Where Words Fail. Why Kurdish PKK Strikes Risk All-Out War In Turkey
Op-Ed: A series of attacks by banned Kurdish separatist outfit PKK has left 29 Turkish security personnel dead, opening grave questions for Turkey’s future.
ISTANBUL - The deadly attacks staged by the increasingly restive PKK over the past two days present one of the most violent challenges the group has ever directed at Turkish leadership. The PKK, a banned Kurdish seperatist organization, has shown that it can target both the police and the military simultaneously, killing 29 security officers in nine separate attacks in southeast Turkey in a coordinated operation over the past three days that demonstrated its ability to operate in both cities and the countryside.
Once again, we are at a point where condemnations are insufficient, where words fail. At a time when countries like Egypt and Tunisia have shown that it is possible to make democratic gains without violence, the PKK is still bent on using violent means left over from a previous century.
It is clear that the PKK wants to test the limits of the Turkish people, and its leaders. They want to provoke further reaction within society, which could set off a hellish scenario of all-out war that includes fighting between ordinary Turks and Kurds.
These large-scale attacks also curtail the government's ability to maneuver. Even the smallest step taken now might be construed as giving in to terrorism, and so the government will likely have to act tougher. This will only lead to strengthening this vicious cycle and entrenching deadlock.
No matter how great our sorrow at these attacks, how devastating our sense of violation, we must not deviate from the path of reason or allow ourselves to be taken hostage by such a showdown. Our reaction shouldn't blind us to the fact that the tactics used up until now have not brought a solution. After fighting the PKK militarily for some 30 years, and diverting tremendous resources that could have been used for social welfare, Turkey is unfortunately back where it started.
Worse than the 90s
But there are new circumstances that make the situation now even harder than before. In the 1990s, when fighting went on in the southeast, life in western Turkey continued as normal. Still, the forced evacuation then of villages in the southeast resulted in hundreds of thousands of people migrating to the west. A significant proportion of the younger generations of these families sympathize with the PKK. This creates a fragile situation in the west that could set off conflict at any moment.
Another key difference from the 1990s is the presence of two distinct languages being spoken in the country regarding the ongoing conflict. Actions that are considered "terrorism" by a majority of society, as well as under international law, are seen as a legitimate means of struggle by a portion of Turkey's Kurds. PKK's jailed leader Abdullah Ocalan is seen as "the head of a terrorist organization" by most of society, but in some parts of the country he is loved, and still featured on posters at rallies.
This duality suggests that something in Turkey has snapped. It is not as easy as it was in the 90s to draw a line between PKK terrorism and the Kurdish problem. This makes a solution even harder. And we have to accept that continuing traditional methods as we have for the past 30 years doesn't appear to guarantee success either.
As far as Ankara is concerned, the strategy is to take advantage of America's withdrawal from Iraq at the end of the year to force the PKK out of their shelters in northern Iraq and squeeze them into a corner. In doing this, the calculation could be to strike a serious blow to the group, and force it into a weakened position at the negotiating table. But whichever calculation is being made, there is also a serious risk to social peace in the big cities that should not be underestimated.
If we truly want a solution to the Kurdish problem, we can only do it by moving beyond the framework we have been stuck in up until now.
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photo - SalamNews