The PKK has shot itself
The tragic terrorist attack last Saturday in Istanbul was claimed by the outlawed Kurdistan Freedom Falcons (TAK), a subgroup responsible for organizing the suicide attacks of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). As such, the PKK is the true perpetrator.
The timing of this suicide attack is quite meaningful, and was mainly determined by the transition period in the U.S.
For the last two years, the Barack Obama administration has been backing the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) as its ground force in its fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Syria. The group has been receiving strong support from Washington under the roof of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). Yet it is no longer possible to consider the YPG as a group separate from the PKK.
Their support base is not the only common ground between these two groups. Since the beginning of the Syrian war, the two have become increasingly interlaced. Today, the YPG not only provides the PKK with arms, but also with suicide bombers who are being trained in YPG camps in northern Syria. This is why Ankara has come to consider the PKK and YPG as the same terrorist organization.
Now Obama is handing over the reins to Donald Trump, but the newcomer’s prospective policy on Syria is still far from clear. It is up in the air as to whether he will continue the ongoing support to the YPG and how his Kurdish policy will take shape. This is exactly why the PKK has conducted such a major attack at this exact time. It is trying to do its best just before Obama leaves and Trump arrives.
Another factor with regard to the timing is that in the post-July 15 period, i.e., the coup attempt in Turkey, the Turkish army has been cleared of the Fethullahist Terror Organization (FETÖ) supporters, the perpetrators of the putsch. This in turn has strengthened the cooperation between the army, the police and the intelligence agency since – according to Ankara – FETÖ-affiliated soldiers had been refusing to hit PKK targets identified by the intelligence agency. As such, the fight against the PKK has become much harsher since then, which has greatly harmed the terrorist group. Now it seems to be trying to take revenge.
Another factor is Turkey’s ongoing operation in Syria. The Free Syrian Army (FSA), which is backed by the Turkish army, has been able to block the Syrian Kurds’ intention of unifying their cantons in northern Syria. This might have also triggered the PKK-YPG faction to take action vis-à-vis Turkey.
Last but not least, the fact that the Turkish Armed Forces have recently hit PKK camps and arsenals in northern Iraq might have also convinced the group to strike in Istanbul.
In short: The stronger the anti-PKK fight gets, the more it echoes inside Turkey. Moreover, this picture also shows that PKK terrorism cannot be marginalized as long as the YPG question remains unsolved in Syria.
Europe’s insensitivity is also playing a major role in terms of Turkey’s struggle with the PKK. The PKK has not only financial, but also organizational roots in some European countries. In addition, Ankara is also uneasy about the fact that the YPG is backed by some European countries as well. Belgium, France and Germany have all been specifically mentioned in Ankara. France has especially increased its support to the YPG as part of its anti-ISIL fight in the aftermath of the Paris attacks in November 2015.
This all – in turn – strengthens the PKK and leaves Turkey alone in its existential struggle.
It is also worth mentioning that the PKK has strategically made a huge historical mistake by conducting suicide attacks. As I wrote earlier, the U.S. is just about to begin a new phase. Trump could possibly continue his predecessor’s Kurdish policy for a certain period. Yet the PKK has minimized this possibility by resorting to suicide attacks. Moreover, it has also strengthened President Tayyip Erdoğan’s hands in his future negotiations with Washington. From now on, it will be more difficult for our NATO ally to continue its support for the YPG, a group which delivers arms to a terrorist organization conducting suicide bombings on our soil.
Thus by turning suicide attacks into its main tactic, the PKK has made its biggest strategic mistake so far. After all, terrorist organizations are also subject to a sort of scaling, the main criterion of which is suicide bombing. Accordingly terrorist groups which resort to suicide attacks are identified as the most radical and marginal ones. It is not without reason that both the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and Basque Homeland and Freedom (ETA) have stayed away from this kind of attack in Northern Ireland and Spain, respectively.
The PKK has marginalized itself which will unavoidably weaken the support it has been receiving from the West. This will also certainly reduce its base of support inside Turkey. All in all, turning a blind eye to the PKK has become an untenable case for all.