Turkish government determined not to withdraw from PKK fight
Before starting a series of official meetings in Chile on Jan. 31, Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan told reporters covering his trip that “the people from the southeast” have been sending messages to Ankara that the fight against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) should “go on until the end.” He stressed that the government was resolved to see to this.
Erdoğan was talking about ongoing security operations in districts where the PKK had bid to impose “self-rule” surrounded by ditches and barricades with a heavy militia presence. The government’s response was to impose sweeping curfews in those districts and to send in heavy weapons to combat the militants. Only yesterday, on Feb. 1, five more soldiers were killed in the Sur district of central Diyarbakır by PKK militants using rocket and sniper fire, adding to the toll of hundreds of soldiers, policemen, militants and ordinary people caught between two fires. Buildings have been devastated and more than 100,000 people have fled for their lives from areas under PKK control.
The clashes and operations have concentrated on PKK strongholds in Sur, Cizre, Silopi and Nusaybin. Apart from Sur, all these districts are located in areas close to Turkey’s borders with Syria and Iraq. Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said over the weekend that the situation in Silopi was cooling down and the curfew had been partially lifted.
Not so in Sur and Cizre. Davutoğlu also said that in Sur alone, 11 tons of ammunition piled up by the PKK during the three-year-long peace process (now collapsed) with the government have so far been seized. Cizre has been a focus of attention recently with its “ambulance crisis,” and still no solution has been found to bring medical assistance to people reportedly wounded and stuck in a basement in a PKK-held neighborhood of the town. Government officials say it could be a “trap” set by the PKK, while the PKK refuses to let the ambulances come closer under military protection and has not transported the wounded to a point which ambulances can reach safely.
President Erdoğan made another assertive point when he said all weapons confiscated from the PKK in the months-long operations are “Russian-made.” The comment was in reference to Turkey’s ongoing crisis with Russia since a Turkish jet shot down a Russian jet on Nov. 24 after the latter ignored warnings about violating the Syrian-Turkish border. Turkey and NATO both reacted quickly to yet another airspace violation on Jan. 30.
Davutoğlu says the developments showed that the government decision to start operations against the PKK, once the group broke the dialogue and began carrying out acts of terrorism, was a “righteous” one.
A government official who asked not to be named also spoke to the Hürriyet Daily News about why the government “cannot stop operations” now. First, the official said, despite its heavy loses, the PKK would make “victory propaganda” out of any halting of operations by the state. Second, if the state was to withdraw now, it would be interpreted by the people in the region as a weakness and so they would never again believe that the government is capable of crushing the militants. Third, as it is possible that there can be no military solution to the Kurdish problem, the government has already been preparing for “consultations” to start another reconciliation process for a political solution - but only after the PKK terrorism is silenced.
This is the current mood in Ankara regarding the fight against the PKK and the tension in Turkey’s southeast.