On June 1, the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) announced an end to its 13-month unilateral ceasefire. Since 1984, the PKK has waged an armed struggle against the Turkish state for Kurdish self-determination.
A day earlier, imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan announced that he was withdrawing from negotiations. He cited a disconnect between the Turkish government’s promised reforms and continued violent repression of Turkey’s Kurdish population.
At least 20 Turkish soldiers have been killed since the ceasefire was called off. On June 19, 11 soldiers were killed in a PKK attack on a military border post at Semdinli. This was the biggest Turkish military loss for two years, the June 24 Al-Ahram Weekly said.
In response, Turkish military attacks against PKK bases in Iraqi Kurdistan have continued. On June 21, AFP said civilian casualties in Turkish attacks included a 15-year-old girl.
The PKK has observed six ceasefires since 1984. The latest was in response to promised democratic reforms and a relaxation in the national oppression of non-Turkish minorities by the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government.
Kurdistan has been divided and occupied by Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. After World War I, Western imperialist powers carved up the Middle East.
The Turkish Republic, founded in 1923, was based on a secular authoritarian nationalist ideology. During the Cold War it became a close US ally and member of NATO.
A 1980 military coup began a 10-year military dictatorship in Turkey. The regime committed brutal repression against trade unionists and socialists, as well as the Kurdish liberation movement.
In its drive to promote ethnic nationalism, the Turkish state banned the Kurdish language and expressions of Kurdish culture. In the face of such attacks, the left-wing PKK launched its armed struggle.
The conflict has so far cost almost 40,000 lives — mainly Kurdish civilians killed by the Turkish military.
This repression has continued since the restoration of civilian rule, as has military involvement in politics, including the overthrow of a government.
Since its 2003 election, the AKP has made some moves to liberalise Turkey — although tentatively, due to both the opposition of sections of the military and judiciary, and a neoliberal economic policy that necessitates continued repression of trade unions and the left.
The AKP government has relaxed bans on Kurdish language and culture. The PKK began its ceasefire in 2009 after the government licensed a Kurdish language TV-station, permitted Kurdish to be spoken in prison and promised to set up a Kurdish-language university faculty.
However, the government opposed Kurdish being taught in schools or any moves toward Kurdish autonomy.
In its June 1 statement, the PKK accused the AKP government of talking about peace while continuing repression. Military attacks on PKK bases in Iraqi Kurdistan have continued.
The government allowed the Kurdish Democratic Society Party (DTP) to contest local government elections in March 2009, in which 99 DTP mayors were elected. But it arrested more than 1500 elected Kurdish politicians.
In December, the DTP was banned.
The AKP’s contradictory approach toward the peace process is partly the result of the pressure from more conservative sectors of the establishment. It was an anti-AKP Constitutional Court that decreed the banning of the DTP.
On September 19, a 30-strong PKK peace delegation crossed from Iraqi Kurdistan. However, images broadcast of the PKK delegation being jubilantly welcomed by villagers in Turkish Kurdistan led to protests by right-wing opposition parties.
In response, the government arrested the entire delegation in December and charged them with terrorism.
The PKK website said that, after this, anti-Kurd repression increased, including the imprisonment and assassination of Kurdish journalists.
The AKP government has also shifted Turkish foreign policy from one of total alignment with the US and Israel to seeking wider political and economic links.
This has meant improved relations with entities as diverse as Iran, Greece, Armenia, the Hamas-led Gaza-based Palestinian leadership and the US-aligned leadership of the Iraqi Kurdish autonomous region.
Relations between Turkey and the US have been strained as a result of Turkey joining with Brazil to push for a negotiated solution to the US’s conflict with Iran over the Iran’s civilian nuclear power program, and comes at a time when the US had succeeded in winning Chinese and Russian support for UN sanctions against Iran.
Relations have been further strained by Turkey’s diplomatic conflict with Israel. This began when Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan used a January 2009 World Economic Forum summit to lambast Israeli President Shimon Peres for Israel’s three-week war on Gaza.
This conflict escalated after the May 31 Israeli assault on the Turkish-owned Mavi Marmara, in which nine Turkish NGO activists were killed.
Since the attack on the Mavi Marmara, Israeli and Turkish politicians have traded denunciations. The Israeli media have discovered the oppression of the Kurds in Turkey in much the same way as the West belatedly discovered the oppression of the Iraqi Kurds when the West and Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein fell out in the 1990s.
Conversely, the Turkish and Iranian media have alleged, without evidence, that the PKK has Israeli support.
In fact, Turkish military ties with Israel have remained despite the Mavi Marmara attack and token gestures such as the closing of Turkish airspace to some Israeli military flights.
Importantly for the Turkish army’s anti-PKK offensive, the June 20 Hurriyet reported that the delivery of 10 Israeli drones to Turkey was going ahead.
Similarly, despite the strain in Turkish-US relations Hurriyet said the US would continue sharing military intelligence with Turkey and had indicated further assistance against the PKK.
Ankara-based US diplomat Deborah Guido told Hurriyet: “We stand ready to review urgently any new request from the Turkish military or government.”
Guido linked Turkey’s war with the US’s, adding “in Iraq and Afghanistan … we experienced similar attacks [to those] conducted against Turkish forces”.
The July 1 Today’s Zaman reported that US President Barack Obama assured Erdogan that the US (and its Iraqi and Iraqi Kurdish allies) would crack down on PKK bases in Iraqi Kurdistan.
Unlike the right-wing Iraqi Kurdish leadership, the PKK has consistently opposed the policies of the US and Israel. In its June 1 statement, the PKK said: “Most recently, the massacre that took place in the ship, which carried aid, as a result of the Israeli assault, indicates what kind of dangers can be caused by violence based policies.
“In order to make its influence in the region more effective, AKP government acts in alliance with Israel while also making an effort to resolve the Palestinian issue, which is a double standard and hypocritical policy.”