- Al-Monitor: the Pulse of the Middle East
Aleppo and the battles in Semdinli and Cukurova are under the spotlight. Turkey is supporting the Aleppo battle in a bid to overthrow the regime and turn Aleppo into a new Benghazi. For its part, the PKK is turning some southeastern regions in Turkey into a small Benghazi.
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Turkey’s conflict with the PKK in Semdinli is turning into a proxy war, uniting both Kurds and Iranians against Turkey, albeit for conflicting goals, writes Mohammad Noureddine. Turkey fears secessionist movements, but suppressing the PKK may backfire since it would go against Turkey's interests in Syria.
Publisher: As-Safir (Lebanon)
Hakkari for Aleppo: Turkey's Failure and Imaginary Power Contradiction
Author: Mohammad Noureddine
Published on: Tuesday, Aug 7, 2012
Translated On: Wednesday, Aug 8, 2012
Translator: Sami-Joe Abboud
The state seeking to change the Syrian regime and modify the map of the region is seemingly unable to protect some of its own territories. This is what can be concluded from the goals of the wide military campaign waged by the PKK in the Turkish regions at the Turkish-Iraqi-Iranian border. This campaign started about two weeks ago, when hundreds of fighters attacked the town of Semdinli in order to take control of it. The attacks then moved to the area of Cukurova, where several Turkish police stations have been attacked, resulting in the death of a large number of Turkish soldiers and dozens of Kurdish fighters.
Ankara announced on August 5 that eight soldiers and 14 Kurdish rebels were killed and 15 soldiers were injured as gunmen from the PKK attacked three army centers in a village in Hakkari province located on the Iraqi border.
In an interview with the A news channel, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan directly accused Syrian President Bashar al-Assad of supporting the PKK, vowing to cross the border and hit the Kurdish threat. He said, "One of our biggest concerns is the mass attempts at infiltration from the Qandil Mountains into our territory. 200 members of the PKK have recently tried to do so. And today, Assad is actively seeking to support the PKK to come down from the mountains of Qandil into the Turkish territory."
Erdogan added that the continuing threat coming from Syria will make us go beyond our border and carry out military operations," pointing out that "we are receiving news according to which Assad is playing his last game. Well, his end has drawn near.”
Many Turkish analysts, if not all of them, have established a link between the situation in Syria and the PKK's increasing operations. According to Fatih Altayli, editor-in-chief of the Habertürk daily, the Kurdish attacks are more than just an internal Turkish security issue, and they are rather linked to Turkey's failing foreign policy.
Altayli added that "Turkey's relations with all of its neighbors have suddenly slipped to zero.Terrorism criteria have changed. Serious problems are now plaguing Turkey and each of Syria and Israel. There is a problem with Iraq, and our relations with Iran are at their worst. The PKK started to move, relying on the support of Syria and other powers.”
Altayli continued, "It is naive to expect (the President of the Kurdistan region of Iraq) Massoud Barzani to fight with Turkey against the PKK,” adding that Barzani clearly wants to be the leader of the State of Greater Kurdistan.
According to Altayli, the "PKK attacks are not surprising. The Syrian intelligence has a very strong influence in the PKK, and this [influence] is also used by other intelligence services. And there are now leaks that part of the Turkish territory is witnessing geographic changes.
"Washington is pressuring and threatening Turkey regarding its relationship with Iran, which explains part of the deteriorating relations with Iran. Turkey has lost the possibility and ability to manage its issues with the countries of the region. The PKK's current situation is a failure for the Turkish foreign policy and has nothing to do with internal security," Altayli said.
According to Sedat Laciner, an expert on terrorism, the PKK wants to control a specific area in Turkey in order to establish self-rule.
"What is going on in Hakkari and Semdinli is linked to what is going on in Syria. Iran and Syria are accusing Turkey of sparking the Syrian events, and they want a Kurdish spring that would have a negative impact on Turkey. For his part, Bashar al-Assad believes that the Kurdish problem is the only way to stop Turkey. This is what Barzani and [Iraqi President Jalal] Talabani did during the occupation of Iraq; they supported the PKK, and so did Israel and the US. Anyone seeking to stop Turkey would opt for this choice," Laciner said.
Regarding Barzani's current position, Laciner said that "he is originally a Kurdish fanatic who wants a large Kurdish state and who has expansionist aspirations. He wants to unify the four parts of Kurdistan, but at the same time he is pragmatic, and knows exactly when to stand up and when to step forward. He cooperates with any player to achieve this goal." According to Laciner, the Turkmen card in Syria, Iraq and possibly Iran will have a larger share in Turkish foreign policy.
Fikret Bila, an reporter for the Milliyet daily newspaper, said that the PKK operations are aimed at dispersing the large Turkish military force massed on the Syrian border. These operations take Ankara to a new round in the Kurdish issue in Turkey.
Bila said that Syria wants the PKK operations to skew Turkey's attention from Aleppo and tell [Turkey] "look at Hakkari as well." For its part, the PKK wants to tell the world that the Arab Spring has reached Turkey.
According to Bila, the idea of a Greater Kurdistan gained greater seriousness when the PKK and its counterpart, the Democratic Union Party (PYD), took control of northern Syria. This gives the impression that parts of the Turkish territory may also be annexed to Greater Kurdistan.
She was surprised how the armed forces and officials were not publishing statements on the evolution of the military situation in Semdinli and Hakkari, which serves the PKK propaganda.
A commentary published by the Hurriyet daily newspaper said that "Looking back through history, we notice that the month of August witnesses intensification in the attacks because the army leadership appointments take place during that month, which practically leads to a void." Sixty percent of the attacks carried out by the party occur in the month of August. Moreover, the party is taking advantage of the Syrian developments in order to also call for the release of its leader Abdullah Ocalan from prison. But it should be noted that the issue could develop into an international problem.”
Sabah newspaper accused Assad of arming the PKK. "Upon the instructions of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Syrian intelligence handed last week 70 anti-aircraft missiles and rocket-propelled grenades to the PKK. These missiles have been used in the party's attacks on Cukurova yesterday, where eight people from the army were killed. Security sources said that after handing northern Syria to the PKK, Assad has decided to extend the party with weapons," the daily said.
As far as Turkish foreign policy is concerned, analysts remained critical, especially after the emergence of the Kurdish dimension in the Syrian equation. In this context, Semih Idiz wrote in the Milliyet daily that "the developments in the Middle East, especially in Syria, have been met with several viewpoints advanced by secular and Islamist intellectuals alike.
"This should be perceived positively. In fact, the circles of Foreign Minister (Ahmet Davutoglu) respond angrily to those who criticize their policies, especially when these critics are made by Islamic groups.”
According to an Islamist author, "there should be an internal consensus on any sound foreign policy, and if Turkey failed to ensure this, then it will not be able to achieve a correct foreign policy. For concrete examples, a Turkey which cannot solve its Kurdish or Alawite problems, is not reducing internal polarization nor soothing political tensions, is a Turkey deprived of sound foreign policy.”
Another Islamist author said: "The price that Ankara would pay as a result of its ties being cut with everyone will be expensive. Unlike its beliefs, Turkey is not the one to redefine the boundaries drawn by colonization after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. Turkey is witnessing a contradiction between its actual and imaginary power.”
In conclusion, there are growing views in Turkey according to which the Turkish foreign policy is not going in the right direction. The Government cannot disregard all of these matching Islamist and secular views. All of them are voicing concerns over the path taken by Turkish foreign policy.