Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said members of the terrorist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), backed by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, are seeking to infiltrate Turkey from Syria and that Turkey may launch military operations in Syria to stop it.
According to remarks made by Erdoğan on the Gündem Özel (Special Agenda) television program on ATV on Sunday evening, Assad is lending support to the terrorist organization in Syria, and the organization is subsequently filtering into Turkey. “Assad was about to break his ties with [the PKK] in the past, when he had relations with Turkey based on good will. But it has been revealed that he supports the PKK,” he stated.
The prime minister's remarks came in the wake of simultaneous attacks on four military outposts in the southeastern province of Hakkari by PKK terrorists on Sunday. The attacks left six soldiers and two village guards dead. Fourteen terrorists were also killed in clashes with Turkish security forces.
Erdoğan strongly condemned the attacks on Sunday afternoon, saying the “terrorist group displayed its hostility to Turkey's national and moral values by attacking security forces during Ramadan.” He also implied Syria could be behind the attack, but did not elaborate, adding that terrorist groups and their aides targeting Turkey's fraternity, unity and peace will be nothing more than “dark spots” in history.
Asked whether Turkey is likely to launch military operations in Syria to stop the infiltration of PKK members, Erdoğan said: “Who knows that we will not do it? Our three military units are performing exercises on the [Turkish-Syrian] border. The tomb of Suleyman Shah [grandfather of Osman I, founder of the Ottoman Empire], is still Turkish soil. We will not be a bystander to any wrong done [against the tomb] there.”
During the TV program, the prime minister also stated that the Turkish military will continue its operations in the north of neighboring Iraq as long as the PKK continues to exist there. “We will continue our operations, and will never stop. If [the PKK] continues to exist as a threat to us, we will stage our operations [in northern Iraq] and then return to Turkey,” he said.
Listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the EU and the United States, the PKK has been carrying out a bloody war in Turkey's Southeast since 1984. Dozens of soldiers have been killed in clashes with the PKK over the past months.
Erdoğan also provided information about a military operation in the district of Şemdinli in Hakkari, which has been ongoing for more than a week. He said a total of 115 PKK terrorists have been killed by security forces since the operation began. The operation was initiated when terrorists blocked the road of a village in the region and interrogated villagers. The prime minister refuted media reports that several Turkish soldiers have been killed in the operation.
According to Erdoğan, Turkey will not make concessions in its fight against terror. “We will continue the fight without making concessions on law, democracy and human rights. … The solution is the laying down of arms by the terrorist group. Security forces never lay down arms. Weapons are the natural instruments of security forces,” he added.
‘Assad set free 1,200 PKK members in Syrian jails'
Khaled Abu Saleh, spokesman of the Homs Revolutionary Council, has claimed that the Syrian president has set free around 1,200 PKK terrorists from jails, in a move which he claims is an open indication of Assad's support for the terrorist organization. The terrorists were incarcerated on politically related charges. Assad has further ordered the release of 3,000 people with links to the PKK. “These people [will then move] to the Kurdish region in Syria. They are acting together with the Syrian administration,” Saleh told Today's Zaman.
According to Saleh, Assad is winning the support of the Kurds by promising to help them establish a Kurdish state. “In this way, he hopes that the Kurds will not become enemies to him. On the other hand, he tries to win the support of Turkmens and Arabs, saying they will have to live under the control of the Kurds if he is removed from office.”
Saleh also said that the Syrian people are striving to survive under very hard conditions. “Homs is under occupation. People are not allowed to enter or leave many neighborhoods. They are about to run out of food. There is no electricity or water. It is impossible to send them medical aid,” he said, complaining that the Red Cross does not send aid to the region. “We begged the Red Cross to send aid to Homs, but they did not, citing many excuses,” he added.
Analysts point to flaws of intelligence, lack of security of outposts
Terrorism experts have argued that flaws in intelligence led to a tragedy in Çukurca last year in which PKK strikes killed 24 soldiers, and have rendered outposts where Turkish soldiers encamp unsafe.
According to Suat Gün, a retired gendarmerie captain, forcing soldiers to serve in unsafe and fixed outposts makes them “targets” for the terrorist PKK. “If soldiers were mobile, they would probably not be killed by the terrorist group,” Gün said, adding that Turkey needs better and stronger intelligence to fight terrorists in the far-eastern and southeastern parts of the country.
Military outposts located in high and rocky mountains were once built as part of Turkey's efforts to curb smuggling in the region, but have since been neglected. The government has vowed to reinforce outposts in the country's eastern and southeastern regions, as bloody terrorist attacks have claimed the lives of dozens of soldiers in the past few years, but the reinforcement has not yet been completed.
Beril Dedeoğlu, an instructor in international relations at Galatasaray University in İstanbul, suggests that the PKK is hoping to cause the Turkish state to “make mistakes in its anti-terror fight” by the bloody attacks, and added that the terrorist group wants to create a “buffer zone” between Turkey and the Kurdish state it wants to establish in Syria. According to Dedeoğlu, the PKK wants the buffer zone to be Hakkari.
“Assad is probably assisting the PKK [in its attacks] because we see that the terrorist group carries out its attacks with heavy weapons. No one knows how the PKK brought those weapons inside Turkey. Intelligence groups should work better,” she added.
Professor İdris Bal, a Justice and Development Party (AK Party) deputy, said people nested within the security forces working for the benefit of illegal networks should be purged so that Turkey's anti-terror efforts can achieve their objectives.