Turkey: The Kurd Problem

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October 6, 2023: The government is mounting a nationwide campaign against the PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party), in the wake of a PKK bombing in the capital Ankara. The Kurds are the largest ethnic minority in Turkey and one of the largest ethnic groups in Europe without a country of their own. Most of the Kurds are in southeastern Turkey, northern Iraq and northwestern Iran. Kurdish efforts to establish a Kurdish state turned violent a century ago but was suppressed, often violently, in Turkey, Iraq and Iran. Currently there are nearly 40 million Kurds in these three countries who have been unable to unite politically. This persistent lack of unity prevented Kurdish nationalism from becoming much more than a source of violence against and among Kurds in Turkey, Iraq and Iran. This led to the formation of the leftist, originally communist, PKK in the 1980s. Never very large, with at most 6,000 active members, PKK was active mainly in Turkey and Iraq. PKK violence led to the destruction of peaceful Kurdish political parties in Turkey. The Turkish response to PKK violence was directed at all Turkish Kurds, who are the largest ethnic minority in Turkey, comprising about 15 percent of the population. The PKK and suppression activities contributed to the dispersal of the Turkish Kurds throughout Turkey. Many Kurds assimilated, at least partially in Turkey. When Kurds moved to Western nations the assimilation was more thorough. Expatiate Kurds retained their Kurdish identity, but after a few generations in the West were more like their non-Kurdish neighbors. Kurds are actually a branch of the Iranian people who migrated to the Middle East over a thousand years ago. This was about the same time that the Turks were moving into what is now Turkey. The Turks were more numerous and assertive than the Kurds, which is why Anatolia (modern Turkey) became modern Turkey and not Kurdistan. Today the Kurds are still a distinct minority in Turkey, Iraq and Iran, but violent separatist groups like the PKK appeal to a minority of Kurds in the Middle East and hardly any of the Kurds living outside the Middle East.

October 5, 2023: In northeast Syria (Hasaka province) Turkish airstrikes on local Kurdish forces left at least one dead. Turkey claimed this that these airstrikes were retaliation for the October 1 bombing in the capital (Ankara). During the Turkish UAV attacks one of their UAVs flew close to an American base and an American jet shot down the “unidentified” UAV.

October 3, 2023: Turkish security forces have continued to seek out and arrest suspected members or supporters of the separatist PKK. Nearly a thousand people have been detained so far and some were found to possess illegal pistols and other firearms.

October 2, 2023: Turkish president Erdogan is once again using Swedish admission to NATO to gain political leverage. He repeated his September 26 statement that the Turkish parliament will approve Sweden’s bid to join NATO once the U.S. approves the sale of new F-16 jet fighters and modernization kits to Turkey.

In the wake of the October 1 suicide bomber terror attack on the Turkish Interior Ministry building in the capital (Ankara), security forces have arrested at least 20 people suspected to belonging to the PKK. Turkey considers the PKK a secessionist and terrorist organization.

October 1, 2023: Two armed men, one wearing a suicide bomb vest, drove up in a car near the Turkish Interior Ministry building in the capital. They got out of the car, began shooting at pedestrians, then rushed the building’s security entrance. The man wearing the bomb vest detonated the weapon near the entrance. Security forces engaged the other terrorist in a shootout and killed him as he attempted to enter the building. Two policemen suffered minor injuries in the incident. The PKK quickly claimed responsibility for the attack and said the attack team belonged to the PKK’s Immortal Brigade (aka Immortals Battalion). PKK said the attack was planned to coincide with the opening of Turkey’s parliament. Within hours of the attack, Turkish aircraft (including UAVs) attacked at least 20 PKK targets in northern Iraq.

September 28, 2023: Turkey's top appeals court has upheld philanthropist Osman Kavala’s life sentence. A criminal court convicted him of financing 2013’s nation-wide protests against Erdogan’s government. Overturning Kavala’s conviction has been the goal of several EU governments and social justice NGOs. Erdogan’s decision to build replica Ottoman-era military barracks in Istanbul's Gezi Park sparked the 2013 protests.

September 27, 2023: Turkey and Israel are in the process of improving diplomatic relations. The Israeli PM (Prime Minister) may visit Turkey in the near future. The Israeli PM planned to visit Turkey in July 2023 but fell ill. The Israeli and Turkish leaders finally met at the UN on September 19. Diplomats said the meeting demonstrated both nations are working to repair relations. The Turkish government confirmed Erdogan plans a “reciprocal” visit to Israel, probably in October or early November. In the background are reports that Turkey and Israel are discussing joint energy exploration and production, to include drilling for oil and gas as well as pipeline projects. After the UN meeting Erdogan said Turkey and Israel are discussing ways to cooperate on energy projects, technology development and tourism.

September 26, 2023: Now Turkey’s parliament will approve Sweden’s bid to join NATO if the U.S. permits the sale of F-16 jets to Turkey. Erdogan claimed that the U.S. promised to do so.

September 25, 2023: Azerbaijan’s president Ilham Aliyev met with Erdogan in Azerbaijan’s autonomous Nakhchivan exclave. The exclave lies between Iran, Armenia and Turkey. The Azeri government said the two leaders have discussed creating a land corridor to connect the exclave to Azerbaijan. The corridor would run through southern Armenia (Syunik province). Earlier this month Azeri forces took control of the Nagorno-Karabakh region. Nagorno-Karabakh has an ethnic Armenian majority, though ethnic Armenians are reportedly leaving the area. Turkey asserted it had no direct involvement in Azerbaijan’s military operation. What is Armenia’s opinion? Diplomats indicate there is an opportunity to reach a comprehensive peace agreement that would include the corridor and Nagorno-Karabakh. Earlier this month president Erdogan would talk with Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pachinian.

September 23, 2023: The defense ministry said Turkish forces will not withdraw from northern Syria until a “secure environment” exists. Turkey wants to see a new government in Syria, one that represents all Syrians. Currently Turkey hosts over four million Syrian refugees.

The Turkish Navy’s Istanbul Naval Shipyard launched two Akhisar-class offshore patrol vessels (OPVs). The ships have a landing platform and a hangar to accommodate SH-70 Seahawk-type helicopters and unmanned aerial vehicles. The ships are built to patrol Turkey’s EEZ (maritime surveillance) and protect shipping, fishing operations and oil and gas projects. However, they can also support naval combat missions.

September 21, 2023: The first ship to carry Ukrainian grain from Ukraine to Turkey via Ukraine’s “temporary humanitarian” Black Sea shipping corridor arrived today in the Bosporus Strait.

September 20, 2023: The day after Turkey’s central bank raised its key interest rate to 30 percent from 25 percent, the dollar exchange rate slipped to 27.06 Turkish lira for one U.S. dollar.

September 18, 2023: President Erdogan claims he trusts Russia as much as he trusts the West.

September 17, 2023: In northern Iraq, Turkish UAVs struck two targets and killed several PKK fighters. One target was a base camp and at least four PKK fighters were killed. The other was described as a small airfield used by helicopters. Six PKK men may have died in the second attack.

September 16, 2023: In Kurdish northern Iraq (Duhok Province) Turkish forces struck 31 targets around Mount Gara, where the PKK has long maintained many bases.

September 13, 2023: President Erdogan met with the Sudanese general (Burhan) who heads Sudan’s military government. Burhan said he is seeking international support in Sudan’s civil war. Burhan’s government confronts General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, head of the paramilitary Rapid Security Forces, which was long a major problem in western Sudan until it was persuaded to join the government. Erdogan did not hold a press conference with Burhan. However, the Turkish foreign ministry said that Turkey is very interested in establishing a ceasefire and “permanent truce” between Sudan’s warring factions.

September 10, 2023: The U.S. is considering selling F-16s to Turkey once Turkey approves Sweden’s bid to join NATO. Erdogan told a press conference in New Delhi (site of this month’s G20 summit) that he had spoken with Biden about acquiring new F-16s. In October 2021 Turkey asked the U.S. to sell it new F-16s and some 80 modernization kits. Total cost is around $20 billion.

September 5, 2023:: Turkey and Japan announced they intend to cooperate in the process of reconstructing Ukraine once the war ends. Turkey will use its ties to Ukraine to help Japanese companies get reconstruction contracts. The Japanese companies will likely use Turkey as a base of operations.

September 4, 2023: President Erdogan revealed that he had discussed reviving the Ukrainian Black Sea grain corridor deal (Black Sea Grain Initiative) with Russian leader Vladimir Putin. The two leaders met in Russia. Erdogan said he thought the “grain deal” will be revived. Russia withdrew from the Turkish-negotiated agreement on July 17, 2023.

September 1, 2023: Sweden’s foreign ministry said that the Swedish government is hopeful Turkey’s parliament will approve Sweden’s bid to join NATO. The Turkish parliament reconvenes in early October.

August 29, 2023: The Greek government confirmed that their PM will meet with Turkish President Erdogan on the sidelines of the UN general assembly in New York sometime in early September. Turkey and Greece both want to improve diplomatic relations.

 

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