Turkey suffered a terrible bout of PKK terrorism today, with a bomb killing one policeman in central Turkey on top of the news that the PKK has abducted ten civilians in Diyarbakır. There are two primary reasons that there is a new round of PKK violence, one of which appears to be in Turkey’s power to control and one which is not. The first is a result of internal politics, namely the ongoing controversy over the Uludere drone strike that killed 34 civilians last year. The strike itself was bad enough as it stirred up enormous anger and resentment, but those feelings were magnified further this week after Interior Minister Idris Şahin referred to those killed as “PKK extras” and said that the government did not owe anyone an apology over the matter. This has prompted a furious backlash, including from AKP deputy chair Hüseyin Çelik who blasted Şahin’s remarks as inhumane and reiterated that his position was not shared by Prime Minister Erdoğan or the government. The damage has been done though, and the government’s continuing clumsy efforts to close the door on the episode are not going to alleviate things much, if at all. While Ankara paid the victims compensation, it has held the line on issuing an apology and has been unwilling to go further than expressing regret (which is ironically the same stance that Israel has taken on the Mavi Marmara deaths). This is, of course, not making the PKK any less popular in southeastern Turkey, and while there is absolutely zero justification for terrorist violence at all, the government is not making it easier to get that message to stick. Increased support for the PKK among Turkey’s Kurds leads to more terrorist attacks, and that is part of what is now going on.
The other set of pressures is external and has to do with Syria. The government in Damascus has been holding the threat of PKK support over Turkey’s head if it does not back off its tough stance against Assad, and by some accounts this seems to be working. Soner Çağaptay argues that Turkey’s fear of a Syrian Kurdistan with a strong PKK presence has led Ankara to take a wait and see attitude when it comes to Assad after its earlier aggressive position. The Syrian support for the PKK is also driving the new PKK attacks in Turkey since they have a new base for training, logistics, and safe haven that they have been lacking since the Kurdish Regional Government in northern Iraq cracked down on them after repeated Turkish entreaties to do so. It also does not help things that the removal of Syria as a massive trading partner is leading to renewed economic depression in Diyarbakır, since increased trade and economic activity in southeastern Turkey was designed to make Turkey’s Kurdish population happier and thus less likely to support separatism or autonomy. Neither Syrian support for the PKK nor the drop-off in trade is in Turkey’s power to alter, but these factors are starting to give rise to a slow burn underneath the Kurdish issue that is making the government’s life a lot more difficult.
What all of this means is that PKK terrorism, which has dwindled in recent years, is probably making a comeback. Turkey can do some things to alleviate it, such as actually resolving the Uludere issue to Kurds’ satisfaction rather than letting it linger and endless live on, but the situation in Syria is largely out of Turkey’s hands and certainly no longer a problem of its own making. The PKK violence against civilians this week is unfortunately a bad sign that this is going to be an unstable and bloody summer.