Let me give you an insider’s scoop on the real motivation behind Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s recent accusations against German foundations, or rather German funds tied to the government, for indirectly funneling money to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), an organization labeled as a terrorist group by Turkey, the US and the EU, including Germany.
For one, Erdoğan’s remarks were a premeditated and calculated move and part of a carefully drafted strategy aimed to curb European backing, specifically Germany and Austria, for the PKK’s umbrella organization, the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK), also labeled as a terrorist organization more vicious than the PKK itself, according to long-time observers of Kurdish politics.
Some analysts who say that Erdoğan simply made a gaffe or blurted it out during a casual conversation with reporters onboard a government plane during a trip from Macedonia to Turkey are simply wrong in their assumptions. Our reporter in the prime minister’s entourage on the same plane believes Erdoğan intentionally injected the issue in the conversation without any specific question asked by reporters on the role of German funds. He said the prime minister appeared as if he had been pondering it for some time.
His real target was not the foundations per se but rather German funds tied to the government. In other words, what he was trying to say is that German government funds were being channeled to the terrorist organization using loopholes in the system and went to KCK and PKK-affiliated companies and organizations. The fund managers may not be accomplices in terrorism financing, but the real complaint was that when the issue was raised by the Turkish government on various occasions with German authorities, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government remained recalcitrant, elusive and at times, completely non-responsive.
Analysts made an error when they suggested that Erdoğan might have insinuated that the four foundations, namely Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung (KAS), Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES), Friedrich-Naumann-Stiftung für die Freiheit (FNF) and Heinrich Böll Stiftung (HBS) involved in money transfers to the PKK. No doubt that Turkish intelligence carefully monitors the activities of these foundations, as it should; but they are not in a position to funnel large sums of money to the PKK. There might be a grey area where these foundations may have aided and abetted PKK-affiliated organizations in southeastern Turkey with tools like project financing. I’m sure the government agencies know all about it.
The real target was actually two German funds that have long been operating in Turkey: Germany’s state-owned development bank, Kreditanstalt für Wiederaufbau (KfW), and the German sustainable development agency GIZ, formerly called GTZ. The indifference the German government has shown to Turkey’s demands for an explanation of financial transactions involving these two funds that were reported by banks seemed to have puzzled Erdoğan. He told reporters that he was not aware of any reasons why the Germans have been playing this game.
The allegations are certainly not unsubstantiated, and the government has tangible proof linking PKK operatives to the money provided by German funds. Though the funds were initially transferred through legal means and in compliance with government regulations, in the end some of it was diverted to the PKK and its affiliate organizations. The fact that there was no serious challenge by German officials to the Turkish prime minister’s accusations is another indication that Germans also believe they were caught with their hand in the cookie jar and that they do not want to aggravate situation. Erdoğan’s remark during the flight was simply a shot across the bow to warn the German government, and it looks like they got the message.
The second reason the prime minister attacked German funds was to take the wind out of political support against ongoing security operations against the KCK terrorist organization. It is no secret that German foundations as well as the German government are critical of arrests of what they call “Kurdish political activists” during sweeping operations against the KCK. Ankara believes it needs to root out the criminal enterprise and shadowy parallel government structure known as the KCK in the region in order to provide space for legitimate, peaceful and civilian Kurdish politics.
By putting Germany on notice and its foundations/funds on the defensive, Erdoğan was aiming at weakening the international backing for the KCK and its armed wing, the PKK. If Germany, the economic engine of the EU and home to the largest Kurdish community in Europe, takes the hint, others, like Austria and the Netherlands, will no doubt follow suit. I think it was a brilliant strategy and worked like a charm. It prompted German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle to announce in Ankara on Wednesday that his country is not tolerant of activities of the outlawed PKK in Europe and reiterated that Germany considers the PKK a terrorist organization.
The announcement came on the same day German authorities arrested a Turkish man on charges of belonging to the PKK. In a way, Germany has been trying to beef up its image that it will not support any terrorist organization, a move that was apparently directed to counterbalance the Turkish prime minister’s accusations. To get a hint of what the government has on illicit German activities on Turkish soil, you just need to look at the KCK indictment. It details numerous references to Germany and German-affiliated organizations in the KCK and PKK terrorist organizations. The public evidence is simply the tip of the iceberg of what would come out in the future if and when Turkish-German ties go further south.
Of course, moving on German foundations/funds in Turkey may possibly trigger a similar retaliatory move from the German side on Turkish organizations in Germany. However, unlike in Turkey, where civilians including Kurdish children and women have been slaughtered by the vicious terrorist organization, we do not see German citizens and security officers getting killed on daily basis. Hence Turkey has legitimate reasons to go after the terrorist network to ensure the security and safety of its citizens, and Germany, a NATO ally, needs to back Turkey up in its fight against terrorism.