This is terrorism, not guerrilla warfare

This is terrorism, not guerrilla warfare

A terrible car bombing hit Gaziantep, one of Turkey’s prominent southeastern cities, the other day. Nine people, including a baby and two children, were burnt to death. Nearly 70 people were injured, some very seriously. And the whole country felt shocked, traumatized, and understandably angry.

So far, nobody has claimed responsibility for the attack. Moreover, the number-one suspect, the armed and outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), announced, “our forces have nothing to do with this incident.” But most terrorism experts still believe that the PKK is the most likely culprit, for a few reasons:

The apparent target was a police station, and it is all clear that the police forces in the southeast – where the PKK sees as its future “free Kurdistan” – are the PKK’s number-one target. Especially in the past decade, during which the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government and the police have been regarded as being in the same political camp, policemen in the southeast have been attacked even more frequently than the gendarmerie and other elements of the military.

The civilians who were killed or hurt during the bombing were probably “collateral damage.” They were not, in other words, the main target. But these civilian victims have created so much – and such justified – reaction across all of Turkey that the PKK might have shied away from claiming responsibility for this attack, which would be hard to justify even to its own base.

Another possibility is that the bombers could be a splinter group or cell within the PKK. A bit like al-Qaeda, after all, the PKK is not just an organization but also an ideology in arms. Moreover, splinter (and more radical) groups like the “Kurdistan Freedom Falcons” have in the past carried out and claimed similar urban bombings.

It is even possible, as most Turks believe, that such “splinter groups” are actually an integrated part of the PKK that does the dirtier job of the organization.

All in all, such attacks that kill innocent civilians – including an 18-month-old this time – cry out that the PKK is not just a “guerilla army,” but also a terrorist organization. Guerilla armies fight other armies, often regular ones, for a political cause. But terrorist organizations inflict terror on all of society, not caring about the sanctity of innocent human life. And the PKK has so much innocent blood on its hands, ranging from ordinary Turks to “traitor” Kurds, that it deserves to be defined as a terrorist group.

The tragedy is that not even guerilla warfare can find moral ground in today’s Turkey. Thirty years ago, when the PKK launched its violent campaign, this was a terribly authoritarian county which even banned the use of the Kurdish language, but now the same language is in public schools and on official TV channels. It is also free now to campaign for an autonomous or even free Kurdistan. The very ideology of the PKK is represented in the Turkish Parliament via the “Peace and Democracy Party,” whose deputies made the connection even clearer by literally hugging some of their beloved “guerillas” last week.

The PKK, in other words, has no justified reason to continue its violence, whereas the Turkish government is justified in its effort to break the PKK. I know that peace will probably never come without dialogue and agreement, but the PKK has to say a farewell to arms first. Then we can discuss everything, from general amnesty to autonomy for the southeast. But first, we should see no more deaths.