Turkey is no exception when it comes to terrorism


Any fight against terrorism requires international solidarity. Without the support of at least friendly governments, even the mightiest countries suffer from the consequences of terrorism. The lack of universal consensus on the definition of terrorism, the existence of sponsor governments, hidden agendas, parochial interests, but most of all the difficulty of distinguishing the action from the cause–exacerbate the suffering.

Turkey certainly is no exception; almost 40,000 people died during the "reign of terror" period between 1983 and 1999. However, during this period many of Turkey’s closest allies chose to ignore the existence of PKK terrorism, arguing that Turkey was then undemocratic and was undermining Kurdish individual and group rights. Some even supported the PKK and provided refuge to Abdullah Ocalan, the then leader of the organization, after he was expelled from Syria upon Turkey’s demand.

Ocalan’s capture in the Greek ambassador’s residence in Nairobi and his presence in Rome a few weeks earlier point to a lack of international solidarity in the fight against terrorism. Even after 9/11, one can hardly claim the emergence of full international solidarity. Most countries still refrain from extending sincere support to the fight when their parochial interests are at stake. Lofty promises pledged at all levels and the ostensible willingness to eradicate the menace of terror from the surface of the earth do not in themselves amount to actual assistance and solidarity.

Just like many other countries fighting terror, Turkey is once more left alone in her struggle against the resurgent PKK. Indeed, Turkish demands, on the basis of UNSCR 1373 (2001) and UNSCR 1546 (2004), have not yet been satisfied by the American authorities. Endless rounds of negotiations between Ankara and Washington have not produced any tangible results in eradicating PKK safe-havens from the northern Iraqi mountains, where up to 3,100 armed PKK militants are believed to be launching terror attacks against targets in Turkey.

Although the intensity and nature of the attacks cannot be compared with the pre- 1999 period, they are certainly inflicting material, human, psychological, and political damage on the country. As a result of remote-controlled mines and explosives, more than 100 security personnel, together with 37 civilians, have lost their lives in less than a year. Moreover, the obvious unwillingness of the US administration to tackle the problem has added further strain to US-Turkey relations and affected any remaining Turkish confidence in the US.

Needless to say, all these serve the needs of the terror organization. The PKK seems to want to pull Turkey into northern Iraq and push her to a confrontation both with the Iraqi Kurds and the US–if not militarily, certainly politically. It would also like to hinder democratization efforts in Turkey, create a confrontational political climate in the country, and completely undermine any chances of Turkish membership in the European Union. The PKK obviously believes that a US-Turkey showdown is unavoidable, and that the rules of the game set by it cannot be challenged.

US involvement in Iraq and the American strategic alliance with the Iraqi Kurds strengthen the PKK’s belief in the inevitability of a row between the US and Turkey. The temporary freeze in bilateral relations in the aftermath of the Turkish Parliament’s decision not to allow the stationing of US troops on Turkish soil in March 2003 could also be taken as support for this thesis.

In fact, neither is a US-Turkey showdown inevitable nor are the rules of the game unchallengeable. At the time of writing, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matt Bryza is in Ankara to iron out differences between the two countries on the fight against PKK terrorism. Even if these differences cannot be ironed out, the possibility of Turkish unilateral action in northern Iraq is rather dim.

Moreover, there is an increasing willingness among Turkey’s Kurds to solve their problems without violence. The appeals of Kurdish and Turkish intellectuals "to stop violence unconditionally" in late July were taken seriously by the government and the region. Prime Minister Erdogan’s acknowledgement of past mistakes and of the existence of the Kurdish problem in Diyarbakir in early August transformed the issue.

Kurdish intellectuals, in an unprecedented move, supported the prime minister’s position with yet another public petition. It is now likely that the link between PKK terrorism and the Kurdish question will soon be broken, and terrorism will lose its legitimacy in the eyes of the local Kurds.