PKK’s show of strength threatens settlement process

The mainly Kurdish southeastern Turkey, which has enjoyed a relatively peaceful period since the launch of a settlement process between the Turkish state and the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), has recently been heading toward troublesome days, due in particular to the PKK ‘s increased kidnapping and blocking of roads.

Responding to ongoing work for the construction of a military outpost in the region, PKK operatives blocked a road leading to Lice district on April 27 and then kidnapped two senior sergeants.

Then, PKK terrorists wounded three civilians while trying to abduct Mikail Ayık, a member of the Free Cause Party (Hüda-Par), in the town of Darakol near Diyarbakır.

They later blocked the Diyarbakır-Bingöl road and dug a trench using construction machinery to prevent vehicles from driving on the road. The road has remained blocked for almost a week. Earlier this week, PKK terrorists also blocked the Hani-Lice highway and kidnapped one senior sergeant.

People in the region used to be pleased to see that there had been a ceasefire between the Turkish security forces and PKK terrorists, but are currently worried about the prospect of a revival of clashes.

There are tangible and intangible reasons that have led the terrorist PKK to increase its unlawful activities. Among the tangible reasons the PKK’s response to the government’s increased efforts to construct military outposts in the Kurdish-dominated east and southeast. The PKK is also disturbed by the recruitment of new village guards by the Turkish state recently. The terrorist group claims that the state has been giving arms to civilians — in reference to the village guards — even though a settlement process is under way.

In addition, the PKK is uneasy about ongoing works for the construction of dams in eastern and southeastern regions. According to the group, the state is building these dams not because the regions need them but because it wishes to prevent PKK operatives from easily crossing Turkey’s border with northern Iraq, where the terrorist group has military bases.

Among the intangible reasons is the PKK’s desire to show its strength. According to some anti-terrorism experts, the PKK wants to make people see that it is still strong and active even though it is holding negotiations with the state for the settlement of the Kurdish problem. This tactic is also a source of motivation for PKK members.

One other intangible reason is closely attached to the Turkish government’s reluctance to take certain steps as part of the settlement process. The reluctance leads the PKK to believe that the government is insincere about the process. The PKK wants the government to allow schooling in the Kurdish language, release imprisoned PKK terrorists, lay legal grounds for ongoing talks between the PKK’s jailed leader Abdullah Öcalan and state authorities, issue laws that will pave the way for democratic autonomy of Kurds in the southeast and move Öcalan to house arrest.

The academic Hüseyin Şeyhanlıoğlu from Dicle University told Today’s Zaman that the ongoing terrorism issue in Turkey cannot continue without the knowledge and permission of the terrorist group’s leaders. “The [terrorist] group wants to protect its existence. Works for the construction of military outposts pose a threat to the PKK,” he said, and suggested that a “wise men commission” should be set up involving both parties — the Turkish side and the PKK — to enable the continuation of the existing atmosphere of a lack of clashes. He said the commission should be comprised of neutral, independent and influential figures.

According to former Sur Mayor Abdullah Demirbaş, a member of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), a “blockage” in the settlement process has led the PKK to carry on its terrorist activities. “The government has not taken some steps it promised to. People are worried about the course of events. The talks [between Öcalan and the state] must be placed on legal grounds,” he noted, and for this to happen, Parliament must amend the Anti-Terror Law. “The venue for the solution [of the Kurdish problem] is Parliament. Parliament must decide if it wants Turkey to grow stronger thanks to peace or to weaken because of clashes,” he added.

Vahap Coşkun, an associate professor at Dicle University Law School, said the real problem stems from the desire of the government and the PKK to make the settlement process look like their own achievement. “Both the government and the PKK want to make people believe that peace has arrived thanks to its efforts,” he noted.
Breaking a taboo, a group of mothers in the east and southeast has been courageous enough to challenge the terrorist PKK, launching sit-in protests to force the terrorist group to free their children, who they claim were forcibly recruited by the PKK.
The protests currently involve 19 mothers.

While some claim that the protests are part of a government-sponsored plan to push the PKK into a corner to boost the government’s image in the public eye if the PKK, responding to the mothers’ protests, releases the kidnapped children. According to other commentators, however, the mothers have achieved a first in the history of Turkey: They have challenged the PKK to reunite them with their children.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan issued a warning to the PKK on Tuesday, saying that if the group refuses to release kidnapped children, the government has backup plans to secure their freedom.

On Wednesday, the father of one of the kidnapped senior sergeants spoke to Today’s Zaman and asked the government to do its utmost to save his son, İlhan Çalışkan, from the hands of the PKK. Çalışkan was kidnapped as he was driving in Diyarbakır to visit his son in hospital. A military operation is under way to find the kidnapped sergeant.

“I want the authorities to save my son. I am asking the authorities to help us. A person is kidnapped in the region [by the PKK] almost every day. I ask the authorities to find a solution to this problem,” said Çalışkan’s father.

BDP leader Selahattin Demirtaş said on Wednesday that he will speak with PKK officials on the matter of abducted children.

Demirtaş met with parents of kidnapped children on Wednesday. During the meeting, Demirtaş told the parents that he will do everything in his power to make the PKK to release the children, who are all under 18. The families told the press that their hopes had increased after meeting with Demirtaş.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Tuesday issued a warning to the PKK, saying that if the terrorist group refuses to release the kidnapped children, the government has plans to secure their release.

The prime minister criticized the pro-Kurdish BDP and Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) for “not moving a muscle” to help families reunite with their kidnapped children, even though, Erdoğan claimed, the two parties know where these children are. The prime minister’s remarks came during his Justice and Development Party’s (AK Party) parliamentary group meeting.

“I am asking the BDP and the HDP: Where are you? You sometimes go [to the PKK] and bring back others [people kidnapped by the PKK]. Why don’t you do the same for these children? Go and bring back these children, too. You will either do this or our backup plans will come into force,” Erdoğan said. He did not elaborate on what the backup plans entail, but there is speculation that the government may be considering a military operation to secure the release of the children.

The number of minors kidnapped by the PKK to be recruited to the ranks of the terrorist group has exceeded 330 in the past six months, according to a National Police Department Counterterrorism Unit report released in early May.

One of the most recent cases is the abduction of 15 young people from a festival held on April 23 to celebrate Children’s Day in Diyarbakır’s Lice district. Families of the 15 high school students held a sit-in protest, claiming that the youngsters had been kidnapped by the PKK and demanding that action be taken. Also in April, 20 minors went missing in İzmir’s Bayraklı district. Their families claim that the teens were kidnapped by the terrorist group. They called on the state authorities, including the president and the prime minister, to take action to find their children.

About yavuzbaydar

Yavuz Baydar has been an award-winning Turkish journalist, whose professional activity spans nearly four decades. In December 2013, Baydar co-founded the independent media platform, P24, Punto24, to monitor the media sector of Turkey, as well as organizing surveys, and training workshops. Baydar wrote opinion columns, in Turkish, liberal daily Ozgur Dusunce and news site Haberdar, and in English, daily Today's Zaman, on domestic and foreign policy issues related to Turkey, and media matters, until all had to cease publications due to growing political oppression. Currently, he writes regular chronicles for Die Süddeutsche Zeitung, and opinion columns for the Arab Weekly, as well as analysis for Index on Censorship. Baydar blogs with the Huffington Post, sharing his his analysis and views on Turkish politics, the Middle East, Balkans, Europe, U.S-Turkish relations, human rights, free speech, press freedom, history, etc. His opinion articles appeared at the New York Times, the Guardian, El Pais, Svenska Dagbladet, and Al Jazeera English online. Turkey’s first news ombudsman, beginning at Milliyet daily in 1999, Baydar worked in the same role as reader representative until 2014. His work included reader complaints with content, and commentary on media ethics. Working in a tough professional climate had its costs: he was twice forced to leave his job, after his self-critical columns on journalistic flaws and fabricated news stories. Baydar worked as producer and news presenter in Swedish Radio &TV Corp. (SR) Stockholm, Sweden between 1979-1991; as correspondent for Scandinavia and Baltics for Turkish daily Cumhuriyet between 1980-1992, and the BBC World Service, in early 1990's. Returning to Turkey in 1994, he worked as reporter and ediytor for various outlets in print, as well as hosting debate porogrammes in public and private TV channels. Baydar studied informatics, cybernetics and, later, had his journalism ediucatiob in the University of Stockholm. Baydar served as president of the U.S. based International Organizaton of News Ombudsmen (ONO) in 2003. He was a Knight-Wallace Fellow at University of Michigan in 2004. Baydar was given the Special Award of the European Press Prize (EPP), for 'excellence in journalism', along with the Guardian and Der Spiegel in 2014. He won the Umbria Journalism Award in March 2014 and Caravella/Mare Nostrum Prize in 2015; both in Italy. Baydar completed an extensive research on self-censorship, corruption in media, and growing threats over journalism in Turkey as a Shorenstein Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.
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