Turkey’s international visibility helps to pressure PKK through diplomacy

Turkey’s international visibility helps to pressure PKK through diplomacy

Murat Karayılan, known as the PKK’s “number two” after its jailed chief Abdullah Öcalan, holds a press conference in the Kandil Mountains.

October 03, 2010, Sunday/ 11:00:00
Human memory is flawed by a tendency to forget. As this famous Turkish saying suggests, looking at the remarkable level of constructive dialogue between Turkey and Syria, one could hardly remember that these two neighbors actually came to the brink of war due to a dispute stemming from the latter abetting the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) over a decade ago.

As such, the PKK issue has long poisoned Ankara’s bilateral relations with both Washington and Baghdad. The picture has changed in the last few years with a broad consensus between Turkey and others -- Iraq, Syria and the United States -- concerning the fight against the PKK. These diplomatic efforts, a true art of communication, launched by Turkey as part of comprehensive efforts against the PKK, have been a significant pillar in changing this picture. “It takes a long time for countries to change their perception on particular issues, as was the case with Syria,” a senior Turkish diplomat told Sunday’s Zaman.

“It is about building confidence between countries, and such confidence has been built between Turkey and Syria, for example. Turkey’s global role is at the heart of the matter with other countries, including its neighbors, which have appreciated this role for the last five or six years,” the diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, went on to say. “In an environment where there is confidence, you can talk about every issue comfortably, including the issue of the PKK’s terrorist activities,” he remarked.

The course of affairs in bilateral relations between Syria and Turkey over the last decade may be considered a bold example of the implementation of Ankara’s “zero-problems policy” in its neighborhood, implemented by reaching out to create an atmosphere of maximum cooperation among all its neighbors.

In the autumn of 1998 Syria and Turkey came to the brink of war over the presence of the now-jailed leader of the PKK, Abdullah Öcalan, in Syria. At the time, Turkish troops were marshaled along the border with Syria, with Ankara demanding that Damascus cease its support for the PKK and hand over Öcalan. Then-Syrian President Hafez al-Assad complied, and eventually Öcalan was deported -- and subsequently captured by Turkish special forces in Kenya. PKK training camps in Syria and Lebanon were also closed down.

Today, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu is scheduled to be in the Syrian city of Latakia in order to participate in the second ministerial level meeting of the High-Level Strategic Cooperation Council between Ankara and Damascus. As of Saturday, Interior Minister Beşir Atalay was scheduled to visit Syria for talks on the PKK issue -- after Sunday’s Zaman went to print.

Coordinated efforts

Speaking to reporters on Friday upon his return from New York, where he attended the UN General Assembly, Davutoğlu emphasized that the government’s efforts to cut the external ties of the terrorist organization are under way. Atalay has been conferring with important contacts on the issue, and they have been holding regular consultations, he added.

Actually, Davutoğlu’s brief remarks indicate a coordinated effort while also referring to intense diplomatic efforts on various fronts as complementary moves to the recent visible steps taken by the government, pro-Kurdish opposition figures and key state institutions to bring about a permanent end to the fight between Turkish security forces and the PKK.

Atalay was in Arbil, the capital of the autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan region, last Sunday when he discussed measures to end PKK terror with Iraqi Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani.

Atalay’s visit will be followed by a visit from National Intelligence Organization (MİT) Undersecretary Hakan Fidan, who recently went to the US for talks on the PKK issue. Fidan is expected to visit Arbil within the next few weeks for talks on the same subject. Following his talks in Arbil, Atalay earlier this week had security talks in Ankara with a US military delegation led by the top US commander in Iraq, Gen. Lloyd Austin.

The PKK, which took up arms in 1984 to fight for an ethnic homeland in southeastern Turkey, is listed as a terrorist organization by a large majority of the international community including the US and the EU.

The big picture

As for the case with Iraq, the senior diplomat recalled how Turkey has defended its neighbor’s territorial integrity and launched the neighboring countries process, an initiative that brought together Iraq and its neighbors for ministerial consultations in a bid to focus efforts on preventing a war prior to the US-led invasion of Iraq.

“Within years, all parties understood that Turkey had no secret agenda regarding Iraq, and that understanding allowed us to talk comfortably and frankly with representatives of all segments of Iraqi society. Just look at the point we have reached in relations with Iraqi Kurdish leader Barzani,” the same diplomat told Sunday’s Zaman.

In June Barzani paid his first-ever visit to Turkey as regional president. Barzani last visited Turkey in April 2004, when he held the rotating presidency of the now-defunct Iraqi Governing Council.

Coerced by the US, Iraqi Kurds have in the past two years been cooperating against the PKK, sharing intelligence with Turkey. This cooperation has also fostered improved trade relations, and there have been talks of opening a second border crossing between Turkey and the region.

“Our stance on Iran’s nuclear program enables us to talk comfortably and to express our demands regarding cooperation against the PKK more openly while speaking with our Iranian counterparts,” the diplomat said, in an attempt to explain that consistency in foreign policy moves helps Turkey to gain support in its fight against the PKK, which is listed as a terrorist organization by a large majority of the international community.

“As for the United States, it is obvious that we have certain rifts concerning some foreign policy issues. But counterterrorism is one area in which we have 100 percent support from the United States. There is full agreement between us on the PKK issue,” he said.

All recent multilateral contacts among Iraqi, Turkish and US officials indicate that a trilateral security committee was first established back in November 2008 to coordinate the three countries’ efforts to eliminate the PKK, which infiltrates Turkey from its bases in northern Iraq.

“One has to look at the big picture. The fight against terrorism is a part of this picture, yet the big picture is Turkey’s ‘zero-problem policy’ with neighbors. We are realists; we know that it is impossible to have no problems, but the philosophical approach matters, and with this philosophy we do our best to reach that point where no problem, including terrorism, exists,” the diplomat concluded.

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