The PKK lost the credit it gained in Syria with war in Turkey
Ever since armed conflict between Turkish government forces and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) resumed last summer, I have been puzzled about one thing in particular: The reaction in Europe and the reaction in the Kurdish community both here and abroad.
A tremendously violent conflict has been taking place in Turkey’s southeast for the past year. There have been curfews lasting for weeks. It has not been possible to do proper reporting most of the time, meaning that the public has been left in the dark about what has really been happening in the conflict zones.
As a journalist witnessing the dark days of the 1990s, when the bloody fight against the PKK was at its peak, half of my reporting was dedicated to covering reactions mainly from Europe, and Turkish diplomacy’s efforts to weather the storm of criticism. European governments, European institutions, political parties and NGOs were often up in arms about rights violations that took place during the fight against PKK terror.
While the current situation is nowhere comparable to that of the 1990s, I am still puzzled at the quite insignificant level of reaction against Turkish acts.
This can probably be explained by several factors. First of all, 9/11 was a turning point in terms of the approach toward terrorism. The balance between providing security and securing rights shifted toward the former. The more European capitals were exposed to terrorist attacks, the more they become intolerant of armed conflict, regardless of the reason that lead to arms being resorted to.
Secondly, as I was told by an EU diplomat, foreign observers are well aware of the fact that - independent of the debate about which side ended the ceasefire - the PKK did not waste the occasion to resume the conflict. European circles are well aware that the PKK’s leadership in the mountains became extremely unhappy with the electoral success of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and resorted to what it knows the best – terrorism - in order to sideline the political movement.
Besides the fear of losing ground to a political movement, the PKK had also certainly gained confidence after proving to be the only effective armed group on the ground fighting against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). While the U.S and its allies does not want to admit openly that the PYG, with which they are cooperating, is the PKK’s Syrian arm, I have not come across any statement from Washington - or any other capital - that there is no link whatsoever between the two. On the contrary, even U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter admitted at a recent Senate hearing that there was a link between the two groups.
As a result, as one Turkish official told me, the PKK has lost the credit it gained on the anti-ISIL front through the fight it has waged against Turkey.
The silence among the Kurdish community
Meanwhile, I have been equally surprised at the lack of reaction of Kurdish communities to recent developments - especially those living abroad. The majority of Kurds living abroad are politically motivated and well-organized. Under normal circumstances, they would have camped outside Turkish embassies and other Turkish diplomatic missions, as well as international institutions, demonstrating day and night to put a spotlight on the fight in the southeast.
Part of it can be explained by the fact that due to the general threat of terrorism they find it difficult to hold such protests, which are no longer welcomed by local authorities.
But I believe that I am not the only one to think that many Kurds - including those who have been sympathizers of the PKK - are disappointed in the terror organization that they have until now glorified. The PKK has not given peace a chance. I think this sentiment is shared by politically motivated Kurds living in Turkey’s Western urban centers.
So where does all this lead us?
While the PKK is currently on the retreat from the Turkish front, its Syrian wind is pushing back ISIL with the backing of its U.S. and European allies. The moment ISIL ceases to be an imminent threat to Western interests, this tactical cooperation will probably end. But the question is: Will the ISIL threat ever weaken? If it is, then pressure on both Turkey and the PKK to resume peace talks will increase.
A resumption of talks, however, does not only depend on regional circumstances. It is also linked to the personal career plans of this country’s president.