Whose heads will roll after ‘Apoleaks’?
The Ankara visit of the new U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry took place on an interesting day.
March 1 was the 10th anniversary of the Turkish Parliament’s turning down of a motion by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) to let U.S. troops use Turkish territory to open a northern front for the invasion of Iraq. The motion was turned down by the votes of a third of the AK Parti MPs, including at least four ministers who had actually signed the motion; all of them lost their Cabinet seats afterwards.
A while after the rejection of the motion, U.S. troops raided the communications headquarters of Turkish special forces in Sulaymaniyah in the Kurdish region of Iraq on July 4, arrested and deported them. Turkish-American relations hit rock bottom there and then. All Turkish army officers somehow on duty that day, from bottom to top, were either demoted or retired afterwards.
That was also a turning point for the activities of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which had been pacified following the arrest of its leader Abdullah Öcalan in an operation initiated by the CIA, together with the Turkish intelligence MİT back in 1999. As Turkish soldiers were kicked out of Iraq by the Americans, the PKK re-activated itself and started to strike bloody blows against Turkish targets from its bases in Iraq.
Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan managed to mend the bridges with the U.S. over the last 10 years. In 2007, after proving his power against the Turkish military’s bad habit of intervening in politics and increasing his vote support, he secured a promise from the White House for intelligence support against the PKK. In 2010, the year that Turkish-Israeli relations also hit rock bottom as Israel declined to apologize over the killing of nine Turkish citizens trying to break the embargo on Palestinian Gaza, Erdoğan agreed to host NATO-operated U.S. early warning radars for the global Missile Shield project; with official rejections that it was neither against Russia nor Iran in particular. In 2012, Erdoğan was named one of five close partners of U.S. President Barack Obama, who approved the deployment of Patriot air defense batteries to Turkey (together with Germany and the Netherlands) against possible attacks from Syria. There are some problems like press freedom and judicial quality issues in between, as well as relations with Israel, but there is no sign showing that Erdoğan is no longer a buddy of the re-elected Obama.
But Kerry’s visit to Ankara was hijacked by another issue. It is neither a surprise nor should be a coincidence that it is an issue combining Syria, Iraq and terrorism together: the PKK talks initiated by Erdoğan via the MİT.
The day before Kerry’s visit, Turkish daily Milliyet ran a story giving some details of the talks between three MPs of the Kurdish problem-focused Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), sharing the same grassroots with the PKK and Öcalan who is in the island prison of İmralı under government supervision. As quoted in the story, Öcalan, with all the anger he had accumulated as a man living in a room of slightly more than 11 square meters for the last 14 years, dictated to MPs what to say to the PKK, told them what the government and what Parliament should do regarding the new Constitution and threatened the government and people with an even fiercer armed campaign (which has claimed some 40,000 lives in the last 30 years) in a tone as if he holds all the ropes in his hands.
That put Prime Minister Erdoğan in a difficult position regarding the opposition and actually within his own party. There are statements from government members that the text did not represent the whole of the talk on Feb. 23 in İmralı, but they are not very convincing. And on the day that the story appeared in Milliyet, the deputies were supposed to deliver letters by Öcalan to PKK officials in Europe and Iraq, again under the knowledge of the MİT and Erdoğan.
As if that much of coincidence was not enough, there are different voices regarding the leak, labeled “Apoleaks” by daily Hürriyet in reference to Wikileaks and Öcalan’s nickname, “Apo.” İdris Baluken, a spokesman for the BDP called the leaks a sabotage of the talks, while Pervin Buldan, who actually was among the MPs who visited Öcalan, defined them as “transparent.”
Now all eyes are on Erdoğan. As he waves goodbye to Kerry, with some moral support and wishes of good luck on the issue, he might take new steps to convince the public in general, the opposition and his own party for the continuation of his efforts for a political solution to the Kurdish problem. In the meantime, some heads might roll and not necessarily only from the government side. It's a time worth watching developments in Turkey closely.