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Who Is Turkey Really Afraid of: Kurds or PKK?

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Mohammad Ali Dastmali
Expert on Turkey Affairs

The Operation Euphrates Shield and the support lent by Turkey to the Free Syrian Army in the northern Syrian town of Jarabulus proved that after the dust has settled from the failed coup attempt on July 15, Turkey is still zooming in on the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) as its foremost security priority. It also showed that Ankara is still trying to ground the disciples of the PKK’s jailed leader, Abdullah Ocalan, at the Grand National Assembly in Ankara and also in mountainous regions of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region and the common border between Iraq and Turkey, in urban and rural areas inside Turkey and in northern parts of the Syrian territory, thus to provide the ground for complete collapse of the PKK. This is exactly the same goal, which has been the most important security aspiration of Turkey’s leaders since four decades ago, but has never been realized. Of course, the ruling Justice and Development Party (also known as the AK Party by its Turkish name) is ready to stop a step short of this goal and suffice to greatly weakening of the PKK, if not annihilating it altogether; so weak that if peace talks began with any chance, the group would not have much of a bargaining power to demand big concessions.

During recent years, the Justice and Development Party had taken long strides toward reaching an agreement with the PKK and resolving problems facing Kurds, but following resurgence of the PKK’s violent measures and breach of promises given by Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, those efforts were mothballed and war and insecurity overshadowed the country once more. The difference, however is that at the present juncture, the PKK has lost a great deal of its combat and offensive capability and apart from planting bombs on the way of the military convoys – which at times even kill civilians as well – it has no other way to deal blows to Turkey’s government.

At the same time, Turkey is taking advantage of advanced equipment, including advanced aerial reconnaissance using satellite monitoring, unmanned aerial vehicles, and huge balloons equipped with special cameras while spreading its local security networks, which have allowed Ankara to have the upper hand in its fight with the PKK. On the other hand, the PKK has won itself a valuable trump card in northern Syria where, due to presence of the Daesh Takfiri terrorist group in Iraq and Syria, the leaders of the PKK have been able to earn relative support and trust of the United States, Europe and Russia.

Though this issue has not taken the PKK’s name out of the international list of terrorist groups, efforts made by the PKK’s affiliates such as the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its military arm, the People's Protection Units (YPG), to connect three dissociated Kurdish regions in the northern parts of Syria, that is, Jazira, Kobani and Afrin, and create an integrated Kurdish territory along the 900-km border between Turkey and Syria, have stirred serious concern within the Turkish government, and have especially worried Erdogan. The question is whether Turkey is concerned about establishment of a new Kurdish region along its southern border on the basis of classic border security considerations, or the problem is somewhere else? The answer is that the AK Party government’s interaction and cooperation with the Iraqi Kurdistan Region, special and new interests that Turkey is pursuing in its relations with the Iraqi Kurdistan Region, as well as certain new changes in the mentality of the AK Party, especially when it followed the views of the former prime minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, have helped Ankara not to be any more afraid of Kurds just because they are Kurds.

Let’s not forget that the former Kurdish spokesman of the AK Party, Hüseyin Çelik, announced in a visit to the Iraqi city of Erbil in 2012 that Turkey was not against the independence of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region. Of course, faced with pressures and protests from Baghdad and other places, Ankara was later forced to correct that remark, but in fact, what was expressed by Hüseyin Çelik can be better understood in relation to the previous remarks made by Nechervan Barzani, the prime minister of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region, who had said that in order for the Iraqi Kurdistan Region to achieve independence, it should at least get the support of a regional power.

Despite his young age, Nechervan Barzani is experienced enough to know that Iran will never accept this proposition and in order to make their wish for the establishment of an independent Kurdish region come true, the leaders of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region would have to appeal to Turkey and the United States. On the other hand, some symbolic steps taken by the leaders of the AK Party about language and identity of Kurds are all indicative of the reality that Turkey is only afraid of the PKK, not Kurds in general. In better words, if a new Kurdish region led by the Kurdish National Council (known as ENKS by its Kurdish name), which is close to president of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region, Massoud Barzani, was going to be established in northern Syria, Turkey would not be concerned about it. On the opposite, Ankara would have supported this option, because its leaders would know that they would have a big market in a Kurdish region in northern Syria and would be able to protect security of their borders through cooperation with the leaders of Kurdish parties close to Barzani.

From the viewpoint of the AK Party, the intellectual and ideological leaders of the PKK are more representative of a Stalinist and untrustworthy current than standing for Kurds and pursuing Kurdish demands. Perhaps it is for this reason that many leaders of the PKK are not willing to learn the Kurdish language despite the fact that the group is over 60 years old and many of its civil members such as Selahattin Demirtaş, leader of the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), cannot speak Kurdish. Also, when it comes to division of power and important party positions in Ankara, Kurdish regions, and all institutions affiliated with the PKK, the main share and power goes to leftist elements, not Kurds.

In conclusion, there is nothing that could be remotely described as hatred for Kurds and fear of the Kurdish identity in political, religious and secular mentality of the AK Party, but on the opposite, they believe that Kurds can be among the best allies and partners of Erdogan. The PKK, however, is considered by the AK Party as anarchist and not worthy of trust, which belongs to the same Communist leftist tradition whose followers have never had a good relationship with Islamist politicians.

Key WordsTurkey, Kurds, Jarabulus, Free Syrian Army, Syria, Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), Abdullah Ocalan, Justice and Development Party, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Daesh, US, Europe, Democratic Union Party (PYD), People's Protection Units (YPG), Iraqi Kurdistan Region, Ahmet Davutoglu, Nechervan Barzani, Kurdish National Council, Massoud Barzani, Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), Selahattin Demirtaş, Dastmali

More By Mohammad Ali Dastmali:

*Security Threats in Turkey: Which Is More Dangerous, PKK or Gulen?: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/Security-Threats-in-Turkey-Which-Is-More-Dangerous-PKK-or-Gulen-.htm

*Turkey’s Future Approaches to Kurds in Syria: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/Turkey-s-Future-Approaches-to-Kurds-in-Syria.htm

*Turkish Government’s Approach to Kurds following July 15 Coup Attempt: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/Turkish-Government-s-Approach-to-Kurds-following-July-15-Coup-Attempt.htm

*Photo Credit: Slideshare.net

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