Turkey wants to attack PKK bases

Turkey’s troubled southeast has seen a recent escalation of violence, with 16 members of the Turkish security forces killed in clashes with Kurdish rebels over the last two weeks, and more being targeted daily.

The rebel Kurdistan Workers Party is outlawed in Turkey
The rebel Kurdistan Workers Party is outlawed in Turkey

At the same time, Ankara has been threatening to send its forces across the frontier with northern Iraq to attack rebel Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) bases over the border – and has accused the US of double standards in trying to prevent such a move.

“The way they (the US) look at terror there (in Israel) and in Turkey is not the same,” Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish prime minister, told reporters last week.

“They show tolerance towards country A and show a different approach to country B. This is unacceptable.”

In Ankara, emergency parliamentary meetings have been held and there is talk of bringing back emergency rule – one step away from martial law – to the southeast, an area of about a quarter of the country and home to many of Turkey’s estimated 13 million ethnic Kurds.

Talk of getting tough on the PKK is also widely applauded by nationalist parties and many ordinary Turks.

“Kurds are just like anyone else in Turkey, but this is not what they want,” Yasemine, a 26-year-old young professional Turkish woman who did not want to give her surname, tells Aljazeera.net.

“They want their own lands. I wish them luck but they need to kill the last Turk in the world to get any land from us.”

Further division

But for ordinary Turkish-Kurds, who work and live in Turkey, it is an entirely different story.

Ankara has threatened to send
troops across the Iraqi border

Many Turkish-Kurds are frustrated by the deadlock between Washington and Ankara over Iraq, and feel that they are being ignored and treated as second-class citizens.

“If you listen to Kurdish music it means you are an enemy of the state, or a separatist,” a 26-year-old Turkish-Kurds giving his name as Ahmet, tells Aljazeera.net.

“It is very traumatic. When I was at high school, although it wasn’t illegal to speak Kurdish, my teacher would beat me if we used Kurdish words, even at break time.

“I love Turkey, but because of this I feel ashamed to speak Kurdish. This is who I am, what can I do?”

Ahmet is not his real name as he was initially too afraid to comment on the issue – a fear he says he has lived with all his life.

“Turkey is the best country I can live in,” he says. “I don’t have any problem with Turkish people, but in the last few years, unfortunately, Turkish people have become more nationalist, even the most leftist.

“I can’t stand the death of one person but the Turkish state should accept its faults too. If there is a Kurdish problem in Turkey I think it is a problem of Turkish politics.”

Internal politics

With the security situation in Iraq deteriorating daily, and the Middle East conflict raging, the feeling in Turkey is that should the Turkish military launch cross-border operations, it would bring more instability to the region.

Kurdish rebels have killed 16 from
the Turkish forces in two weeks

Tahir Ekci, a Turkish lawyer who specialises in Kurdish cases, tells Aljazeera.net: “Turkey may get a ‘visa’ to enter Iraq from the US, but this would not bring any military success. Such operations were undertaken before and were not effective. In fact such operations may unite Kurds on either side of the border … which would bring more problems for Turkey.”

Although, Ankara is under pressure from the Turkish public to act on the recent unrest in the southeast, the general feeling is that this is not likely in the short-term.

“I believe that Turkey would not send troops into Iraq without US permission,” Ekci says.

He believes that Erdogan’s harsh words had to do with forthcoming presidential election in 2007.

It has been widely noted in the Turkish media that the prime minister is eyeing residency at Cankaya – the presidential palace.

“The prime minister was testing out US reactions while sending a message to the Turkish public. There is an election next year and Erdogan must raise his nationalist words against the PKK,” Ekci says.

Siyar Ozsoy, an adviser to the mayor of Diyarbakir, in the southeast, agrees.

“Nationalists always use the rhetoric of anti-separatism as the best pool of votes. The Kurdish issue is very much manipulated by Turkish nationalist politicians to mobilise the Turkish public, especially in times of elections,” Ozsoy says.


The last on a list of unilateral ceasefires was declared by the PKK after the capture of Abdullah Ocalan, its leader, in 1999, but the ceasefire was not recognised by Ankara.

Ozsoy believes that this was a missed opportunity.

“The recent upsurge in violence is because Turkey did not use the opportunity between 1999-2004 when there was a ceasefire by the PKK,” he says. 

Turkish Kurds and police have been clashing violently

Turkish Kurds and police have
been clashing violently

“If Turkey had declared a general amnesty at this time, the PKK would have disarmed and a window could have been opened for the solution of the Kurdish issue.”

Hasan Unel, a scholar at Istanbul’s Bilkent University points out that when the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power in 2002, the PKK was virtually powerless.

“At that time, the PKK did not have the resources or the logistical capability to attack the Turkish military as we can see today,” Unel says.

He believes that the situation in Iraq and Ankara’s failure to press the PKK issue with the US has led to the recent unrest in the southeast.

“If the US continues to oppose Turkish military action, the problem will become greater. It is just a tactic to divert the public’s attention in Turkey. US officials said after the invasion of Iraq in 2003 that they were acting on this issue, but if you look to today we can see that they have not,” says Unel.

He believes that the issue may eventually pit Ankara against Washington.

“The US will have to choose between Turkey and the Kurds. The US attitude is important for Turkey. Either way, Turkey is strong enough and prepared to fight the PKK,” he says.

Others argue that dialogue is the way forward and believe that military action will not solve anything.

“Turkey feels its sovereignty is under threat from the Kurds, and has done since the early 1990s, which is not without reason.

“But Turkish-Kurds are leaning towards compromise and want to live within the borders of a democratised Turkey. Look to the unilateral ceasefire of 1993, when the PKK were at the height of their power, not to mention the last ceasefire in 1999 to 2003,” says Ekci.

Meanwhile, the rising insecurity in the southeast is taking its toll.

Hasan, a Turkish-Kurd restaurant owner from Diyarbakir, tells Aljazeera.net: “There is an eerie silence in the streets of Diyarbakir. It hangs in the air, everyone is sad and waiting for what will happen next.”

But some fear this silence may soon explode.

“The problem is that if Turkey does not take democratic steps to and respond to at least some Kurdish cultural and political demands through a politics of democratic accommodation, then there is the possibility that the demands of Kurds would get radicalised,” says Ekci.

At the same time, for ordinary Kurds, the trauma continues.

“After reading the newspapers this week, I cried for a long time and asked myself how did we get to such a place and how do we solve it? I don’t advocate violence but without the PKK what else do we have?” says Ahmet.

Source : Al Jazeera

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