A chilling and coordinated attack by Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) rebels that led to the death of at least 24 Turkish soldiers and wounded many others, sent shockwaves throughout Turkey.
Such was the determination for a harsh response that the Turkish army quickly launched a massive ground invasion of Kurdistan on yet another quest to defeat the rebels. “A large-scale land operation, backed by air strikes, has begun in five separate spots inside Turkey and across the border with 22 battalions,” the military general staff said in a statement.
Turkish president, Abdullah Gul had vowed “revenge” and a stern response under a watchful and enraged public eye. The harsh Turkish reprisal may benefit the PKK as it means a renewed straining of ties between Ankara and Erbil, places the Iraqi Kurds into a difficult corner, and simultaneously diminishes the chances of a political resolution to the Kurdish problem in Turkey.
The President of the Kurdistan Region, Massoud Barzani, strongly condemned the latest attacks while labeling the event as a “crime”. With Nechirvan Barzani already in Ankara, the common theme was to soothe Turkish tensions and reinforce brotherhood between Turkey and the Kurdistan Region. However, ultimately Ankara would not be swayed from its intent to show the PKK and possibly even Erbil just who calls the shots in the region.
Clashes between troops and rebels have intensified in the aftermath of the recent national elections in Turkey, resulting in significant aerial bombardment and shelling by Turkish forces in the border regions in recent months. However, the manner of the recent attacks, which coincided with the establishment of a committee to oversee the rewriting of the Turkish constitution, sent alarm bells ringing in Ankara and under a cloud of public anger forced the Turkish government to respond with strong measures.
The attacks by rebels resulted in the biggest military death toll since 1993 and were met with international wide condemnation.
As many political powers renewed their support for the Turkish quest to eradicate the rebels, there is a great danger that once again Turkey and its allies are overlooking the wider context of events. Such was the nature of the attack that none would expect Turkey remain idle but it is easy for foreign powers to look at this as an individual incident rather than with the framework that the issue deserves.
This is a deep-rooted, emotively-charged and bloody 27-year war that has cost in excess of 40,000 lives, billions of dollars, destruction of villages and caused immense mental scarring. This is the not the first attack and certainly not the last. History has clearly proved the limits of military power even for the second largest army in NATO.
As long as the Kurdish political actors in Turkey remain weak and the Kurds are deprived of real political representation, the PKK will continue to act as the default flag-bearer of the Kurds, even if it does not necessarily represent the greater will of the Kurdish population. The growing focus on PKK as the source of the Kurdish problem, and the ongoing energy consumed by the government to defeat the rebels as a way to overcome the Kurdish issue, places the Kurds in a difficult predicament.
The greater Kurdish population yearns for peace and not violence and is tired and frustrated from decades of political, social and economic handicaps that the ongoing conflict has caused.
Turkey has acted against the PKK and this is a natural retaliation for any government, however, it needs to urgently employ a dual approach whereby it also reassures the greater Kurdish population of the Turkish will for fraternity, to solve their age old Kurdish dilemma, that the democratic opening remains a priority and that the government does not intend to punish all Kurds for the actions of a few.
The era of violence in the pursuit of political goals has certainly diminished but Turkey must also prove that it has turned the page not just in words but also in practical steps.
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