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Turkey

Syrian Conflict Spills Out Into Turkey As PKK Ups The Ante

A PKK militant
A PKK militant
Delphine Nerbollier

ISTANBUL - For the first time in Turkey’s history, the Kurdish armed group PPK (Kurdistan Workers' Party) has kidnapped a Turkish lawmaker.

Hüseyin Aygün, an MP for the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) was kidnapped last Sunday in the eastern province of Tunceli. PKK has claimed responsibility for the abduction and has promised to free the lawmaker "in a few days." The group has warned Ankara that it would be in the hostage’s best interest to put an end to the military operations it launched after the abduction.

Not only does this kidnapping put the spotlight on the PKK – which is listed as a terrorist organization by both Brussels and Washington - but it has also confirmed a change in the Kurdish armed group’s strategy these past few months. Abductions of civilians (mayors, workers, teachers, civil servants) and soldiers by the group have increased. Last Monday, the PKK kidnapped eleven truck divers in Hakkâri. Out of the 156 people abducted last year, 37 are still held captive while the rest were freed without the army’s intervention.

In July, the PKK military committee announced another crucial change in strategy: the Kurdish group will no longer fight using hit and runs, preferring instead a policy of regional control. This is exactly what has been happening for the past three weeks in Åžemdinli, in the south east of the country. On July 21, PKK members conducted identity checks before challenging the army. According to Ankara, the operation – in which 300 PKK fighters faced more than 2,000 Turkish soldiers - has officially ended. However, local sources deny this version and claim that although the situation is at a stalemate, PKK forces have not yet retreated.

New wave of violence

The Kurdish organization praised itself for putting the first phase of its new strategy into action and confirmed having launched its second phase with the simultaneous attack of three military bases in the nearby town of Çukurca on August 4. A few days later, a military convoy was struck by a bomb in Foca, western Turkey.

This new wave of violence can be explained by the fact that the group is about to celebrate the 28th anniversary of the PKK’s uprising on August 15. Yet it also shows that the group is determined to strengthen its grasp over the region after the recent attempts to find a pacifist solution led by charismatic Kurdish MP Leyla Zana failed in June.

However, Ankara believes that this renewed violence is linked to the current events in Syria, fuelled by the fact that the Democratic Union Party (PYD)- the Syrian arm of the PKK – has managed to gain control in the north. Last week, Turkish daily newspaper Zaman reported that Damas had released 1,200 PKK prisoners, according to a member of the Hama Syrian Revolutionary Comitee who fled to Turkey.

Fearing the establishment of an autonomous Kurdish province in Syria, Turkey Prime Minister Recep Tayyip ErdoÄŸan has started to speak out. Saying that safety issues in Semdinli are closely linked to the situation in Damascus, ErdoÄŸan has threatened to carry cross-border military operations to get rid of PKK members.

Washington also takes “this PKK threat” very seriously. During a visit to Istanbul last Saturday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the U.S. was worried about the presence of terrorists from the PKK and Al Qaeda in Syria who are “taking advantage of the legitimate fight of the Syrian people for their freedom."

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