Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 202

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has delivered his strongest warning yet to the United States and the Iraqi Kurds ahead of his scheduled meeting with President George W. Bush on November 5.

Speaking at a reception to celebrate the anniversary of the foundation of the Turkish Republic on October 19, 1923, Erdogan announced that he would present Bush with what he described as a road map for concrete action to eradicate the presence of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in northern Iraq. He described Bush’s response as a test of U.S. sincerity and added: “We shall point out that [the results of] this test will determine the future course of our relationship.”

Erdogan also issued implicitly threatened military action against Massoud Barzani, head of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), which effectively administers northern Iraq, stating: “We shall use our rights against those who are supporting terrorism” (Milliyet, Radikal, Sabah, Hurriyet, Vatan, October 31).

Erdogan’s warnings came as the Turkish military remained massed on the border with Iraq and continued to conduct military operations against suspected PKK positions inside the country. The Turkish press reported that ground troops, supported by Cobra and Super Cobra attack helicopters, were engaged in an intensive bombardment of 100 PKK militants who were believed to have been encircled in the Cudi and Gabar Mountains close to Turkey’s border with Iraq. There were also ongoing military operations in the southeastern provinces of Hakkari and Siirt. While in the eastern province of Tunceli, over 8,000 ground troops were entering the fourth day of a search-and-destroy operation that the Turkish military claims has already resulted in the deaths of at least 17 PKK militants (Radikal, Milliyet, Sabah, Hurriyet, Vatan, NTV, CNNTurk, October 31).

There were further anti-PKK rallies and protest marches across Turkey yesterday (October 30). The largest demonstration was in the central Anatolian town of Aksaray, where more than 15,000 mourners attended the funeral of a Turkish soldier killed in Tunceli by the PKK. Another three funerals of slain Turkish soldiers are scheduled for tomorrow (November 1). While lawyers representing imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan were attacked by nationalist protestors as they tried to board a boat to take them to meet with their client on the prison island of Imrali in the Sea of Marmara (Vatan, Radikal, October 31).

Amid fears that the tensions sparked by recent PKK attacks (see EDM, October 29) could trigger ethnic violence between Turks and Kurds, the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party (DTP) has further antagonized Turkish nationalist sentiments by issuing a call for regional autonomy in Turkey. The statement followed the conclusion of a conference organized by the DTP in Diyarbakir, the largest city in the predominantly Kurdish southeast of Turkey. The conference was attended by DTP Deputy Chairman Nurettin Demirtas, DTP MP Ayla Akat, former MP Leyla Zana, who once spent 10 years in jail for her alleged links to the PKK, and DTP members of local authorities.

The conference was part of a series of regional meetings to assess the public mood prior to the DTP holding its annual conference in Ankara on November 8. The DTP has long been regarded by many of its supporters and opponents as having close ties with the PKK. Several of the 20 DTP members of the Turkish parliament currently face charges of aiding and abetting a terrorist organization for the verbal and practical support they are alleged to have given the PKK.

The DTP statement advocated for what it described as “democratic autonomy” in which every region could “freely express its colors and symbols.” It called for a reappraisal of the current interpretation of nationalism and citizenship in Turkey, which in practice usually means an homogenized identity based on a perceived Turkish ethnicity, with a two-tiered identity; in which what the statement referred to as “the Kurdish people” could express and protect their own identity within an overarching “Turkic citizenship.”

Most controversially, the statement referred to Ocalan as a “leader of the Kurdish people.” It called for an end to his isolation on Imrali and his relocation to a more accessible site where he could receive treatment for what it described as his “health problems” and be able to “communicate more easily with the people in order to be able to play a role in ensuring social peace” (Hurriyet, Milliyet, Yeni Cag, Radikal, Sabah, October 31).

Within hours of the statement being released, security forces in Diyarbakir filed an application with the local public prosecutor asking for charges to be filed against the DTP for supporting a terrorist organization (NTV, CNNTurk, October 31).