Turkey’s War on Terror and the PKK
The PKK’s violent attacks on Turkish security forces elicit equally violent and impulsive reactions in different segments of society. In these dire times, politicians should act responsibly in order to restore the reconciliation process.
After the recent change in Ankara’s counterterrorism strategy and the adoption of a more pre-emptive strategy to prevent terror attacks in Turkey generated a major debate in the international arena regarding the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), Turkish-U.S. relations and the Kurdish issue. There are many questions about the future of Turkey’s reconciliation process and its fight against ISIS and the impact of these on the conflicts in Syria and Iraq as well as the fight of the international coalition against ISIS.
One of the most discussed issues in the aftermath of Turkish war planes bombing campaigns against ISIS and PKK targets in Syria and Iraq has been the fate of the reconciliation process. Some in Western countries found Ankara responsible for this serious crisis in the reconciliation process and regarded the bombings as the most significant threats to it. However, despite this criticism of the government the sudden escalation of violence in the region happened mostly as a result of increasing attacks of the PKK on Turkish security forces in southeastern cities. When many hoped that that the Peoples’ Democratic Party’s (HDP) success in the elections would bring a new phase to the reconciliation process, the PKK, through its different structures, released statements that signal a return to the era of armed conflict. Some regarded these veiled threats to the state as rhetorical statements and others tried to understand the cause of this abrupt change in discourse. However, following the suicide bombing of the cultural center in Suruç, the PKK suddenly launched attacks on Turkish security forces, which demonstrated that the escalation in the discourse of representatives of the PKK and its structures were parts of a plan of a gradual return to the use of violence. One of the first of these attacks was the killing of two police officers in their home while they were sleeping. In 11 days 16 Turkish security forces were killed by the PKK. The level of violence the PKK used in such a short period of time showed that it was not even considering decommissioning or demobilization, which were regarded as one of the red lines of the reconciliation process. This means that from the very beginning the timing and format of disarming the PKK was not an issue for this organization.
Regarding the question of why the PKK attempts to bring back the dark days of the 1990s, there is not a very clear answer. For some it is because of the idea among PKK members that the Turkish government is not doing enough to defeat ISIS. Thus, when the bomb attack took place in Suruç, the PKK launched retaliation strikes against security forces. However, this argument does not explain that the escalation in the rhetoric of the PKK started when Ankara launched a stronger and more preventive strategy to deal with terrorism, including against ISIS. In the last two months there were dozens of raids on the potential ISIS members and stricter measures taken for border security. A second explanation is related to the power struggle among the different actors in Kurdish politics. Accordingly, the electoral success and increasing involvement of the HDP and its co-chair, Selahattin Demirtaş, created concerns for the PKK leadership in northern Iraq’s Qandil Mountains and the discourse was escalated as a result of this power struggle. However, this argument sounds more of a speculation because especially after his statements following the Suruç bombing, it is hard to imagine a HDP leadership with political independence taking a different position. A third argument concerning the PKK’s return to violence in the last few weeks is again related to its attempt to consolidate its power. Accordingly, the PKK attacks may aim to provoke the Turkish Armed Forces to retaliate and start another period of armed struggle to increase the strength of the PKK by starting to present armed struggle as the only way for Kurds to gain their rights. This aims to seriously challenge the debate and discussions in Parliament about a political solution to the problem.
Of course all of these arguments are speculations about the sudden escalation of violence. The real answer may be totally different. But we have to make our analysis on the fate of the reconciliation process by the impact of the given variables. Today unfortunately, there is an increasing level of violence in the region and this new violence has been incited by the PKK. The violence and increasing number of killings by the PKK is generating a reactionary impulse in different segments of Turkish society. The reconciliation process, which has been supported by at least 70 percent of the people in Turkey from its very beginning, has started to be questioned more often now. Does this mean the end of the reconciliation process?
Although the reconciliation process was launched by the initiatives of politicians and policy makers, in a very short period of time the process was owned by the people and especially those living in the southeast. Despite different criticism about the process, its pace and the format of negotiations, particularly in the last two years people in the region got used to it and the safety, stability and security that it brought to their lives. Because of this satisfaction in the aftermath of the events in October 2014, which left dozens dead, the people in the region got serious questioning the leadership of the HDP for mobilizing people to protest. Nobody in the region is willing to lose the stability that has come to their lives. Because of that the reconciliation process will not totally end or be shelved. However, the PKK’s recent actions and its insistence on not disarming necessitates a retuning to the process. Under these circumstances, each actor in the process will have some responsibilities. The most significant responsibility, however, will be on the people in the region who will be affected most by the lengthening of this period of the halt in the reconciliation process. They have to take some initiatives and raise their voice against the violence if they want to have stability back again.
This article was first published in the Daily Sabah on August 1, 2015.