Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 22

On February 5 the pro-Kurdish Democratic Party (DTP) launched a campaign of mass public protests in an attempt to stop Turkish military operations against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) both inside Turkey and in northern Iraq.

DTP supporters have started gathering in Diyarbakir, the largest city in the predominantly Kurdish southeast of Turkey, from where they will travel the approximately 150 miles to the town of Kasrik in Sirnak province on Turkey’s border with Iraq. They plan to set up a camp in Kasrik on February 6 and stage 24 hours of protests against the ongoing Turkish military operations. Convoys of vehicles from 28 provinces across Turkey have set out for Diyarbarkir. Perhaps inevitably, many found their journeys frequently interrupted as the security forces stopped and searched the vehicles.

“It doesn’t matter if our journey takes three days or a week. We shall go to Diyarbakir and make our demands heard,” said Sebahat Tuncel, a DTP member of parliament from Istanbul (Bianet, February 5).

The organizers of the demonstrations insist that, in addition to trying to stop the ongoing Turkish military operations, they will also take the opportunity to call for a democratic solution to Turkey’s Kurdish problem. However, some of the statements made by the DTP have played straight into the hands of those who claim that the main purpose of the demonstrations is simply to protect the PKK.

In a speech to party supporters before they set off for Diyarbakir, Abdurrahman Dogar, the head of the DTP in the eastern city of Van, announced that they were even prepared to go up into the mountains and serve as human shields to protect PKK militants from attack by the Turkish military.

“Today we are staging the largest civilian demonstration against the policies applied to Kurds since the foundation of the republic,” Dogar said. “Our aim is to provide a response to those who are determined to try to solve this problem through war, who are bombing our villages, our plains, and our mountains. All of the blood that is spilled on this soil is our blood. Every life that is lost on this soil is one of our lives” (Dogan Haber Ajansi, February 4).

Since the Turkish military first began to launch air raids against PKK bases in northern Iraq in early December 2007, DTP officials have frequently called for an end to all military operations. Yet their responses to PKK violence have always been much more muted. The DTP did not stage any public protests when an escalation in PKK attacks in early fall 2007 resulted in the deaths of nearly 40 Turkish soldiers in less than a month.

Nor is the current campaign by the DTP likely to persuade the Turkish military to suspend its operations against the PKK. Most of the PKK’s units in Turkey withdrew to northern Iraq in the fall, before the winter snows blocked the mountain passes along their supply and infiltration routes from northern Iraq. Although the weather impedes both sides in the conflict, the Turkish military’s technological superiority gives it an added advantage over any PKK militants who try to see out the winter inside Turkey. Most try to hide in caves, but activity and the need to keep warm often melts some of the surrounding snow, making it easier for the hideouts to be spotted from the air. The Turkish military also has the advantage of surveillance equipment. On February 3, the Turkish military killed 10 members of a PKK unit in the eastern province of Bingol after apparently identifying their location by monitoring radio and satellite telephone traffic (Dogan Haber Ajansi, February 5).

The Turkish military has also continued to launch air strikes against PKK assets in northern Iraq, mostly based on imaging provided by the United States. On February 4, the Turkish General Staff (TGS) issued a statement claiming to have hit 70 different PKK targets in 11 groups during a series of air raids into northern Iraq stretching over a period of 12 hours. It was the seventh large-scale cross-border operation in the last two months (Radikal, Zaman, Hurriyet, Milliyet, February 5).

The PKK continues to insist that the Turkish air raids have inflicted only minimal damage to its military capabilities. However, the campaigns launched by PKK sympathizers both inside Turkey and among the Kurdish diaspora in Europe to try to stop the Turkish air raids suggest otherwise. There is also little doubt that the Turkish military operations have forced the PKK onto the defensive both militarily and psychologically.