US’ ‘ifs and buts’ on PKK cause skepticism in Turkey
Last week an act of terrorism shook Turkey to its core. A total of 13 Turkish citizens kidnapped by PKK terrorists in previous years were executed in the Gara region of northern Iraq.
Turkish security forces found the bodies in a cave. During the clashes, three Turkish security personnel were also killed.
For Turkish people, it was all a very familiar moment of sadness and grief. For at least four decades, Turkey has faced similar terrorist attacks from the same terrorist group.
Thousands of people lost their lives during these attacks. In addition, millions of people in Turkey were traumatized by the aftermath.
Turkish security personnel have been fighting against this group and taking action to eliminate a terrorist threat for decades.
Unfortunately, in most instances, Turkey is doing it alone or with a few friends.
When it comes to PKK terrorism, the Turkish public and government do not receive sufficient support from the international community.
Even during the height of the “global war on terror,” the PKK and its threat were largely ignored by other nations.
The invasion effect
After the U.S. invasion of Iraq, for instance, despite all of the calls from Ankara, Washington did not take sufficient action to eradicate the PKK in northern Iraq.
Instead, the U.S. and other coalition members prioritized other threats in Iraq. Turkish people will never forget this double standard.
Later, during a major spike in terrorist attacks against Turkey in 2015 and 2016, the country faced a far worse situation.
In the midst of the PKK’s increasing terrorist attacks, the U.S. was arming the YPG, the PKK’s Syrian branch.
Turkey’s call to stop such action fell, and continue to fall, on deaf ears in Washington.
In the U.S. capital, everybody knows that the PKK and YPG are not two different organizations. They shared the same ideology, same leader and same human resources.
The U.S. has argued its relations with the YPG are temporary, but that does not excuse its support of a terrorist organization.
While Turkey was facing dozens of terrorist attacks during these “temporary relations,” the U.S. made statements condemning the terrorist attacks and reiterated again that the U.S. recognizes the PKK as a terrorist organization.
In the fall of 2019, when Turkey launched a military operation against the YPG, Washington reacted. That actually demonstrated the depth of the U.S.’ “temporary relations” with the YPG.
The U.S.’ reaction generated one of the worst public diplomacy crises in the history of the two countries’ bilateral relations. The Turkish public was shocked to see a NATO ally reacting so strongly against Turkish counterterrorism operations.
After the U.S. elections, one of the question marks regarding the future of Turkish-U.S. relations was about the U.S.-YPG ties.
Experts agree that this has been one of the most significant irritants of bilateral relations.
The early indicators caused some concern when the Democrats’ foreign policy team signaled the U.S. would continue to support the YPG in northern Syria.
However, even before a phone call between presidents Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Joe Biden, the U.S. State Department released a controversial statement on the Gara attack.
The statement said the U.S. condemns the bloody attack “if confirmed.” Since the statement was released after Defense Minister Hulusi Akar had already shared details about the PKK attack, the State Department’s statement received a sharp reaction, with Ankara harshly condemning its implications.
The day after the statement, U.S. Secretary of Defense Anthony Blinken and U.S. Ambassador to Ankara David Satterfield tried to amend the previous statement.
However, it failed to cover the “if” factor that generated more skepticism and questions in Turkey about the U.S.’ position.
The “if” is now a part of the aforementioned pattern in the relationship. For the next few months, Turkey will watch closely if there will be a continuation of that pattern.
This article was first published by Daily Sabah on February 20, 2021.