Turkish authorities have dramatically intensified anti-terrorist operations after a massive terrorist attack in Suruç, near the Syrian border, on July 20, 2015, which was followed by the killing of two Turkish policemen in the same region. Making use of the facts that the terrorist attack was carried out by a suicide bomber, a Turkish citizen recruited by the Islamic State (IS), and that it was the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (KWP) youth extremist movement who took responsibility for killing the two policemen, Turkish authorities deployed counter operation on two fronts. That is against the IS terrorists and the KWP. Near-border areas of Syria and Iraq were bombed and shelled; later land forces were engaged in ground operations in the mountainous area of the Iraqi Kurdistan. Military ends were IS positions in Syria, KWP bases and camps in the north of Iraq. At the same time a large-scale operation of the police and intelligence personnel was launched across the country to identify and detain activists of radical Islamist groups and supporters of the KWP, which is recognized as a terrorist organization in the EU and the USA.
As we know, Turkey has recently become the co- chairman of one of the five working groups established within the international coalition against IS, in particular, the working group on countering foreign terrorist. As part of preventive measures against international terrorism Turkey has banned the entry into its territory of 18,000 people from about 100 countries, more than 1,900 people who arrived in the country earlier were denied entry. 100 of these people are Russian citizens. The entry to Turkey was banned for more than 1,000 Russian citizens. Risk analysis groups, deployed in airports, bus stations and other terminals, questioned more than 3,700 suspicious foreigners to identify their identity, and over 1,450 of them were denied entry into the country. Recently, as reported by Turkish media, as a result of preventive measures carried out by the security services, on suspicion of being affiliated with IS 472 people were detained, of whom 147 were taken into custody. We cannot exclude the fact that current authorities’ opponents could also have been aimed at during this “struggle against terrorism”.
However, Turkish officials now have to admit that starting from July 20th this year 111 Turkish policemen, gendarmes, military men and 50 civilians were killed by the KWP militants, 392 policemen and military men and 207 civilians were injured. Strategic pipelines, including the oil pipeline from Iraqi Kurdistan to Turkey, as well as other vital infrastructure (dams, bridges, roads) have been repeatedly blown up. As a result of preventive and counter operations of Turkish armed forces, several hundreds of IS and KWP militants were killed and wounded in Syria and Iraq. At the same time the mass media report victims among the civilians, devastation in populated areas and border areas in Syria and Iraq.
According to Turkish sources, even before the provocative terrorist attack Suruç in the KWP extremists tried to derail the cease-fire and peace negotiations agreement of March 2013 between Ankara and the representatives of Turkish Kurds, which was so hard to reach. On July 11, 2015 the representatives of the KWP allegedly stated that they withdraw from the agreement and resume sabotage activities. Several days later KWP activists issued a declaration, urging their supporters to openly counter the Turkish authorities in an armed confrontation. Ankara does not rule out that of the KWP functionaries’ militant combative calls were a response to the success of the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (PDP) at the July parliamentary elections, where it won 13% of votes and 80 out of 550 seats in the parliament. The legalization of the Kurdish national movement and the transition to democratic forms of struggle to expand rights and freedoms of the Kurdish people in Turkey clearly did not please hawkish activists among the KWP and the heads of left extremist wings of the KWP. We should not forget that, during decades of the confrontation between the KWP and Turkish authorities, grew up a whole generation of Kurdish functionaries and militants, some of them closely affiliated to emigrant centres, criminal gangs (drug trafficking, illegal migration, arms trafficking, racketeering, etc.), who did not want a peace agreement with Ankara.
It would be fair to note that there is a relatively high number of nationalist groups among ethnic Turks who still think that “the Kurds are Turks who live in the mountains”, and that “one state means one nation.” These circles were also displeased with the peace agreement between the authorities and the Kurds, and they did all they could to derail it. They do not like the Erdogan policies which have led to the establishment of mass media and schools and universities teaching in Kurdish, integration of Kurds into the executive and legislative bodies, in security forces, etc. It will obviously take some more time for the old enmity and hatred between Kurds and Turks on ethnic grounds to be overcome completely. One should not forget that in several last decades over 40,000 Turkish citizens have perished in that internecine struggle. The inertia of mistrust between the Kurds and the Turks is still there and the president Erdogan has to put up with it to some extent being led around by the Turkish nationalists in order to preserve his power and the authority of the Justice and Development Party (JDP). He also fears that KWP can build up its military potential amid the active participation of Turkish Kurds alongside with their Syrian ethnic brethren in the fighting with IS near the city of Kobani and other regions of Syria. Ankara regards Syrian self-defense troops and KWP as terrorists despite the fact that these are they who are at the frontlines in the struggle against radical Islamic groups. There even was a threat from Ankara to bomb the positions of Kurdish volunteer corps in Syria along with positions of IS. Even the Ankara’s ally within NATO, Washington, had to curb such rhetoric saying that the USA would not allow to launch strikes on Syrian Kurds.
As for the active involvement of Turkey in the fight with IS, this process can only be welcomed. Until recently Turkey was seen as a convenient transit corridor for the trafficking of those who want to join IS into Syria and then Irak. Islamic recruiting stations and transfer bases operated almost openly in Istanbul and other Turkish cities. That could be explained by a number of reasons. First, Turkey is a country with a very well developed tourist industry and millions of tourists come to its resorts from all over the world, and with some states it has even agreed on a simplified visa regime. Identifying the true reason for the arrival of a foreigner to the country is a matter of some difficulty. The Turkish borders with Syria and Iraq are still too transparent and can be crossed by small groups as there have never been any fences, barrages or moats. Border checkpoints are intended mainly for the monitoring of motor vehicles. Besides, there are areas with mountain trails which are hard to follow. Second, the Turkish authorities have long been trying not to heed the operation of radical Islamist groups on the territory of the country, especially those which were formed by foreigners, thinking that they soon would be transferred to Syria and would join the struggle against the so hated by the Ankara regime of Bashar Assad. All means are good for Erdogan and his supporters when it comes to the acceleration of the process of overthrowing the government in Damascus.
There is hope that after the terrorist act in Suruç the Turkish authorities will manage to localize the underground activities of the radical extremists on its territory and to establish a much tighter control over the transit corridors, financial transactions of the terrorist, recruiting centres, etc. It would also be good if Turkish middlemen stopped buying petroleum products and museum artifacts from IS. The cooperation with EU countries, the CIS and Russia in the sphere of special agencies activities against IS is getting more profound. As for the renewed armed clashes and terrorist acts perpetrated by the KWP which targets are the security forces servicemen and Turkish infrastructure, as well as for the retaliatory military and punitive operations of the Turkish authorities, Ankara and Erdogan personally let themselves be led by IS provocateurs and extremists on both sides of the inner Turkish conflict. Instead of carrying out objective investigation and identification of the real perpetrators and masterminds, they launch such large-scale acts of intimidation of Kurdish population as bombing the KWP bases in the distant mountain regions in the Northern part of Iraq and provocations near the pro-Kurdish parliamentary party headquarters.
Stanislav Ivanov, PhD in History, Leading research fellow at the Institute of World Economy and International Relations and at the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.