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LOCAL >NEWS ANALYSIS: PKK striking to drag Turkey into civil war

Murat Yetkin

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Exactly a week after a suicide bomb attack in Beşiktaş that killed 46 people and wounded 166 on Dec. 10, the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) carried out another suicide attack which killed 14 and wounded 56 in the Central Anatolian province of Kayseri on Dec. 17.

The attack was claimed by the Kurdistan Freedom Hawks (TAK), one of the many ghost organizations of the PKK. It is the name that it uses in urban attacks with civilian causalities.

Kayseri was the 18th suicide bomb attack by the PKK since it announced the end of the three-year dialogue between the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) governments and resumed acts of terror in July 2015, right after the June 7 elections. But it is also the first suicide bombing the PKK has carried out outside the two big cities of Turkey, Istanbul and the capital Ankara.

Kayseri, the town of Caesar from Roman times, is one of the local industry and trade hubs in Turkey and hosts a major air force base and an army base for commandoes that have been fighting the PKK in the mountains for years. The suicide bomber actually targeted a public bus carrying unarmed (and non-uniformed) soldiers from the base to downtown for their weekend leave.

Kayseri also has one of the most conservative and nationalistic grassroots in Turkey and is a lock for the AK Parti. Only two week ago, President Tayyip Erdoğan, Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım and almost the entire cabinet was in Kayseri for the opening of a museum-library in the name of former President Abdullah Gül in his hometown.

Right after the bombing in the morning hours, angry crowds took to the streets of Kayseri in protest, and one of their targets was the local headquarters of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), which focuses on the Kurdish problem. The attack was followed by a number of similar attacks in different cities.

This is exactly what the PKK chiefs in their headquarters in the Kandil mountains of Iraq are aiming for: divert the anger of the crowds agitated by acts of terror onto the Kurds of Turkey, especially those whom the PKK could not succeed in taking under its control, regardless of whether they voted for the HDP or other parties.

Recent observations showed clearly that following the barricade/ditch uprising between July 2015 and February 2016 which resulted in the killing of thousands of people and the razing of some districts to the ground in the predominantly Kurdish east and southeast, even HDP voters have not abided by calls for street rallies or boycotts by the PKK or its front organizations.

To agitate attacks on the HDP or simply Kurds living in the big cities of Turkey by conservative and/or nationalist crowds, the PKK hopes for two things to happen: People across Turkey start attacking their neighbors, just because they are Kurds, meaning ordinary Kurds will be forced to take sides with the PKK for protection. 

This would be a recipe for a civil war and that is what the PKK is trying to drag Turkey into.

It has to be noted that the arrest of two co-chairs of the HDP and 10 members of parliament on charges of helping terrorism is not helping the struggle against terrorism but rather the propaganda efforts of the PKK, besides eroding the capability of parliament to provide fair representation.

The PKK abandoned the dialogue (and to be frank, the government did not insist on it because the dialogue cost the AK Parti Turkish nationalist votes) because it calculated that the civil war in Syria had given it extra bargaining power, especially with the emergence of the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) in 2013. 

The Barack Obama administration did not want to send its GI Joes to the Syrian deserts but used the PKK, through its Syrian branch, the Democratic Union Party (PYD), and its militia, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), as the U.S. ground force, even though the PKK was established nearly four decades ago to fight against “American imperialism and Turkish colonialism.” The cooperation was tested in Kobane in 2014, became operative in early 2015 and the PKK, abandoning the dialogue with Turkey, decided to work with the U.S. military, hoping that the anti-ISIL fight would let them start their own Kurdistan (not that of Masoud Barzani in Iraq, for example) in Syria.

Two developments have spoiled the plans of the PKK.

The first was Erdoğan’s decision to put the Turkish army (despite being heavily wounded because of the July 15 coup attempt) into Syria in order to both push the ISIL southward from the border, but more importantly to put a wedge into PKK plans to join the Afrin and Kobane “cantons” together to take full control along the Turkish border with Syria. The PKK was disappointed that their blackmail to the United States in slowing down the Raqqa operation (because the Turks where coming) did not cause the Americans to take a firm position against Turkey.

Second, Donald Trump has won the U.S. presidency. If Hillary Clinton had won, that would have meant the continuation of the Obama administration’s scenarios. The PKK now believes that the new American policy will not give them the first priority and that they could be left out with bright words praising their heroic resistance against ISIL so far.

Like every other political actor in the world, the PKK wants to reposition itself before Trump takes the Oval Office. The only method the PKK knows is to draw attention by escalating terrorism, spreading it across Turkey, a major U.S. military ally, and attempting to drag the country info a civil war from which the PKK could benefit.

A recent communiqué in pro-PKK publications in Europe showed that the Kandil HQ urged all militants to do their best to destroy Turkish targets without expecting particular orders from them. 

Turkish security and intelligence units are concerned about more PKK attacks in the next few weeks.

It’s not only the PKK. There are worries that ISIL and al-Qaeda might attack in the coming days as a reaction to Turkey’s shifting policy in Syria and reconciliation with Russia on Aleppo.

Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmuş has recently warned of a spillover from the Aleppo crisis into Turkey in the form of attacks against Alevis in Turkey and said everyone should avoid using hate language and take care of their neighbors.

The same thing applies for attacks on Kurds by angry crowds now.

Preventing a Sunni-Alevi rift or a Turkish-Kurdish rift from being provoked is the most important job of not only the government, but also political parties, civil society and the media.

One has to see that a Turkey dragged into a Turkish-Kurdish and/or Sunni-Alevi rift would not be in the best interests of the West either, whether that’s the U.S., the European Union or NATO.

December/18/2016

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