What is the PKK up to?
Turkish Land Forces Commander Gen. Hayri Kıvrıkoğlu inspected the troops yesterday in Hakkari Province, the most southeastern point in Turkey, bordering both Iran and Iraq. There have been intense clashes there between the attacking militants of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and Turkish security forces for a month now. This has been the longest uninterrupted wave of attacks since the PKK began its armed campaign to create an independent Kurdish state carved out of Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria in 1984, which has claimed more than 40,000 lives so far.
Well, there was a period when the PKK has said that it had given up the goal of an independent state, and would focus on a sort of semi-autonomy under which there would be more democratic and cultural rights, language rights for example. That strategy change came right after the arrest of the PKK’s founding leader, Abdullah Öcalan, in a February 1999 joint American (CIA)-Turkish (MİT) intelligence operation as he left the Greek Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, after being expelled from Syria in October 1998 due to Turkish pressure.
To open a parenthesis here: At least in this very old part of the world, under only one set of circumstances can you convince your rival to make peace: if you really push him into a corner. Otherwise, the rival might take your call for peace as a sign of your weakness. According to writer Emre Uslu of Taraf newspaper, who writes on security matters, that is exactly what has happened since Tayyip Erdoğan’s government initiated its negotiation process with the PKK via MİT.
Turkey missed its chance when the PKK felt crushed by the arrest of Öcalan. The U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 changed the whole picture in a radical way, partly because Turkey’s Parliament barred the government from allowing American troops to use Turkish territory, and Iraqi Kurds became natural allies for the American troops. The PKK took advantage of the situation and began escalating its armed campaign once again from 2003 on.
Now there is a federal Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq, bordering Turkey and Iran, where the PKK’s main headquarters are based. Despite complaints that the Iraqi government in Baghdad leans toward Iran, world energy giants are signing oil and gas contracts with the KRG one after another. The aim is to transfer the energy resources of Mesopotamia to European markets in a safe way beyond the reach of Iran, and probably Russia as well. Turkey, with its NATO membership and a brand-new anti-missile radar station, in addition to the decades-old İncirlik base, could be a safe option as a location for pipelines as compared to the extremely insecure conditions in the Persian Gulf.
The PKK wants to prove that the Turkey as an option for regional energy transport will not be that safe until they are introduced to the game as well. That is why they have inflated their goals once again and returned to their original strategy of forming an independent state. The civil war in Syria has inspired them, too.
It should be noted that in the bigger picture there are two more interrelated factors: The presidential election in the U.S. in November, and Israel’s impatience to attack Iran, because of nuclear worries, before the U.S. election.
These may also be reasons for the escalated PKK violence, including the most recent attack in Gaziantep near the Syrian border on Aug. 20, which claimed nine civilian lives. But time is running against the PKK, because the sustainability of their attacks is questionable, and the game could be too big for them.