A better way for Turkey to tackle the PKK
Several aspects of the Feb. 10 Turkish military operation 35 kilometers inside Iraqi territory in the Gara Mountain are still the subject of heated debate.
The mission was launched to achieve several goals. One was to uproot the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) from its entrenched position in northeastern Iraq. Another was to gain control of the corridor the PKK uses to transfer its fighters from northern Iraq to northern Syria. The third was to liberate more than a dozen hostages that the PKK was holding as a bargaining chip in an attempt to liberate some of the terrorists held in Turkish prisons.
The hostages were kidnapped in 2015 and 2016 and held since then by the PKK. Some were allowed to write to their families, imploring them to push the Turkish government to do something for them. The families spent days in the corridors of the Turkish parliament building. Some opposition parties received the parents, listened to their complaints and used parliamentary mechanisms to put questions to government ministers, but nothing concrete was achieved.
Turkey launched the operation after it obtained intelligence that some hostages had been transferred to a cave in the Gara Mountain that had been transformed into a military headquarters by the PKK. A major operation was decided on, involving 41 fighter aircraft together with tanker aircraft, early warning aircraft, helicopters and armed and unarmed drones. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was so confident of a successful outcome that, a few days before the operation, he publicly declared that he would soon have good news to disclose.
The operation started at 4.55 a.m. on Feb. 10. After heavy bombardment that lasted several hours, the Turkish army was led to the conclusion that the area was safe for a land operation, so it lowered commandos from helicopters into the area around the cave. However, the PKK put up fierce resistance. A captain of the Turkish army, a lieutenant and a sergeant were killed and three soldiers were wounded.
Many analysts claimed that the Turkish army should have reassessed the situation at that stage and asked itself the question: If the hostages are still alive, should we negotiate a deal with the PKK and liberate them unharmed in exchange for a cease-fire? Apparently the government decided not to negotiate with a terrorist organization and the clashes continued until the army was able to penetrate the hideout and discover the bodies of the hostages.
The cost of fighting the PKK should perhaps push the Turkish decision-makers to consider other methods of bringing an end to the Kurdish terrorism issue.
The father of one of the slain hostages said he received calls from Belgium and the Netherlands — apparently from PKK supporters — claiming that his son was not killed by the PKK but died as a result of the bombing by the Turkish army. But he added that he was shown his son’s body and saw that he was in fact shot at close range. A persuasive forensic report on the bodies of all victims has yet to be disclosed by the government.
The entire Turkish nation was left angry over the cold-blooded killing of 13 defenseless hostages. The anger has not yet entirely subsided.
There have been cases in the past in which hostages were released in exchange for concessions. In a slightly different case during the week of the Gara operation, Ankara negotiated with Nigerian terrorists who had kidnapped 15 Turkish seamen off the West African coast, and secured their release.
Kurdish terrorism is draining Turkey’s resources. More than 15,000 people are believed to have been killed in the past 35 years as a result of terrorist attacks. And Numan Kurtulmus, deputy chairman of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), estimated the economic cost of PKK terror to Turkey as $2 trillion. This exorbitant figure should perhaps push the Turkish decision-makers to consider other methods of bringing an end to the Kurdish terrorism issue.
In 2015, Erdogan launched an initiative dubbed the “Kurdish (or Democratic) Opening.” But when the pro-Kurdish People’s Democracy Party won 81 seats in the June 2015 elections and became the third-largest party in parliament, Erdogan stepped back and the “Kurdish Opening” was forgotten for good.
If Turkey ultimately decides to genuinely translate into action the democratic and judicial reforms it has started to voice lately, all ethnic groups in the country, including Turks, Kurds and Circassians, will benefit. The social tensions that have been steadily rising may be defused and the country may go back to what it used to be in the early years of AKP rule.
- Yasar Yakis is a former foreign minister of Turkey and founding member of the ruling AK Party. Twitter: @yakis_yasar