PKK militants may have of a move towards normalcy. It wanted to create a sense of irreversibility. The new leadership of the PKK wanted to close the exit gate of the mountains once and for all.

The irony of terrorism is that its success is decided or denied by the behavior of its very victims. If it manages to terrorize the general public, it wins; if it fails to do so, it loses. A clever strategy against the PKK's Gaziantep attack is not a move towards further securitization but rather further democratization. The Southeast needs more exit gates from the mountains. Kahramanmaraş, Malatya, Urfa, Mardin and Van are obvious candidate cities for such a role.

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