The Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) terror campaign is once again on the rise in Turkey but this time is an act of desperation stemming from the fear of losing support among Kurdish people as well as from the fear of international isolation. Despite the government-launched initiative to secure broader rights for Kurds in Turkey, the violence the PKK is engaged in aims to bring chaos back to the region as seen in the ’80s and ’90s, during which the heavy-handed approach of the Turkish state made the situation worse than ever.
This time the government seem to be acting with a much cooler head, staying away from the trap of a vicious circle of violence. That does not mean the growing public outrage will subside any time soon, however. Moreover, the opposition parties are poised to take advantage of the bitter news of the soldiers who were killed during PKK raids. A prime example was the leader of the nationalist party calling for an early election and emergency rule in the Southeast after the deaths of nine soldiers.
The ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) is not the only one who will be hammered down during this process. There is possibly an international cause for the PKK’s reign of terror as well. Just as on the day following the deadly attack in Şemdinli, which claimed the lives of nine Turkish soldiers, we have seen numerous reports in the Turkish press pointing the finger at allies including the US, the EU and Israel. Though Turkish officials dismiss reports of international involvement from close allies in PKK terrorism, the conspiracy theories have already started to take a toll on the popularity of these countries in the eyes of Turks on the street.
I believe the PKK is trying to score multiple points with the increased violence, both on the domestic front and abroad. Our allies should come out stronger than ever to condemn these terror attacks and offer substantive support in stemming the violence. They ought to use all available avenues to corner the PKK and its affiliates into giving up their terrorist methods. Complacency and the unwillingness to act on the PKK network will add credibility to these unsubstantiated reports appearing here and there. Alarmingly these news stories don’t only make it onto fringe sites but also appear in mainstream papers as well.
The US, whose popularity is low in Turkey, is a prime target, of course. These groups have capitalized on the news of the last-minute cancellation of the meeting between Turkish and American officials on June 16 over terrorism. We have seen reports recently that real-time actionable intelligence sharing does not really help the Turkish military fight the terrorists because of the time delay and the filtering mechanism. After the PKK attack on Sunday, some experts accused the US of not sharing information with Turkey on groups gathering around the border to prepare for the raid.
Whether these accounts are true or not, it succeeds in portraying the image that the US is somehow involved in supporting PKK terror in Turkey. The only way to counter these claims is to speak out on these issues and offer credible details on the cooperative framework. I remember interviewing Shari Villarosa, deputy coordinator for regional affairs in the State Department’s Counterterrorism Office back in March at the residence of Douglas Silliman, the deputy chief of mission at the US Embassy in Ankara. She provided an account of how the US had played a key role in a recent wave of arrests targeting PKK-affiliated businesses in France, Belgium, Italy and Germany.
Villarosa acknowledged that the US strongly urged Europeans to take action against the PKK. “We encouraged more cooperation between Turkish and European legal officials, prosecutors and law enforcement people. We can claim [some] credit for helping bring people together with positive results,” she said during the interview. Her comments of putting the PKK out of business like Al Capone made the headlines in Turkey at the time. US officials should organize more information-sharing events like these.
Israel is, of course, the usual suspect. Stories about secret Mossad involvement have already resurfaced in some media outlets. The timing could not be worse as it coincided with soured relations with Israel over the flotilla raid that killed nine Turks in international waters. Although the Turkish army dismissed speculation on Friday about possible Israeli involvement in the PKK attacks and the stories lacked credible evidence, the rumor machine continues to operate, making damage control by Israeli PR officials even more difficult.
News of a malfunction in Israeli-made unmanned spy drones and the withdrawal of Israeli trainers from Turkey added fuel to these speculations. I think Israel should act in haste in patching up relations with Turkey over the flotilla crisis before speculation on aiding and abetting PKK terrorism starts eating away at the core of relations as well.
The EU may also be a cause for the increased violence of the PKK. It is no secret that some people in Turkey strongly believe that the EU wants to dismember Turkey, starting with the Kurdish south. These rumors are being spread by the anti-EU movement, which is gaining ground at the expense of pro-EU circles. The EU recognized the PKK as a terrorist organization in 2002 after 20 years of bloody attacks the PKK had waged against Turkey. Only recently we have seen European countries taking steps against PKK-funded organizations in Europe.
These operations are not as in depth as Turkey would like them to be, and they do not aim to completely eradicate the PKK from the countries that shield them. They were aimed to neutralize a threat the PKK poses to internal security in these countries after the EU realized that the PKK was not only a terrorist organization but also a group that smuggled drugs, people and weapons and created instability in their own countries as well.
If our allies value the image and perception of themselves in Turkey, this is the time to speak up and act against the PKK and its affiliates. It will help significantly to reduce the impact of unsubstantiated rumors on Turkish citizens.