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 Turkish press is beating war drums for a military action in Syria

  Opinion — Analysis 
  The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author


Turkish press is beating war drums for a military action in Syria  24.12.2011    
By Eric Bruneau - 


December 24, 2011

An article published the 24/11/2011 by the Turkish newspaper Today’s Zaman, close to the ruling AKP party, dramatically “revealed” the building, in neighbouring strife-torn Syria, of a Kurdish rebel PKK base (“despite Turkey’s warnings, Syria provides camp for terrorist PKK”). Taking advantage of the emotion caused by spectacular attacks the previous month (24 Turk soldiers died in just one of them, sparkling public outrage, with tremors felt in Europe, home to many Kurd and Turk immigrants: 24/10/2011 “Kurds around Europe attacked by Turkish fascist groups”; 26/10/2011 “Amsterdam: fears of violence after Turkish rioters attack Kurdish centre”), the article, very accurate, gave the location of that base (worryingly close to the Turkish border), its name (Rustam Bayram camp, named from a PKK “terrorist” precisely killed in a recent clash), and even the name of its commander. It is, of course, Fehmen Husseyin, codename Bahoz Erdal -who else?- a Syrian Kurd and high ranking PKK commander, never presented in Today’s Zaman but as a vindictive, bitter-ender extremist - the newspaper’s other favourite scarecrow being Duran Kalkan.

In early December another article, after a declaration by Turkey’s prime minister Arinc, said that a senior PKK member, left unnamed, had been captured. The Anatolia news agency immediately presented the prisoner as a Fehmen Husseyin right-hand man. In the same declaration the vice prime minister said the army eliminated from tha Amanos mountains, “used as a transit route to Syria by the PKK”, a sizeable group of rebels. (“Pro-PKK protesters attack civilians, Turkey captures senior PKK member”, 05/12/2011).

It is not the first time Ankara, by way of press articles, statements and else, points at a PKK threat coming from Syria.

A bit more than one year ago, the same Anatolia news agency was saying that Damascus’s troops were conducting anti-PKK operations in Syrian Kurdistan. Dozens of militants had been arrested, 11 killed in armed clashes. Syrian president Bashar al-Assad said at the time he was unaware of such military actions, a surprising statement from the head of a military dictatorship. Newaf Khalil, a Syrian Kurd journalist well introduced with the PYD, the PKK-aligned Syrian Kurd opposition party, denounced the information as a clumsy manipulation from Ankara.. “There hasn’t been any military operation”, did he say then. “It is an attempt from the AKP government to enlist Syria’s support in its general offensive against the Kurdish insurgency, and encourage president al-Assad’s al-Ba’ath regime to intensify repression against PKK cells in Syria and the PYD. It is true there are numerous Kurd revolutionaries in Syrian jails, but they are PYD -400 today- not PKK.”

For Syria became during the past years a valuable auxiliary for the Turks in their endless war against the PKK. They have a private interest in it, the emergence of the revolutionary PPYD, born in 2003, presenting a direct threat to the regime’s grip on Syrian Kurdistan.

But now the Syrian uprising totally changed the perspectives. From arch-enemy of the dictatorship the PYD became an interlocutor which can not be circumvented.

One can so understand the Turkish high command’s fears, whose troops are already locked in an anti-guerrilla war in south-east Turkey, to see a second PKK front opening on its southern flank. Until its eviction in 1999, Syria has been a rearbase for the PKK - a fact Today’s Zaman never fails to repeat. It remains a fertile recruiting ground for the organisation. When reading a PKK military statement, the birthplace of a militant killed in action, named amongst a list of recent “martyrs”, sometimes happens to be well inside Syria. “The PKK has been present for years in Syrian Kurdistan”, was saying in March, shortly before turmoil to take hold of Syria, M Hesso, a member of the PYD central committee. “It was a natural thing then, for a Kurd, to join the organisation’s armed wing. And it still is: Kurds are oppressed in Syria as well as in Turkey, and the PKK’s struggle is for all Kurds, in all Kurdistans.” The PYD’s powerbase, he added, with on the wall behind him a picture of a son who died fighting in the mountains, it is the families of the Syrian members of the PKK.

The PYD nonetheless denies there is any camp in Syria. Its representatives were already saying in the summer that they had other priorities than building PKK fortresses under the nose of the Turkish military. There is a deep distrust running between the Kurds, marginalised by age-long state discrimination -to the point some of them are not even granted actual citizenship ( and the Arab opposition. Kurdish parties, not only the PYD, fear to see emerging from the uprising a regime even more nationalistic than the present one. There was, during spring, real concerns to see the tensions degenerate in an ethnic conflict: a report from KurdWatch said that in mid-june, a delegation of Arab tribal representatives came to see Kurdish political groups to threaten of reprisals would the Kurds join the demonstrations. (“al-Qamishli: regime threatens Kurds with repression” 19/06/2011). In an interview given the 13/09/2011 to the Iraqi Kurd newspaper Rudaw, Mishaal Tamo, leader of the Syrian Kurd party Future Movement, expressed his concerns about some Arab parties: “Some believe in democracy and the rights of all nations in Syria. There are some who are influenced by the Ba’ath regime and do not accept the others.” He was assassinated in his hometown of al-Qamishli shortly after.

This distrust has been worsening, due to the Kurds’ cautiousness, avoiding confrontation with the Syrian security forces, while in the Arab provinces demonstrators are braving live fire. The controversial de facto truce between the Kurds and the dictatorship is harshly criticised, with claims, coming from some Sunni Arab factions, but also from some Kurdish parties, and relayed by Today’s Zaman, that the PYD is actually collaborating with the regime. M Saleh Muslim, chairman of the party, angrily denied the allegations. ( They come, says the PYD, from groups they accuse of being proxies, used by the AKP to implement its pan-Ottoman agenda: the claims, as well as those made about a re-emerging “PKK second front”, are made to discredit their party and justify by advance an eventual Turkish military strike.

And, in the answer M Muslim gave, it sounds the PYD’s patience is running thin. The party, he says, established defence committees among the population to oppose any kind of aggression. In Qandil mountains, the PKK stronghold, Duran Kalkan said the organisation’s army was ready to act would the Turks step in and try to use the unrest to impose a puppet government in Damascus. A declaration to feed Today’s Zaman’s articles: in a piece supposed to talk about a court hearing in Denmark, about the Europe-based PKK TV station Roj TV, the newspaper wrote the station would resettle in Syria, and that it was now two terrorist camps, each with a capacity of 200 recruits, which had been open in Syrian Kurdistan.(“Roj TV to broadcast from Syria if shut down in Denmark” 20/12/2011)

Eric Bruneau has worked as an analyst for a TV station in Iraqi Kurdistan. He lives in Europe and visits different parts of Kurdistan (Syria, Turkey, Iran and Iraq) for research on Kurdish issues. Eric Bruneau -

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author


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