Hard times for Turkish government

Hard times for Turkish government

Tomorrow, Aug. 23 will be the one-month anniversary since the latest wave of armed attacks from the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) started in the eastern province of Hakkari’s Şemdinli district, which borders Iran and Iraq.

Two members of the Turkish Parliament from two opposite fringe Turkish nationalist (Nationalist Movement Party-MHP) and Kurdish nationalist parties (Peace and Democracy Party-BDP) claim that the mountainous areas (some of them more than 3,000 meters high) of Şemdinli and Hakkari are no longer in full control of Turkish security forces. The bodyguards of Turkish Interior Minister İdris Naim Şahin had great difficulty in spiriting him away into a pastry shop to protect him from stone-throwing protesters as he wanted to visit Hakkari province center during the Eid al-Fitr Muslim religious holiday.

In the meantime, the PKK dealt punishing blows in areas not only along the Iraqi border. For example in Tunceli, further north, PKK militants kidnapped a left-wing member of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) just to show that they could. The PKK (actually one of its ghost organizations; the Kurdistan Falcons-TAK) also blew up a military service bus carrying soldiers to Turkey’s marine base in Foça in the western province of İzmir, killing two of them.

But PKK attacks have been concentrated in provinces bordering Iraq. In the north of Iraq, bordering Turkey and Iran, the PKK has long had its military bases under the Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) federal authority. Masoud Barzani, the president of the KRG, has promised Turkey for years now to halt the PKK’s attacks but has failed to exercise his power on them.

The issue is more sensitive for Turkey, especially after the breakout of the civil war in Syria more than a year ago. The PKK is well organized among Syrian Kurds, who live in the north of the country scattered in small pockets along the 910-kilometer Turkish border. Some of the PKK’s top militants are of Syrian Kurdish origin who have been supported by the Bashar al-Assad regime for decades to be used against Turkey as a trump just in case.

On the night of Aug. 20, a car bomb went off in a crowded area in the city center of the Turkish industrial town of Gaziantep by the Syrian border, killing nine civilians and wounding 68 – four of them were still in critical condition as these lines were typed off. A spokesmen from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) immediately raised the suspicion based on conventional links between the PKK and Syrian intelligence, the Mukhabarat. A PKK-linked news agency claimed that the PKK was not responsible for the Gaziantep attack, but there are not many people around to believe in what the PKK says, since they have lied number of times before in order to divert the first wave of reaction from society.

The opposition parties have been criticizing the Tayyip Erdoğan government for not doing enough to put an end to the conflict, which has claimed more than 40,000 lives in the last three decades. But the leaders of the CHP (Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu) and the MHP (Devlet Bahçeli) were quick to announce that they would attend the funerals of those killed in the car attack in Gaziantep, along with Prime Minister Erdoğan, to demonstrate solidarity against terrorism.

However, such a show of solidarity is a far cry from providing condolences for the Turkish government; as the fire in Syria grows, Ankara is more worried that it might burn Turkey more.