The car bomb that exploded in Gaziantep on Monday, killing nine and wounding nearly seventy others, was a horrific act of terrorism that many suspect is the work of the PKK, although the PKK has so far denied any involvement. Hüseyin Çelik has raised the possibility that Syria may be involved as well, but unless one is prepared to go down the rabbit hole of conspiracy theories involving the deep state (and I certainly am not), this has the fingerprints of the PKK all over it given the upsurge in PKK violence this summer, the location of the bombing, and the fact that the intended target was a police station. Allowing for the assumption that the PKK was behind this latest terrorist atrocity, this is the second strategic misstep for the group in as many weeks following the earlier bizarre kidnapping and release of CHP deputy Hüseyin Aygün, which only inflamed opinion against the PKK and seemed to harden the government’s stance against the group even further.
That the PKK has denied being behind the Gaziantep bombing is significant because it indicates that the PKK realizes that this might actually represent a turning point. It is a strange move for a terrorist group to perpetrate an act of terrorism – generally designed to garner attention and demonstrate the group’s power – and then immediately deny all involvement, but it is not surprising in this instance given the civilian casualties involved and the fact that it was done on Eid al-Fitr, the holiday marking the end of Ramadan. This was a major strategic miscalculation that backfired in a big way, and not only will it garner the PKK no sympathy, it will give cover to the government to go after the PKK even harder than it already has. Few will object to Turkish military operations against the group following this bombing.
The PKK’s terrorism campaign is a thorny one with no real end in sight for a number of reasons. The PKK is able to draw on a base of ethnic Kurdish support, which makes it difficult to root out and eliminate entirely. It also does not help that Turkish Kurds have a set of legitimate political grievances, yet the government has adopted a nearly exclusively military approach to the problem, assuming that once the PKK is gone, Kurdish political demands will dissipate. What this means is that the PKK draws on a well of Kurdish sympathy even in places where there is no outright support for the group or its actions. In Gaziantep, however, the PKK has done something that might actually cut into that base of sympathy. Trying to shore up support among the Kurdish population by blowing up civilians during a religious holiday is a strange strategy indeed, and it is bound to be a losing one. Maybe, just maybe, the PKK’s denials here are an indication that it realizes just how far it has gone.
One of the ways in which terrorism ends is when a terrorist group is faced with dwindling support arising from outrage at moral atrocities. There is a large moral distinction to be made between killing Turkish soldiers – and let me be crystal clear that I do not condone such PKK actions at all – and killing and maiming civilians with bombs placed in the middle of cities. The PKK pretty clearly realizes the danger here, which accounts for its widely derided denial of responsibility. If this attack cuts into the PKK’s support and contributes in any small way to the end of its terrorism campaign, then at least the senseless killing of nine Turks will perhaps be a spur to a better and more peaceful Turkey down the road. Reduced support for the PKK and a genuine political solution to the Kurdish issue are the only ways in which the conflict between the Turkish government and the PKK will ever be resolved.