Turkey, ISIS and the PKK.


The Kurdish–Turkish conflict is an armed conflict between the Republic of Turkey and various Kurdish insurgent groups that want a separate Kurdish nation or greater rights for Kurds in Turkey.  The main rebel group is the Kurdistan Workers’ Party or PKK (Kurdish: Partiya Karkerên Kurdistan).    The insurgency is mainly in southeastern Turkey and the Kurdish region in Iraq.   What follows is a very simplistic summary of the conflict.

The conflict between the Turks and the Kurds began in 1984.  Former French ambassador to Turkey Eric Rousseau estimated in addition to the 35,000 people killed in military campaigns, 17,500 were assassinated between 1984, when the conflict began, and 1998. An additional 1,000 people were reportedly assassinated in the first nine months of 1999. According to the Turkish press, the authors of these crimes, none of whom have been arrested, belong to groups of mercenaries working either directly or indirectly for the security agencies.

Since the 1970s, the European Court of Human Rights has condemned Turkey for the thousands of human rights abuses against Kurdish people.  The judgments are related to systematic executions of Kurdish civilians, forced recruitments, torturing, forced displacements, thousands of destroyed villages, arbitrary arrests, murdered and disappeared Kurdish journalists. The PKK was responsible for a number of civilian deaths, even though this number is lower than those perpetrated by the government. The number of total civilian deaths perpetrated by the PKK between 1989 and 1999 was determined as 1,205 by the independent Uppsala One-Sided Violence Dataset.

On December 29, 2012, Erdoğan said that the government was conducting negotiations with jailed rebel leader Abdullah Öcalan. Negotiations initially named as Solution Process (Çözüm Süreci).  Assassination of three Kurdish PKK administrators in Paris and the bombings of the Justice Ministry of Turkey and Erdoğan’s office at the Ak Party headquarters in Ankara nearly derailed the peace process.   But despite these attacks on March, 21 2013, a cease-fire that included disarmament and withdrawal from Turkish soil began the conclusion of the 30 year old conflict.

On April 23, 2013, the PKK announced that it would be withdrawing all its forces within Turkey to Northern Iraq.  Constitutional and legal changes towards the recognition of human rights of the Kurds starts simultaneously with withdrawal.

In October 2014, riots erupted in various cities in Turkey after ISIS sieged Kobane. The Kurds accused the Turkish government of supporting ISIS.The conflict between Turkey and PKK escalated following the 2015 Suruç bombing attack on progressive activists, which was blamed on a Turkish ISIL-affiliated group. Turkey bombed alleged PKK bases in Iraq and PYD bases in Syria’s Kurdish region Rojava, effectively ending the cease-fire.

Violence soon spread throughout Turkey. Many Kurdish businesses were destroyed and branches of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) were also attacked. There are reports of civilians being killed in several Kurdish-populated towns and villages. In the spring of 2016 the violence increased and in May, a Turkish Bell AH-1 SuperCobra helicopter was shot down by a PKK-fired Russian made MANPADS.

During the winter there is typically a lull in the violence.  But three conditions indicate that in the Spring of 2017 indicate that the violence may increase:  the deadlock in peace talks , polarised antagonists who believe a military solution is possible, and competition over northern Syria in which both sides are seeking maximum outcomes and competing for US support.

After the attempted coup in July 2016, the violence of PKK tactics increased with the use of  improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and kidnapping, assault and killing of political figures.   Ankara has matched the PKK’s ramp up in tactics, convinced that the group could be defeated militarily. “Ankara has declared an ‘all-out war’, intensifying military operations and advancing its domestic crackdown against alleged PKK supporters,” the ICG stated, citing the recent arrests of pro-Kurdish mayors, the closure of Kurdish media outlets, and the arrests of Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) lawmakers.

In 2016, Turkey suffered 18 major terror attacks, most of which were carried out by the PKK, its affiliate group, the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons (TAK), and ISIS.  In addition to its fight against the PKK and ISIS, Turkey has also, simultaneously, put forward a strong fight against the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front (DHKP-C), as well as the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ) which carried out the July 15 coup attempt.

In 2017, the Turkish government is expected to continue its offensive against the PKK locally and in its cross-border operations, which may include an expansion of cross-border operations into northern Iraq, to fight PKK targets, including the Qandil Mountains and Sinjar, in addition to the expansion of Operation Euphrates Shield into areas held by the PKK’s Syrian offshoot, the PYD, in northern Syria.

In his recent speeches, Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu has particularly voiced that 2017 will be the worst year yet for the PKK.

“I say clearly that these are their good days. After April, they will be surprised to see what is happening to them, as their end will come soon. We will decisively continue our fight during the winter,” Interior Minister Soylu said on Dec. 8, during his visit to the eastern Van province.

The PKK, distanced itself on the Reina New Years nightclub attack.  “No Kurdish forces have anything to do with this attack,” it said in a statement. “The Kurdish freedom fight is also the fight for democratization of Turkey. That’s why we won’t target innocent and civilian people.”

ISIS took responsibility for the bombing.

No end is in sight for the armed conflict between these three groups.




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