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.