How can generals take initiative from the PKK?
Arguments about the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) reminded me of an event that happened years ago. In 1989 PKK attacks increased and many soldiers lost their lives. During the funeral of a soldier a large crowd gathered at Kocatepe mosque in Ankara. Some reproved Chief of General Staff for the soldier’s death by saying “why don’t you do anything?” Pasha tried to explain that they have a limited responsibility and authority against the PKK and that the Ministry of Interior was authorized by laws for this issue. However, he was not successfully able to convince the people and their criticisms continued. The general resigned during the Iraq crisis in 1991 when he said it wasn’t his mission.
The Pasha designated after him acted differently due to the army’s feelings of “exaggerated patriotism” and public pressure. He assumed “the dirty job” that politicians simply passed around. The cost of it was very heavy for him. Over the following three years the Turkish Armed Forces were able to take “the initiative” from the PKK after losing 3,200 soldiers at 17,000 terror events. As in every army, some “pashas” liked this situation. I could say that today the generals who would question why this is an issue undertaken by them has been increasing.
While the loss of security personnel is rising due to PKK attacks, the security environment is getting worse and the pressure of the public on the government is increasing. To calm down the public the government must find “bad guys” both within and outside the country. We know that Syria and Iran support the PKK and have citizens who are active members. Still, this is not enough to convince the public. It is necessary to find those responsible within the country as well.
Some people implicitly start to talk about the “inefficiency of soldiers” to the public. However, the situation is very different for soldiers now than in the old days. It seems that soldiers neither want to take responsibility nor have a tendency to have the image of “only being protector of the country.” Moreover, accusations of inefficiency appear to be insufficient in motivating them.
Although the silence of soldiers toward the Kurdish problem is a desired situation by the government, who wants to create control over the army with the civil authority, it seems that governors have no idea what the role of the soldiers should be against the PKK or how to go about planning civil-military cooperation.
It can be useful to explain the position of soldiers in the existing legal and administrative regulations with an example. Assume that you are a Hakari brigade commander. One day, you see a group of heavily armed PKK militants outside a fence close to the barracks where they are conducting reconnaissance. In this situation as a general, what you are supposed to do?
At the beginning do not think to start an operation or take initiative. It is expected for you to call the police or gendarmerie as a “sensitive citizen general.” If you do otherwise, you can dream of your retirement fishing days, you could go to jail or you could spent your pension for a lawyer to defend yourself.
You can think that is an exaggerated example, but I think it is a good example to understand the psychology of the Turkish Armed Forces.