Skip to main content

Kurdish Militant Attacks Escalate While Turkish Politicians Bicker

Attacks by Kurdish separatists in Turkey are becoming bolder and more frequent, but the government and opposition political parties appear to be at a loss as to how to curb the violence. Tulin Daloglu writes that all the Turkish political factions are using the PKK as a political football, blaming each other for supporting the PKK’s ideology.
Police forensic officers inspect the scene of a bombing near police vehicles in Istanbul March 1, 2012. A remote control bomb injured 10 police officers on Thursday as their vehicle passed close to the Istanbul headquarters of Turkey's ruling AK Party, Turkish police said. Istanbul police chief Huseyin Capkin said the device was placed on a motorcycle and set off by remote control as a police vehicle drove past, near the AK Party building and the offices of a conservative business association.   REUTERS/Osm

Attacks by Kurdish separatists in Turkey are becoming bolder and more frequent, but the government and opposition political parties appear to be at a loss as to how to curb the violence.

The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which launched its first attack against Turkey 28 years ago, kidnapped an elected member of the Turkish parliament for the first time on Aug. 12. Huseyin Aygun, a deputy from the chief opposition party, the Republican People's Party (CHP), was released after 48 hours and a public outcry about the abduction.

On Aug. 21 and Sept. 3, however, there were suicide bombings in Gaziantep and Beytussebap that killed nine and 10 Turkish soldiers, respectively. Altogether, Kurdish nationalist attacks on military posts have killed more than 80 soldiers since June.

While the goal of the PKK is separation from Turkey and the creation of an independent Kurdish homeland, the separatists lack the support of the majority of ethnically Kurdish citizens of Turkey and the violence has failed to spark a popular revolt.

At the same time, the Turkish parliament appears to have no clue how to bring an end to this conflict. Turkish officials can’t even agree on how to define the Kurdish issue or terrorism in connection with it.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan contradicts himself on the issue. In August 2005, he became the first Turkish leader to say out loud that there is a “Kurdish problem” in Turkey, and the first to address the Kurdish people without conflating them with the PKK. But in an interview Sept. 1 with a private television channel, Kanalturk, Erdogan said, “Turkey does not have a Kurdish issue, but a terror problem.”

Erdogan has blamed previous governments for not making better use of the 1999 imprisonment of PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, who was expelled by Syria when Turkey threatened to use military force. But Erdogan’s own record only adds to the hopelessness of the Turkish people, who fear that there is no end to the bloodshed in sight.

The CHP proposed in July the formation of a parliamentary committee and a "wise men’s council" to address the Kurdish issue. The ruling Justice and Development Party passed the ball to the party in parliament representing Turkish nationalists, the MHP, which, as expected, turned it down, arguing that the CHP was spreading PKK propaganda. 

As the PKK attacks on Turkish soldiers escalate, all the significant political factions and characters are using the PKK as a political football, blaming each other for supporting the PKK’s ideology. The CHP, however, has not accused other parties of abetting terrorism. Erdoğan has said that he does not believe Aygun was really kidnapped and that his brief detention was a stunt to gain publicity for the PKK.

The Peace and Democracy Party, the only Kurdish party in parliament, has intensified criticism of state policies. Its leader, Selahattin Demirtas, claimed recently that the PKK controls an area of 400 square kilometers (250 miles) around Semdinli, where heavy fighting has been taking place for the last few months and the Turkish military claims to have killed more than 300 PKK members.

Military records suggest that Turkish armed forces are becoming more vulnerable to PKK attacks. In 2002, when Erdogan was first elected to power, the military lost six soldiers to the PKK, compared to 180 so far this year.

Soldiers serving in the east who spoke to Al-Monitor on the condition that they not be identified said they feel demoralized for two reasons. One in five Turkish generals, as well as a former chief of general staff, has been jailed for political reasons — allegations of terrorism — by the Erdogan government. Serving military soldiers worry that if they execute orders and things go wrong, they will be blamed by politicians who are only concerned about saving face at a time of crisis and about securing votes for the next election.

A horrifying accident in Uludere on Dec. 28, 2011, stands as a prime example. Two Turkish F-16 jets fired on a group of villagers, acting on an intelligence report that they were PKK members crossing the border into Turkey. Thirty-four villagers were killed, but they turned out to be smugglers, not terrorists. The pilots of the jets were arrested and remain in custody as an investigation into the incident continues. In this political atmosphere, members of the Turkish military are uneager to go out on the field to fight because one mistake could end their careers or even turn them into political prisoners.

The sense is that all the political parties in the Turkish parliament will continue to blame each other for the escalating violence, thus encouraging the Kurds to be more vocal in seeking independence as revolutionary developments in the Arab world continue to have a viral effect all around the region.

Tulin Daloglu is a journalist and foreign-policy analyst based in Ankara, Turkey.

Join hundreds of Middle East professionals with Al-Monitor PRO.

Business and policy professionals use PRO to monitor the regional economy and improve their reports, memos and presentations. Try it for free and cancel anytime.

Already a Member? Sign in


The Middle East's Best Newsletters

Join over 50,000 readers who access our journalists dedicated newsletters, covering the top political, security, business and tech issues across the region each week.
Delivered straight to your inbox.


What's included:
Our Expertise

Free newsletters available:

  • The Takeaway & Week in Review
  • Middle East Minute (AM)
  • Daily Briefing (PM)
  • Business & Tech Briefing
  • Security Briefing
  • Gulf Briefing
  • Israel Briefing
  • Palestine Briefing
  • Turkey Briefing
  • Iraq Briefing

Premium Membership

Join the Middle East's most notable experts for premium memos, trend reports, live video Q&A, and intimate in-person events, each detailing exclusive insights on business and geopolitical trends shaping the region.

$25.00 / month
billed annually

Become Member Start with 1-week free trial
What's included:
Our Expertise AI-driven

Memos - premium analytical writing: actionable insights on markets and geopolitics.

Live Video Q&A - Hear from our top journalists and regional experts.

Special Events - Intimate in-person events with business & political VIPs.

Trend Reports - Deep dive analysis on market updates.

All premium Industry Newsletters - Monitor the Middle East's most important industries. Prioritize your target industries for weekly review:

  • Capital Markets & Private Equity
  • Venture Capital & Startups
  • Green Energy
  • Supply Chain
  • Sustainable Development
  • Leading Edge Technology
  • Oil & Gas
  • Real Estate & Construction
  • Banking

We also offer team plans. Please send an email to and we'll onboard your team.

Already a Member? Sign in

Turkey Briefing Turkey Briefing

Turkey Briefing

Top Turkey stories in your inbox each week

Trend Reports

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (4th R) attends a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping (3rd L) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on February 22, 2019. (Photo by HOW HWEE YOUNG / POOL / AFP) (Photo credit should read HOW HWEE YOUNG/AFP via Getty Images)

From roads to routers: The future of China-Middle East connectivity

A general view shows the solar plant in Uyayna, north of Riyadh, on March 29, 2018. - On March 27, Saudi announced a deal with Japan's SoftBank to build the world's biggest solar plant. (Photo by FAYEZ NURELDINE / AFP) (Photo credit should read FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP via Getty Images)

Regulations on Middle East renewable energy industry starting to take shape

Start your PRO membership today.

Join the Middle East's top business and policy professionals to access exclusive PRO insights today.

Join Al-Monitor PRO Start with 1-week free trial