Erdoğan’s iron fist, PKK, Syria and the EU

Erdoğan’s iron fist, PKK, Syria and the EU

Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan has said on March 16 that the “iron fist of the state in a velvet glove” would crush the heads of the terrorists. He was talking about the ongoing security operations against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

As Erdoğan was delivering this speech, there were reports from Yüksekova, a town at the Iranian border, showing another dimension of the clashes there. A number of local tribes had reportedly asked the government to give some time to the armed PKK militants there to go to Iraq, where the PKK has bases. The government in return asked them to surrender; it would not make sense to let the militants go to prepare another attack on Turkish targets in the near future. There are also clashes intensifying in and around Şırnak and Nusaybin, which is on the Syrian border, under continuing threats by the PKK to spread their actions across the country.

Erdoğan’s “iron fist” speech came a day after Interior Minister Efkan Ala’s statement that the bomber of the March 13 attack in the Turkish capital Ankara killing 37 people (two of them were terrorists, Erdoğan said) was a 24-year-old university student under trial for her involvement in PKK activities. A shadow organization for the PKK has claimed responsibility for the Feb. 17 attack which killed 29 people, again in Ankara.

But in the same speech Erdoğan has also said that the definition of “terror” should be redefined. He said that those praising terrorist organizations, or trying to justify their actions, whether they be academics or journalists, should be regarded as terrorists as well: “Those who are with us in the fight against terror are our friends; those who are not, are our enemies” he added. Erdoğan urged the government and the parliament to change the anti-terrorism law accordingly. On March 15, three academics from Istanbul’s Bosphorus University were arrested by a local court due to signing a petition asking the government to stop security operations at once for a solution to the Kurdish problem.

The same day, the Democratic Union Party (PYD), the PKK extension in Syria, has said that they were under preparations to claim autonomy as a part of a three-piece Syria; this would be “unacceptable” for Turkey, according to a government official.

Also on the same day, signals from the European Union have intensified regarding the crucial talks with Turkey scheduled to take place on March 18. Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu is expected to carry out negotiations with the EU leaders in Brussels about the new set of proposals he made regarding the control of the flow of the Syrian refugees into the EU countries and also reactivating Turkey’s membership process to the union. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on March 16 once again that, Turkey’s membership was not today’s issue but an “open ended” process, implying EU concerns regarding vise-free travel to Turkish citizens as more reports were filed about terrorist attacks and the anti-terror fight in Turkey. But to stay anchored to the EU is vital for the improvement of the democratic life in Turkey and the control of Syrian (and other refugees) is the number one domestic problem of the EU countries, as factors further complicating the picture.