Turkey, Syria and the Terrorism Problem

Turkey, Syria and the Terrorism Problem

The situation in Turkey is shocking. Following 24 terrorist attacks in major cities coupled with the ongoing fighting with the PKK the death toll has reached an all time high with 9000 dead in 2016 alone.

The question is how did Turkey come from the negotiations with Ocalan and the truce with the PKK in 2011 to a point where it is head to head with Islamic State terrorism, the PKK and an attempted coup by the Islamic Gulenist group which Ankara refers to as a terrorist organisation.

Critics of the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the Republican People’s Party (CHP) support that it is the government’s policy on Syria, which aimed at overthrowing Assad and in strengthening the opposition in the country in any way possible, that is responsible for the result.

The dissolution of Syria in various areas, such as the region under the control of the Islamic State, the area under the control of the PYD Kurds and Al Nusra which has links with Al Qaeda, dramatically influence Turkey’s security on the Syrian border.

The Jordan example

“In this country we have continually dealt with Syria. There is also the example of Jordan. In this country there are 1.5 million refugees from Syria and its population mostly consists of Muslims. As in Turkey. But there is a big difference between us and Jordan. This country did not concern itself with Syria nor did it enter the Syrian “swamp” so to speak. Because we concerned ourselves with the domestic situation of this country, we are Islamic State targets. While Jordan on the other hand has not dealt with the developments in Syria and it has stayed away from the problem. So terrorism which has affected our country over the past 40 years has exceeded all previous years in the past year alone” says political analyst Yalcin Dogan on the website T24.com.tr

Dozens of suicide bombers throughout Turkey

Turkish Vice President Numan Kurtulmus caused widespread fear after stating that ”we have stopped dozens of terrorist strikes. We have found explosives or suicide vests in trucks, in buses, and we have prevented dozens such attacks. When we do this nobody finds out but after just one terrorist strike we have tragic images like these”.

Kurtulmus referred to the twin terrorist attack which took place last Saturday in Istanbul leaving 44 dead and 153 wounded. The Kurdish TAK organisation, which has links with the PKK accepted responsibility for the attack.

“The terrorist attack was in the heart of the Turkish state. A few meters from the Dolmabahce Palace. Next to the prime minister’s office. Further down are the offices of the Intelligence (MIT). Yet someone undertook this bombing “says  Hürriyet political analyst Ertugrul Ozkok who talks of an inability to control the situation in Turkey.

The PKK Terror

Recep Tayyip Erdogan was the one who by 2010 had understood that Turkey was at an impasse concerning Kurdistan and the PKK.

Since 1984, 35,000 dead and tens of thousand injured, intense battles and Kurdish village evacuations, had not delivered any results. The PKK remained strong. That was why after orders by Erdogan himself negotiations commenced with Abdulah Ocalan on Imrali island as well as with PKK leaders in Oslo.

The Turkish Chief of Intelligence Hakan Fitntan co-ordinated the efforts for a reconciliation. The efforts bore results. The PKK announced a ceasefire and in February 2015 members of the pro-Kurdish Party HDP, visited the Dolmabahce Palace and signed a declaration with ministers of the then government determined to provide a road map for the resolution of the Kurdish issue.

The elections of June 2015 were a critical point. Once the AKP lost its majority in Parliament, the Turkish president realised that by solving the Kurdish issue he would lose votes and the HDP would win.

It was then that according to political analysts he “overturned the negotiating table.” In addition statements by the HDP President Selahattin Demirtas that he would not allow Erdogan to become a president with overwhelming power brought a definitive end to contacts between the AKP and the Kurds.

Today the three ministers of the then Turkish government which signed the road map to resolve the Kurdish Issue on Erdogan’s orders, Efkan Ala, Yalcin Akdogan, and Mahir Unal are no longer members of the government.

Sellahattin Demirtas along with 10 other members of the HDP are in prison charged with links with the PKK.

To AKP has an alliance with the Nationalist Action Party (MHP) for a change to the Constitution that will give Erdogan more power.

Meanwhile a few months ago after fierce battles, 100,000 Kurds were displaced from their cities in southeastern Turkey.

All these developments bring us back to the impasse of the past which the Turkish president himself had spotted. The PKK still exists and terrorism has not disappeared on the contrary it has in fact increased. The creation of an autonomous Kurdish region in Syria with armed forces (PYD) strengthens the PKK. Ankara supports that PKK members are trained in northern Syria.

Islamic Terrorism

Another problem which Turkey faces is Islamic terrorism. It is known that Turkey has contributed in attempts to overthrow the Assad regime. Former Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu was the one who promised that he would go and pray in a mosque in Damascus with the opposition forces in Syria.

Turkey did not hide its support to the Syrian fighters in any way. According to international press, fighters and military equipment made it through Turkey. Russian President Vladimir Putin himself had accused Turkey of “supporting the jihadists” and declared he had such evidence.

But geo-strategic relations have changed, Erdogan apologised to the Russian President for shooting down the Russian fighter jet in 2015. Now Ankara is not sending any aid to opposition forces that have extreme Islamist elements amongst their midst. The recapture of Aleppo by Assad forces was the result of Russian pressure on Turkey. The Syrian rebels feel that Turkey betrayed them. Ankara’s contribution in their effort is limited to the ceasefire efforts.

At the same time Turkey is participating in operations against the Syrian jihadists, causing their reaction with terrorist attacks within the country.

Furthermore in addition to these developments civilians in Turkey are persecuted against causing problems to the functioning of the state. 125, 000 people have been let go from the armed forces, the police, the judiciary and the broader public sector on charges of links with “terrorist organisation Fethulah Gulen” (FETÖ). 35000 people are in prison on similar charges, among them many journalists.

The Turkish president is promising better years ahead for Turkish citizens especially when he takes on more executive powers, which he would de facto have once there is a change in Constitution. The question raised by the opposition is how will Turkey be able to seal so many fronts with the ongoing fighting in Syria and with Ankara hosting at least three million refugees./ΙΒΝΑ