Since late October, when the Turkish government first threatened to launch a military operation against camps belonging to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in northern Iraq, rarely a day has passed without the Turkish media reporting military movements close to the Turkish-Iraqi border in apparent preparation for an imminent incursion. But Turkish nationalists have recently become increasingly frustrated at the failure of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) to take action. There is now a real danger that the government might be stampeded into ordering a military strike just to satisfy public expectations.
Yesterday (November 19), the Turkish media reported that a unit of 400 commandos had been deployed to the Turkish-Iraqi border amid speculation that they would be used in what is expected to be a series of limited military strikes against PKK positions rather than a full-scale invasion of northern Iraq (Dogan Haber Ajansi, November 19). However, the news did little to placate Deniz Baykal, the chairman of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), who has repeatedly warned the AKP that it has to launch decisive military action or risk Turkey losing its international credibility (Radikal, November 18, CNNTurk, November 19).
Baykal’s bellicose rhetoric has forced the AKP onto the defensive. On November 18, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan condemned Public Prosecutor Abdurrahman Yalcinkaya’s application for the closure of the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party (DTP) (see EDM, November 19), saying that Kurds should be encouraged to participate in the political process rather than join the PKK in the mountains (Radikal, November 18). Baykal responded by claiming that Erdogan was advocating a general amnesty for PKK militants, in which they would be allowed to participate in politics in return for laying down their arms (Milliyet, Sabah, Zaman, Hurriyet, November 20). Sources close to the PKK have long insisted that a general amnesty for lower-ranking members of the organization would result in mass defections. Nevertheless, government spokesman Cemil Cicek yesterday (November 19) announced that the AKP had no plans to declare an amnesty and was as determined as ever to combat the PKK (Hurriyet, Milliyet, Vatan, Radikal, Sabah, November 20).
Although there is little doubt that such a hard-line stance accurately reflects the mood of a substantial proportion of the Turkish population, liberal commentators have been expressing their frustration at the authorities’ failure to even contemplate a new solution to a decades-old problem. In his column in the center-right daily Posta, Mehmet Ali Birand complained that Turkey was so busy attacking the PKK and the DTP that it was failing to tackle the Kurdish problem (Posta, November 20).
The liberal daily Radikal, which is popular with intellectuals but has a total circulation of only 40,000-45,000 in a country with a population of around 73 million, commented that military action, the closure of pro-Kurdish political parties and the suppression of Kurdish culture had all been tried repeatedly in the past, but that none had provided a solution. It noted that, when he presented the dossier calling for the DTP’s closure to the Constitutional Court on November 16, Yalcinkaya appeared to have been so keen to outlaw the party that he failed to notice that he had included Fevzi Kara among the list of 221 DTP members who should be banned from political activities for the next five years; Kara died from lung cancer on October 12 (Radikal, November 20).
In 1928, the modern republic’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk (1881-1938), replaced the Arabic script that had previously been used to write Turkish with a modified Latin alphabet. Radikal noted that, in his list of 141 reasons why the DTP should be banned, Yalcinkaya had cited party members’ use of the Kurdish language, particularly the letters “q,” “x,” and “w,” which are not included in Ataturk’s modified Latin alphabet; and, argued Yalcinkaya, were thus illegal (Radikal, November 20). However, not only does the law of 1928 refer only to Turkish but all official institutions in Turkey, including the Constitutional Court to which Yalcinkaya applied for the DTP’s closure, have their own websites: and all of their addresses start with “www.”
Although they remain a minority, a small number of columnists have argued that hard-line measures – whether the suppression of Kurdish parties or a cross-border military operation – might actually strengthen the PKK. In an article in the centrist daily Vatan, Rusen Cakir, a long-time commentator on radical organizations in Turkey, quoted a leaked transcript of the police interrogation of a former PKK militant in which she claimed that violence only made the organization stronger. She said that she had joined the PKK in 1997, two years before its announcement in August 1999 that it was abandoning the armed struggle. She said that over the next five years the PKK began to splinter into competing factions. However, once the organization returned to violence in June 2004, most of the militants put aside their differences and reunited to combat the Turkish security forces; today the previous internal divisions had virtually disappeared (Vatan, November 16).
Nevertheless, such is the public and political pressure on the AKP, that few in Turkey doubt that, rather than undercutting the PKK’s appeal by seeking a solution to the Kurdish problem, it is only a matter of time before the government orders a limited military strike against the PKK’s presence in northern Iraq.