By Sharon Shaked and Yochanan Visser
Since mid-July hundreds of Kurdish civilians in Iraq have fled bombings by the Iranian and Turkish armies, and set up refugee camps that are situated along the northern part of Iraqi Kurdistan (which borders Turkey and Iran). Up to a hundred Kurds have been killed in these bombings.
A Turkish crackdown on Kurds is nothing new and is part of an ongoing war with the terrorist organization PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party), that started in 1984. In this war approx. 40,000 people – most of them Kurds – died, another two million Kurds or so were displaced and more than 3000 Kurdish villages were destroyed.
This time around however, the stakes are much higher since the Kurds have cast their eyes on the ‘Arab spring’, and feel that this might be the moment to establish an independent Kurdistan.
At the same time Turkish prime minister Tayyip Erdogan stepped up a campaign that aims to Islamize Turkish society and to limit political freedom.
The Kurds apparently have lost faith in Erdogan’s promises to resolve the conflict and to inplement reforms that would have ensured equality for the 20 percent Kurdish majority in Turkey.
Iran : The situation on the border of northern Iraq started to deteriorate when Iran began bombing Kurdish villages in July.
This resulted in a large amount of Kurdish refugees who now camp out on the hillsides at the foot of the Qandil mountains.
Last week, the Kurdish refugees in Iraq became trapped in their camps when Turkish army planes targeted PKK strongholds in the same area.
The Turkish army started to bomb the Kurdish areas in retaliation to recent terrorist attacks by the PKK that left scores of Turkish soldiers dead.
The PKK attacks were directly triggered by the continuous detainment of six MP’s of the Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) on charges of terrorist activities. The BDP is the biggest Kurdish party in Turkey and has won 36 seats during the last elections in June 2011.
Turkish officials insist that the raids are not aimed at civilians but are meant to destroy the PKK’s infrastructure and to annihilate its fighters.
Both Turkey and Iran have bombed Kurdish regions in the past. These bombings always aimed to wipe out suspected hiding places of the Turkish PKK and their Iranian offshoot PJAK.
The recent Turkish military campaign triggered Iraqi Kurdish protests. They started when a family of seven was killed by a Turkish air strike near the town of Rania in Iraq, next to the Iranian border.
On August 19th Kawa Mahmud, a spokesman for the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), said that the Turkish bombardment “is a violation of Iraq’s sovereignty, the norms of international law, and the UN charter.”
Mahmud said the attacks “have resulted in peaceful villages being depopulated as their inhabitants flee the bombings.”
In a related development this week the Iraqi Kurdish government decided to dispatch Kurdish forces beyond the borders of the autonomous Kurdish area, citing increased Arab attacks on Kurdish citizens
Turkish political analyst Mustafa Dhia said that the Turkish offensive “may check PKK infiltration across Iraq’s porous borders with Turkey for some time but, in the long term, there is no military solution to this problem.”
He added that “the Turkish government has a whole package of economic and social measures (available) to solve the Kurdish question by peaceful means.
Turkey’s military offensive shows the hypocrisy of Erdogan, as was pointed out by columnist Burak Bekdil in the Turkish paper Hurriyet.
Bekdil ridiculed Erdogan for insulting Israel’s president Shimon Peres at the Davos World Economic Forum two and a half years ago. At the time Erdogan blasted Israel’s handling of the Gaza war and told Peres: ‘You (Jews) know how to kill’.
Erdogan has also harshly criticized Bashar al-Assad’s bloody suppression of opposition protests in neighboring Syria, which has its own Kurdish minority. Tensions between Turkey and Syria boiled over this week, after Assad told Erdogan not to interfere in internal Syrian affairs.
At the same time Erdogan is conducting a relentless campaign against his opponents in Turkey. Middle East expert Barry Rubin reported this week that Erdogan’s regime ‘is arresting officers and dissidents on the most ridiculous charges of conspiring to murder people and overthrow the regime’.
In an e-mail to Missing Peace Professor Rubin commented on the Kurdish problem in Turkey and wrote that:
‘The Turkish regime spoke a great deal about solving the Kurdish issue in an Islamic context, that is by stressing that both Turks and Kurds are Sunni Muslims so there is no real problem. This effort failed, however, due both to the regime’s watering down its offers and many Kurds–as was evident in the last election–seeing themselves within a nationalist, or at least communalist, framework. Consequently, the PKK has restarted its violence and the regime–as it is doing in other areas–has responded with increasing repression’.
Israel: Meanwhile Turkey’s relations with Israel seem irreparable. Erdogan keeps insisting that Israel apologize for the death of 9 Turks who were killed when a violent lynch mob attacked Israeli soldiers on the Mavi Marmara, the Turkish ship that attempted to break the Israeli naval blockade on Gaza in 2010.
A majority in the Israeli government oppose an apology as it would further weaken Israel’s position in the region and would not fundamentally change Erdogan’s attitude towards Israel.
Last week, WikiLeaks published a US cable from 2009. The cable revealed that the Israeli ambassador in Ankara Gaby Levy, blamed the deterioration in Turkish Israeli relations on Erdogan’s religiously inspired hatred for Israel.
In yet another development the Kavkazcenter, a Chechen Islamic internet news agency, reported last week that Erdogan intends to implement ‘Plan B’ for the relations with Israel.
The plan reportedly entails cutting of diplomatic relations and an end to military cooperation, trade sanctions and full support for ‘Palestine’ which includes a visit to Gaza by Erdogan.
Back in June, Missing Peace published an analysis on Erdogan’s victory in the Turkish elections titled: ‘Turkey’s stealth revolution’.
Based on the recent developments it is fair to say it is no longer a ‘stealth revolution’.
Erdogan has come out in the open and has taken off his gloves.
He no longer thinks it is necessary to hide his true intentions and aspirations.
Turkey is rapidly becoming less democratic and more Islamic. The Erdogan regime is supporting the Islamist agenda for the Middle East and working to become a regional superpower.
The writing is on the wall but it is highly doubtful the West will notice it.