Philippe Alfroy, AFP
Last updated: 26 September, 2012

Syria not to blame for surge in Turkey violence, says analysts

Turkey blames Syrian support for Kurdish separatists for an explosion of violence in the country, but some observers argue it springs from the state’s failure to reach a political solution.

Since June, Turkey has become the battleground of daily clashes between Turkish security forces and members of the outlawed Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK).

At the same time, the government has had to deal with the fallout from the conflict in Syria, just over its southern border.

Ankara has repeatedly accused Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime of being behind the sudden surge in violence inside its own territory. The suggestion is that Damascus has chosen to back the Kurdish separatists in retaliation for Turkey’s backing for the Syrian rebels.

But while the government shifts the blame for the escalating violence to Damascus, many analysts say that Turkey itself is responsible for the continuing violence of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

“The perception of the Turkish government is that the PKK is operating using the Syrian cadre,” said Emma Sinclair-Webb of Human Rights Watch.

But the PKK might simply be exploiting the power vacuum created after Turkish and Syrian cooperation against Kurdish separatists broke down as the relations between the two countries collapsed, said one anaylst.

“Turkey is now vulnerable to terrorism, that’s the consequence of what’s happening in Syria,” argued Hugh Pope of the International Crisis Group.

But he added: “If Turkey is vulnerable, its only solution is to put its house in order to make sure its Kurds are getting a fair deal.”

The political solution ran out of road when secret talks between the Turkish government and Kurdish rebels, led by Turkey’s National Intelligence Organisation (MIT) between 2009 and 2011, collapsed.

Both sides have responded by cranking up the violence.

Last week Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkish security forces had killed some “500 terrorists” in just a single month.

Those figures are impossible to verify. But in the days that followed, the PKK staged several ambushes that claimed the lives of 30 Turks in a single week.

“The guerillas had already warned they would intensify the war if negotiations with the government failed,” said Gulten Kisanak, the co-chair of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP).

Regardless of the situation in Syria, Turkey would have been confronted with these attacks, she argued.

The authorities have also taken their battle with the Kurdish activists to the courts. Thousands of people are in jail because of their suspected links to the KCK, the urban wing of the banned PKK.

Several deputies with Kisanak’s BDP also face losing their parliamentary immunity over a recent roadside meeting they held in the southeast with Kurdish rebels.

But for Sinclair-Webb at Human Rights Watch, this is not the solution.

“Solving things by security, by putting people in prison and solving it by military actions hasn’t worked in the past,” she argued.

“There’s a long lesson of history on that.”

Her comments referred to the bloodbath in Turkey’s Kurdish-majority southeast in the 1990s when Turkish troops launched an offensive to crush the rebellion, resulting in thousands of deaths.

By 2012, after nearly three decades of armed conflict since the PKK first took up arms in 1984 for autonomy within Turkish borders, the toll stands at more than 45,000.

For Sinclair-Webb, the recent surge in violence is simply the consequence of having abandoned the political route.

She argued that if the Turkish government wants any prospect of peace, it needs to commit to upholding the rights of Kurds.

“For us it’s key that they take steps to adress this misuse of terrorism laws, these prolonged internments,” she said.

Kisanak agreed: the only solution, she argued, was to respect the rights of Turkey’s Kurds — and to sit down at the negotiating table with the PKK.

“If negotiations are back on track, it won’t take long to silence guns,” she said.

“If the government chooses to go this way, the PKK will just have to do the same.”