To reduce attacks, Turkey must treat its Kurds better.
Turkey's decades-long conflict with Kurdish terrorists is heating up again. Tens of thousands of troops now line the border with Iraq, where members of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) have been staging attacks against Turkish soldiers. For Turkey, the stakes are high. It fears northern Iraq could become a permanent base for the PKK, especially if Iraq is partitioned.
Yet to truly eradicate PKK terrorism, Turkey must acknowledge the larger problem at hand – one that cannot be resolved by military force. Turkey must commit to meeting the needs of its Kurdish population, by giving it more rights and representation.
Turkey's struggle with PKK terrorism relied mostly on military force. It began in 1984 and peaked in the late-1980s to late-1990s, costing nearly 40,000 lives. Conflict subsided with PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan's arrest in 1999, but the ensuing cease-fire lasted only five years.
Today, Turkey once again faces the question of how effective the use of military force will be against the PKK. With more than 50 Turkish soldiers killed in the last two months, there is immense public pressure on the government to retaliate. The public has increasingly voiced its concern over the last weeks, staging protests against PKK violence in cities across Turkey.
Turkey has thus far avoided a full-scale military incursion into Iraq on the basis of its negotiations with Iraqi leaders and its call for support from Western allies, mainly the US. America has passed along military intelligence about PKK activities in Iraq but has yet to deliver more tangible support, including increased involvement in northern Iraq to prevent PKK terrorist activity. It is difficult to ascertain what approach could, at this stage of the crisis, prevent Turkey from using further military force.
Regardless of the diplomatic or military short-term steps Turkey takes, the PKK will remain a threat. Turkey's deep-rooted struggle with the PKK requires it to pay much closer attention to its Kurdish population. Kurds make up an estimated 20 percent of the Turkish population, yet their political and social rights continue to be repressed, and any expression of Kurdish culture continues to be deemed separatism.