Turkish security forces have successfully thwarted the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ party (PKK) in what seems to be a carefully orchestrated plan to create an impression that the government is fighting against the Kurdish population in residential areas along the border areas of the Southeast.
Experts say that the PKK, poised to exploit the power vacuum in the northern regions of Syria and Iraq, has now changed its tactics in Turkey, and is set on gaining control, albeit on a temporary basis, of some residential area. The objective, experts say, is to create an impression that Turkish troops are fighting against their own people, very much like the situation in Syria.
“Following the example of the Kurds in Syria, the PKK has made a similar attempt [to gain control] in Şemdinli recently,” says Mehmet Özcan, chairman of the Ankara Strategy Institute, noting that the terrorist organization’s latest course of action indicates a change in tactics.
This may be difficult to achieve, however, considering the robust Turkish democracy, which is a kind of inspiration for the Syrian opposition, as well as for transitional governments in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt. “Arab Spring tactics wouldn’t work in Turkey” İdris Bal, a terrorism expert and a Justice and Development Party (AK Party) deputy, told Sunday’s Zaman, noting that it is Turkey with its democracy that is the source of inspiration for the Arab Spring. Bal’s comment makes sense, in view of the fact that the PKK has also tried in the past to foment a popular rebellion in Kurdish-dominated regions of Turkey, but failed. “They tried the same thing in Şemdinli, but again failed,” he remarked. Bal is of the opinion that by kidnapping Hüseyin Aygün the PKK wanted to send a message to the world that things are spiraling out of control in Turkey.
What is more, the prudent approach adopted by security forces in Şemdinli in singling out the terrorists who had infiltrated residential neighborhoods, combined with advanced intelligence-gathering, prevented the PKK from realizing this plan. But experts say the PKK will not be deterred from making similar attempts in the future, and urge the government to tackle the Kurdish problem in a multifaceted way.
PKK terrorists once adopted hit-and-run tactics when attacking military and police targets in Turkey’s Southeast. This time, however, in Şemdinli, they defended their positions against Turkish troops for 20 days. In doing so, the PKK wanted give the impression that it could, in a way, cope with the Turkish army, according to Doğu Ergil, a political scientist from Fatih University.
For Mehmet Şandır, Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) parliamentary group deputy chairman, the PKK has taken its fight against Turkey to a new level in the Şemdinli incident. “In its rebellion, the PKK has put field control strategy into action.” he told Sunday’s Zaman.
But attempting to pit the Kurdish people against the state is not an entirely new strategy for the PKK. Abdullah Öcalan, the PKK leader who has been imprisoned since 1999, has already declared the year 2012 the final phase of an all-out rebellion that began in 2010, and recent developments in Syria have accelerated the pace of things for the PKK.
The PKK, which has been conducting terrorist activities in Turkey for nearly 30 years, can now be expected to conduct shocking attacks in an effort to transform the so-called Arab Spring into a Kurdish Spring in Turkey, and thereby give the impression that it is a dominant force in the Southeast of the country, where the Kurdish population is the majority. Talking to Sunday’s Zaman, Özcan remarked, “The PKK will try again to do what it attempted in Şemdinli.” He maintains that the terrorist organization is receiving support from Iran, a country that has been on bad terms with Turkey for some time now, not only due to issues surrounding NATO’s early warning radar, which Turkey allowed to be deployed in Malatya last year, but also over Turkey’s Syria policy.
Analysts agree that the recent developments in Syria have played into the PKK’s hands, allowing it to function more freely in the region, with the Syrian military having withdrawn a major part of its army from the northeast of the country, which is now under the control of the Kurds. The situation isn’t much different in the north of Iraq, where the terrorist organization’s main camps are situated. The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) doesn’t seem to exert itself in any effective way to stop the terrorist organization plotting attacks in Turkey. So Turkey’s southeastern region remains exposed to terrorist attacks from its three neighbors; namely, Syria, Iraq and Iran.
Apart from what the PKK has recently attempted to do in Hakkari’s Şemdinli, a town bordering both Iraq and Iran, the terrorist organization also, for the first time, abducted a lawmaker in Tunceli last Sunday. Hüseyin Aygün from the Republican People’s Party (CHP) was released after two days, after a negative reaction from the public. According to Orhan Miroğlu, a Kurdish intellectual, the PKK doesn’t tolerate any political activity other than its own in the region.
What Miroğlu says is not surprising, considering that the PKK has traditionally kidnapped local political figures in Kurdish-dominated parts of Turkey. One such politician from the Justice and Development Party (AK Party), probably having been intimidated, joined the pro-Kurdish Freedom and Democracy Party (BDP) after being released, confirming the accuracy of Miroğlu’s statement. “The PKK wants to become the sole political force in the region, and wants a region that it can govern.” Miroğlu told Sunday’s Zaman.
When the Arab Spring broke out, representatives of the BDP -- the political discourse of which is, in most cases, in line with that of the PKK -- said that it was time for the Kurdish Spring. The PKK now feels stronger in the region, as it is also represented in the Kurdish National Council (KNC) in Syria by the Democratic Union Party (PYD), and Massoud Barzani, president of the KRG, has made it clear that he wouldn’t enter into an armed clash with the PKK. Analysts agree that the terrorist organization wants to demonstrate to its sympathizers by its latest actions that it’s the PKK, and not the Turkish state, which is in charge in the region. Commenting on the PKK’s new course of action, political scientist Ergil told Sunday’s Zaman, “The PKK aims to emerge as an undeniable actor, a force to be reckoned with in the Middle East.”
Following the imprisonment of Öcalan, Turkey suppressed the terrorist activities of the PKK to minimal levels by the year 2003, but with the American invasion of Iraq the PKK found itself a safe haven in the north of Turkey’s southern neighbor, thereby gaining in strength day by day. The AK Party government tried to resolve the Kurdish issue by introducing a package of democratic reforms, and held talks with the representatives of the PKK in Oslo a few years ago. The Oslo talks failed, and apart from the few steps taken in line with the democratic reforms, the government has been unable to achieve any substantial progress on the Kurdish issue since that time. The PKK for its part accused the government of not being sufficiently liberal to bring about reform, kept up its attacks and thereby sabotaged the peace efforts.
According to Özcan from the Ankara Strategy Institute, Parliament should have taken steps in the direction of basic rights and freedoms to achieve a democratic solution in the fall of 2011, when the government had, from a psychological perspective, gained the upper hand against the PKK. But the Uludere incident -- in which 34 Kurdish citizens were mistaken for PKK terrorists and bombed, killed by Turkish jets near the Iraqi-Turkish border at the end of December last year -- turned everything upside down. “The time was ripe for reform before Uludere, but now it’s the PKK that has the psychological upper hand,” noted Özcan, who maintains that it is not possible for terror to come to an end before basic rights and freedoms are granted.
But a democratic package by itself may not be a magic bullet, settling everything. “It’s been impossible to settle the issue with just the democratic package, because it’s not democracy that the PKK really cares about,” Bal from the AK Party argued, implying that what the PKK actually wants, first and foremost, is a piece of land to rule. He also sees the essence of the Kurdish issue as a matter of identity, and not of security, although he made a point of noting that would be impossible to resolve these issues without assuring security first.
In the discourse of both the PKK and BDP, the concept of self-rule is expressed by the term “democratic autonomy.” And Osman Baydemir, mayor of Diyarbakır, has recently said that Diyarbakır would become the capital of the Turkish part of Kurdistan, causing some eyebrows to be raised among the Turkish public.
‘Aygün kidnapped for Alevi votes’
According to Emre Uslu, a columnist in the Taraf daily, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) may have kidnapped Hüseyin Aygün to mobilize the Alevi electorate behind the terrorist organization. The PKK has had difficulty in winning the support of the Alevis, given that the pro-Kurdish Freedom and Democracy Party (BDP) failed, in the last general elections, to have a deputy elected in Tunceli, Aygün’s polling district, where the Alevi population is dominant.
Arguing that Aygün, himself an Alevi, has always been in the forefront in defending the rights of Alevis, Uslu wrote in his column on Wednesday, “I think Aygün has disturbed the PKK with his activities of this nature, and I believe the PKK will seriously warn Aygün.”
Uslu also claimed that the PKK may, in the days ahead, carry out acts of terror against schools, and may kidnap civil servants in Turkey’s Southeast. He reminded readers that Duran Kalkan, a leading PKK figure, only a short time ago called on civil servants posted in the region to quit their jobs, and for families not to send their children to school.