The conflict between Turkey and the Kurdish PKK, or Kurdistan Workers Party, continues to intensify, with reports of three more Turkish soldiers killed by mine and missile attacks from PKK militants. The U.S. State Department has called on both sides to resume peace talks.
“These attacks are only exacerbating the continuation and the cycle of violence here,” said State Department spokesman Mark Toner, as quoted by Hurriyet Daily News. “We want to see these attacks cease. We want to see the PKK renounce violence and re-engage in talks with the government of Turkey. And as I said, we want to see the Turkish government respond proportionately.”
Toner also addressed claims of civilian casualties from the Turkish bombing campaign:
I don’t know the specifics of these attacks, but often – not often, but sometimes, when you have airstrikes or civilians in the area, they can be affected – but these are airstrikes being carried out against PKK targets. And again, just going to the root of this, the PKK has carried out attacks against Turkey. We have defended Turkey’s right to self-defense in this case, but we want to see the violence end, we want to see the PKK cease its attacks, and as I said, the Turkish government to respond proportionately.
These statement follow dramatic, but apparently unsuccessful, attacks involving PKK fighters riding on motorcycles attacking a Turkish police headquarters building, with no casualties reported. Meanwhile, the Turkish bombing campaign is now said to have killed at least 260 PKK members. The Turks are also accusing PKK forces of sabotaging the important Shah Deniz natural gas pipeline from Azerbaijan, hard on the heels of attacking an oil pipeline from Iraq.
AFP reports a similar statement from European Union commissioner Johannes Hahn, affirming Turkey’s right to “react to any form of terrorism,” but stating that its response “must be proportionate, targeted, and by no means endanger the democratic political dialogue.”
Hahn called upon Turkey to refrain from actions “that could further destabilize the region.”
Today’s Zaman reports Turkish opposition party leaders urging an end to the violence. “We want to highlight the necessity for all parties to adopt a common stance against terrorism. The PKK should know that peace cannot be achieved by [resorting] to arms… The PKK should lay down its arms for peace,” said Engin Altay, deputy chairman of the main opposition Republican People’s Party, after a meeting with another opposition group, the Peoples’ Democratic Party.
Negotiations with the PKK were in progress, with a debatable amount of progress, when a bombing attack on Kurdish students kicked off the current round of violence. This attack has been widely attributed to ISIS, which must be very satisfied with the results of its bloody handiwork. (The PKK began attacking Turkish military and police after this incident because they accuse the Turkish government of either coddling, or actively colluding with, ISIS.)
As to those calls for a resumption of peaceful negotiations, Today’s Zaman relates conflicting signals from the Turkish government, with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan saying it would be “impossible to continue a settlement process with the PKK,” while Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said the search for a peaceful solution to Kurdish issues was not over. Erdogan’s critics say the major reason PKK peace talks stalled out was his refusal to complete the process, under pressure from Turkish nationalists concerned about rising Kurdish influence and the threat of separatism.
Adding to the confusion, there is no permanent government in place in Ankara at the moment; Erdogan’s AKP party lost its majority in the last elections, and a new governing coalition has yet to take shape. Those inter-party negotiations are still ongoing, with no swift resolution in sight.
As for the PKK, their eagerness to lay down arms and resume peace talks is an open question. The pro-Kurdish HDP party has expressed support for a coalition between Erdogan’s AKP and the opposition Republican People’s Party to “help the country overcome polarization and conflict,” as Today’s Zaman puts it. If such a coalition is in the wind, the PKK might be more interested in resuming negotiations, especially since it could drain their political support from Turkish Kurds.
There is still considerable apprehension about how other elements of the Kurdish diaspora will view ongoing Turkish attacks on PKK positions, particularly if civilian casualties mount. The Kurds are not politically unified, but it’s not difficult to see how even those who disagree with the PKK’s ideology and methods might resent Turkey bombing Kurds instead of ISIS, while the Americans who rely so heavily upon Kurdish ground forces are seen as supporting the Turks. Actually, there are signs of some impatience from the U.S. with Turkey dropping so many bombs on the PKK, and so few on ISIS. There are many reasons to fear the regional instability from an ongoing Turkish conflict with Kurds of any allegiance.