Will Ankara blast mark new era of Türkiye – PKK standoff?
    Fresh urgency for peace

    ANALYTICS  03 October 2023 - 15:06

    Fuad Shahbazov

    After seven years of pause, the capital of Türkiye witnessed a new deadly blast in front of the main building of the Interior Ministry. At least one person was killed, and two others were injured in a bombing attack. Two attackers murdered a civilian and stole his vehicle in the country’s capital ahead of the opening of parliament. Two police officers reportedly received non-life-threatening injuries.

    The ministry confirmed that at least one of the two attackers is a Kurdistan Workers' Party member known as the PKK. The PKK, a Kurdish militant group classified as a terrorist organization by Türkiye, the United States, and Europe, issued a statement earlier claiming responsibility for the bomb. As a result of the brutal attack, the Turkish Armed Forces carried out airstrikes targeting Kurdish militants in northern Iraq.

    According to the Defence Ministry, twenty targets of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, were "destroyed" in the aerial operation, including caves, shelters and depots. The issue gained fresh urgency as Turkiye's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan renewed pledges hours after the strike to establish a security belt "beyond our southern borders" that would be "at least 30 kilometres deep."

    Ankara insists that the PKK and its Syrian affiliations pose a real threat to the country’s national security. In this vein, the ministry stated that the strikes in Syria neutralized Muzdelif Taskin, a PKK militant accused of planning an ambush that killed 12 Turkish soldiers in 2007. Initially taking up arms against the Turkish state in 1984, the PKK waged a rebellion that killed tens of thousands of people. Its stated goal is the creation of an independent socialist Kurdish state in the territory of "Kurdistan" in southeast Türkiye.

    Until recently, the PKK and its affiliations refrained from conducting deadly attacks on Ankara city in order to avoid the government's harsh reaction and possible international condemnation for targeting civilian infrastructure in urban areas. Moreover, a series of attacks on densely populated areas may provoke renewed large-scale military actions of Türkiye in Northern Iraq and Northern Syria. Notably, Türkiye regularly conducts military operations in southeastern parts of the country, intending to force the PKK out.

    Although the PKK and some lobbyist organizations desperately attempt to get off the list of designated terrorist organizations, Ankara strictly objects to it, vowing harsh consequences. The PKK's offensive against Ankara can be seen through the prism of efforts to save the Kurdish-led entity known as the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria.

    The unrecognized entity highly depends on the limited US military contingent deployed in the area regarding safety and security. Hence, if those special forces were to pull out of the region, the autonomous entity would undoubtedly fall under Ankara's military pressure.

    In line with it, the last blast in Ankara was “the requisite message” to deliver “a serious warning” to the Turkish security services to prevent it from exerting more pressure on Kurdish militant groups. Although the Western partners, namely the US, condemned the PKK's recent assault, NATO allies call upon Ankara to be restrained towards Kurdish entities in Iraq and Syria.

    Notwithstanding, Türkiye recently gained the upper hand in its 39-year-long fight against the PKK thanks to its domestically produced drones that have shot to global renown. Hundreds of PKK cadres have been killed in drone strikes in Iraq and Syria as Ankara seeks to eliminate the group’s new crop of potential leaders. The issue was the core element of President Erdogan's election marathon in May 2023. After re-election, Erdogan vowed to rule out Kurdish militants from northern Syria and make the borderline safer.

    Within this framework, Ankara initiated a rapprochement with Syria's Bashar Assad to coordinate joint efforts against the common enemy – Kurdish militant groups. As such, the PKK will likely increase assaults against the Turkish government as part of its long-term strategy of intimidation.

    Such prospects shattered the hopes of durable peace between the state of Türkiye and the ethnic Kurdish minority in southeastern Anatolia. Nevertheless, Ankara will likely keep diplomacy track open for potential moderation of Western partners against the PKK-led assaults and provocations at home and abroad.


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