Monday, 28 May 2012, 07:52 GMT
Turkey's Kurdish policy, the PKK and growing tensions between Turkey and Syria


The Kurdish Globe
By Mehmed Sabri Akgönül

The outdated policies implemented by states in the Middle East, including Turkey, are no longer applicable.

Heavy clashes have intensified between the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and Turkish military forces. Wide-ranging operations have increased across the mountainous terrain of north Kurdistan. According to Nureddin Sofi, one of the top commanders of the PKK, the balance of war between Turkish soldiers and Kurdish guerillas has shifted positively towards the PKK. Sofi stated that the PKK have increased their preparations and is ready for the war. In addition, Sofi emphasized that ongoing clashes will continue during this period. "It is the beginning of this process and the positive results of the popular revolutionary war are not far away from now," he added.

In addition, the PKK allegedly kidnapped 10 villagers in the Lice district, a province of Diyarbakir, on Tuesday. Last week, the PKK kidnapped Veysel Celik, who has served as the ruling Justice and Development Party's (AKP) district official in Diyarbakir's Kulp district, and abducted 6 village guards ("korucu" in Turkish), who are Kurdish militias armed by the Turkish state to fight against the PKK guerillas. Nureddin Sofi explained that these kinds of activities will continue. It seems that the PKK is determined to increase its activities at the highest level.

Moreover, details of the conflict which took place in Turkey's Hatay province, near the Syrian border, where three Turkish soldiers were killed and four others were wounded on May 17th are coming to light. Hatay is a region that Syria claims for itself and lies just inside the Turkish borders of today.

In general, the PKK had never established a serious control in this region and it was destitute of any support infrastructure in this area. However, lates clashes in that region show that the PKK is constructing a new logistics base around mountainous area of Amanos near the Syrian border. PKK had staged an attack on the Turkish military unity in Hatay's Iskenderun district, on April 15th, injuring two Turkish soldiers. In recent times, the Turkish military forces have intensified operations in that region while the Turkish state authorities have insisted that there was not dangerous situation for Turkey. In addition, Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc said Amanos Mountains was "cleaned" by the Turkish security forces in middle of April 2012. However, the series of clashes and casualties of Turkish soldiers contradict Arinc's statement.

It is known that for a number of years that the PKK has been in pursuit of establishing a considerable force on a route stretching from the Hatay Amanos Mountains to the Black Sea through the Osmaniye-Sivas-Tokat line. PKK labelled this line the "west route", which borders on Syria's far-western border. PKK has mobilized some guerrilla groups on this line since 1993.

The presence of the PKK on this line is a major fear for the Turkish state. The terrain on this line consists of mountainous passages and a lot of caves, providing a military advantage for the PKK. It is also possible for PKK to use this region as an operational base in order to meet the needs for health and other benefits. Furthermore, the possible domination or control of the Amanos Mountain will also give the PKK a platform to control the Baku-Ceyhan petroleum pipelines.

It is obvious that PKK is benefitting from the increasing tension between Turkey and Syria. According to some analysts, PKK has completely taken control of border of Idlib province and established a crucial force in the Ikbiz and Azaz provinces. If these sources are accurate, it can be said that PKK is creating a liberated buffer area for itself. It means creating a new Qandil Mountain for PKK. When the tensions between Turkey and Syria are taken into consideration, it can be easily asserted that this situation will not allow Turkey to rest in peace.

Turkish government officials are pointing the finger at Syria in the case of any military action on the PKK "west route", since they know that PKK is benefitting from the tension between the two countries. On May 23, for example, a week after the last attack in Hatay, Turkish Interior Minister Idris Naim Sahin said that this attack was made with the support of Syria and in this way it wanted to get "revenge" on Turkey. He said presence of the PKK that was not in the mountainous region of Amanos last year has been confirmed. "In order to put Turkey in difficult situation, Syria is turning a blind eye to PKK in the regions near to the Turkish-Syrian border. Perhaps it wants to take revenge on Turkey as a way," he stated.

It is a well-known fact that Turkish State spends a lot of effort on controlling the Syrian opposition and organizing the post-Assad period in line with its own interests. Also, it is not a secret that Turkey is troubled with the Annan peace plan. Turkish President Abdullah Gul, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu frequently put into words the different measures against Syria, including a military option or at least creation of a no-fly zone on Syrian territory.

On the other hand, the main slogan of Turkey's new war strategy to fight PKK is that "PKK will perish and we will wipe out terrorism." At times, Turkish PM Erdogan explains that they can negotiate with the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), but can never stop military the battle with the PKK. But no one asks what the Turkish government will negotiate with the BDP. Will the Turkey, under the leadership of the AKP, negotiate the Kurdish issue with the BDP' Will AKP follow a common policy through peaceful means as a way of solving the Kurdish issue with BDP?

It is impossible to give an affirmative answer to these questions as it does not see the "problem" as a Kurdish question. The AKP thinks that the Kurdish issue can solved by broadcasting a Kurdish channel like TRT-6 and Dunya TV and also by preparing to open the Kurdish language and literature departments in Turkish universities.

Turkey's policy is to reframe the Kurdish issue by denying its nationalistic character and collective nature. In other words, Turkish state managed to reduce Kurdish question to individual/cultural rights and they occasionally attempt to declare that the Kurdish issue can be resolved by the expansion of the individual's rights, as stipulated in the Turkish constitution. A prominent example of Turkey's desire for reframing the question is evidenced by Turkish PM Erdogan's statement, claiming that "there is no Kurdish question; there are my Kurdish-origin citizens who have questions." Moreover, Erdogan separated the Kurdish question and the PKK question from each other, stating that "there is no Kurdish question, but there is a PKK question." The Turkish state and its opinion leaders, who expend their intellectual energy absolutely on military solutions, have ignored the fact that PKK is not only an armed organization, but also an active and important political actor in the Middle East, at least in the position of being a critical variable of political equations in the region.

So what does the AKP want to negotiate with BDP? According to the AKP's political cadres, and generally the political ratio of the Turkish sovereignty system, the Kurdish question was already solved, but now there is only a "terror" problem arising from PKK. In this context, they vowed that the struggle against PKK ("terrorism") will keep on with determination. They argue that PKK guerillas will be rendered ineffective at any price. In this instance, one thing which the AKP wants to negotiate with the BDP: The issue of weapons. In other words, Turkey only wants to talk about the PKK issue with the BDP.

AKP had met at times before with the PKK but now it doesn't want to meet with PKK leaders, including their jailed leader Abdullah Ocalan. Turkish opposition parties used these meetings as heavy leverage against the AKP and there is a similar risk at any subsequent discussions. And thus, the reputation of the AKP may diminish in the eyes of their voters. Recently, the recording and leaking of the confidential Turkey's National Intelligence-PKK meeting held in Oslo had caused major embarrassment to the AKP. From this point, the AKP planned to discuss the PKK issue with the BDP's political leaders.

AKP will follow such a method in order to avoid possible escalation in the crisis and welcomed the role of the BDP as an interlocutor. However, in this issue there is not much that the BDP can do. The BDP has never had effective influence on the PKK. The MPs of BDP are also aware of this realty. Selahattin Demirtas, co-chair of the BDP, made this very clear in a recent interview: "The AKP government can't negotiation the issue of the PKK and cease-fire with us. We [as BDP] don't have such an authority."

Even though Turkish PM Erdogan knows that the BDP does not have the authority over the PKK, there is an underlying reason for the statement about negotiation or consultation with the BDP. Although, the AKP do not have the purpose to solve the Kurdish issue, it wants to create an image to the Turkish public that they want to solve the issue but the BDP (and the PKK) hinders the path to finding a solution. With this policy, AKP will be viewed as the side who wants to solve the problem and BDP will be shown as the obstacles to finding a solution.

Today, the balance of power is changing. The policies that were previously developed by countries in the Middle East, including Turkey, have expired. It can be noticed that the Kurdish issue is not just a question between the Turkish state and Kurds. There are more international and regional players and every development is closely linked each other.

The Kurdish issue has now an international character and is increasingly seen as a question of sovereignty or a national-political question. Turkish state encodes the main character of the Kurdish question incorrectly and degrades it to the paradigm of security, just as it has done in the past. Turkey's unchanging attitude indicates that the Kurdish issue will encounter a bloody and heated summer.