Turkey’s Erdoğan signals a harder line

Turkey’s Erdoğan signals a harder line

“We will make them pay dearly” Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan vowed in a speech in eastern Turkey’s Bayburt province yesterday. “Like they paid for what they did in Bingöl, they will pay more in future,” he added.

He was talking about a clash between the security forces and a group of Kurdish militants on Oct. 9 in another eastern city of Bingöl. Following a call by the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), which focuses on the Kurdish problem, to end the violence-infected protest demonstrations against the government, the police chief of the city was attacked with gunfire in the downtown part of the city. He was heavily wounded and two of his deputies were killed. During the hot pursuit, the security forces killed four militants in a car while they were trying to escape with their guns; one of them turned out to be a civilian government employee.

The government accuses the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) of being behind the attack, despite the ongoing peace talks that have continued for the last two years. The outlawed Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK), the front organization of the PKK, said it was not their militants, with mixed signals from the PKK. Cemil Bayık, a leading figure of the PKK, who is based in the Kandil Mountains of Iraq, issued a statement on Oct. 11 that the PKK has started to send their “guerillas” back into Turkey, whom they had “withdrawn” in the earlier phases of the dialogue.

The violence-infected protests, which caused the death of 37 people, last week were against Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu’s stance regarding the Kurdish-populated Syrian town of Kobane (Ayn al-Arab) near the Turkish border and is under attack by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

Syrian Kurds in line with the PKK demand the Turkish military to help against ISIL, including heavy weaponry, like anti-tank rockets and a corridor enabling their fighters from other regions to enter Kobane through Turkey. The Turkish government has already received some 150,000 refugees from Kobane, almost the entire population of the city, provides some humanitarian assistance, masses troops along the border, but refuses to involve in military terms, linking it with a general agreement with the U.S.-led coalition against ISIL, not to exclude the fight against the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria. (Russia and Iran issue daily warnings that Turkey should not intervene.)

President Erdoğan’s remarks came right after those developments, plus a Turkey-U.S. agreement about training and equipping the “moderate” Syrian opposition. A day before, on Oct. 11, Erdoğan also said there will be new and stricter measures to fight with the “vandals on the streets,” and are expected to be brought to Parliament this week.

Erdoğan signals that there could be more security measures if the PKK resumes its armed campaign as the country is heading for a parliamentary election scheduled for June 2015. Such a hardening in security policies in relation with the Kurdish problem could not only break the peace dialogue, but could mean a harder line in Turkey’s foreign relations as well.