PKK: A pain in Erdoğan’s neck

PKK: A pain in Erdoğan’s neck

Not even 24 hours after Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan made a call to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), stating that if they laid down arms the military operations would stop and political dialogue would resume, PKK militants in the morning hours of Sept. 18 attacked with rockets a convoy carrying unarmed soldiers on their way back from leave near the eastern town of Bingöl. At the time the paper went into press 10 soldiers were being reported dead with 60 others wounded. Two days ago on Sept. 16 militants attacked another vehicle, killing eight policemen in an incident that also took place around the mountainous areas of Bingöl.

Erdoğan called Chief of the Turkish General Staff Gen. Necdet Özel for an emergency meeting on the counter-terrorist campaign currently underway against the PKK in the regions bordering Iran and Iraq since July. Gen. Özel had talks with Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chief of the U.S. Joint Staff on regional security issues including Syria and terrorism; the PKK and Al-Qaeda were on the discussion table according to official sources that spoke to the Hürriyet Daily News. The United States has promised Turkey it will share aerial intelligence about PKK activities near main military bases in the north of Iraq, an area under the control of the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG); but Turks ask for more and more short notice intelligence from the U.S.

The latest attack reminded me of a similar one back in 1993 when 33 unarmed soldiers on leave were ambushed and killed by PKK militants, breaking a cease-fire and hopes of peace that the leader of the Iraqi Kurdistan Patriotic Union (PUK), incumbent President of Iraq Jalal Talabani was then mediating.

The similarity of the events shows how little distance has been gained toward finding a solution to the Kurdish problem in Turkey since, despite the opportunity arising with the arrest and life imprisonment of the group’s founding leader Abdullah Öcalan in 1999. In the armed campaign, started by the PKK in 1984 for an independent Kurdish state carved out of Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria, more than 40,000 people have been killed so far.

The PKK has escalated its attack since the escalation of the civil war in Syria, where the PKK had their headquarters since 1998 until Öcalan was expelled upon pressure from Turkey. But the resume of wide scale attacks came right after the July 2011 elections in Turkey. That coincided with the collapse of secret talks between the Turkish National Intelligence Organization (MİT) officers - directly under Erdoğan’s command - and PKK officials. These talks had been going on since the government had announced a ‘Kurdish opening’ in 2009. Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputy chairman Haluk Koç revealed a text yesterday, claiming it was the secret -and failed- agreement between the PKK and the Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) government.

As public opinion becomes more upset as news of fallen soldiers, policemen and civilians increase in the news, Erdoğan becomes more and more angry as well. As the political tension in the whole neighborhood gets tenser, the PKK problem in parallel to the Kurdish issue becomes a bigger pain in Erdoğan’s neck.