Emergency restriction areas re-appear in Turkey

Arsenal Bolt: Quick updates on the news stories we’re following.

Al-Monitor: “Is Turkey’s ’emergency rule’ back?”

As of this writing, 37 areas in Gaziantep, Sanliurfa, Tunceli, Kars, Agri, Hakkari, Siirt and Sirnak provinces had been declared provisional security zones. The law allows bans from 15 days to six months. Nobody can enter those zones without permission, and doing so could mean fines and imprisonment.

Idris Baluken, co-chair of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party Parliamentary Group, asked for a parliamentary inquiry about the decision. In a petition to the parliamentary speaker, Baluken said the decision is illegal.

“With this decision for forbidden zones, what is suspended is democracy,” Baluken said. “Rule of law is being violated. In addition to the political ramifications of the decision, there are also the legal aspects. Basic rights of residence, traveling and communications recognized by the constitution are violated. The ‘contract’ between the people and the public authority of law is violated by the authority.”

Although most of the forbidden zones are those where the PKK is known to be active, two areas on the Syrian border were also included on the off-limits list.


Previously from AFD on this topic:

“Turkey’s Erdogan demands total information awareness”

Turkey’s Erdogan demands total information awareness

Arsenal Bolt: Quick updates on the news stories we’re following.


BGN News: “Turkey’s Erdoğan asks village administrators to spy on citizens for him”

“In order to continue its operations in a determined and forceful manner, the state has to determine what is going on in every house via intelligence gathering,” Erdoğan said during a meeting on Wednesday. “Who is in which home? What is going on inside? My muhtar will calmly, and in an appropriate manner, come and notify the district governor or the police chief.”
The last time muhtars were instructed to gather intelligence for the state was during the period of martial law following the 1980 military coup, a bloody period marred by severe state repression and severe infringements of the rule of law.


Op-Ed | Selling Out the Kurds

The essay below was co-authored with Stephan Richter, Editor-in-Chief of The Globalist, where it originally appeared.

A U.S. Air Force Boeing KC-135R Stratotanker from the Ohio Air National Guard at Incirlik, Turkey, August 2003. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Vince Parker.)

A U.S. Air Force Boeing KC-135R Stratotanker from the Ohio Air National Guard at Incirlik, Turkey, August 2003. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Vince Parker.)

To recruit Turkey against ISIS, the United States lost sight of its true friends.

U.S. policy on Iraq, Syria and the surrounding countries seems to have been left solely in the hands of amateurs in the White House. That is not a partisan statement, for it applies to both the current and previous occupants. The next occupant, regardless of party, seems likely to muck it up as well.

The latest foolhardy decision seems to have been a deal long sought by the United States to move the “strategy” against ISIS forward. It is worth recalling that the terrorist organization is de facto an American creation resulting from the completely ill advised Iraq policy under George W. Bush.

In the blinding desire to destroy ISIS, Mr. Obama and his team were so keen on getting rights to use Turkish air bases that they completely forgot about the dark side of Mr. Erdogan.

Erdogan’s other agendas

No sooner had the agreement on bases been reached than Turkey’s own aircraft began pounding Kurdish militant targets in northern Syria and Iraq.

The government, which still lacks a governing mandate after no party won a majority in the recent elections, has officially put the anti-ISIS PKK fighters on the same threat level as ISIS. In reality, Kurdish fighters appear to be a much bigger target of the Turkish Air Force than the ISIS fighters.

The point of all this maneuvering is that Erdogan hopes to leverage wartime fervor into a favorable nationalist coalition or a new election with a better outcome for himself.

As if the U.S. collusion in that domestic, entirely partisan strategy would not be shameful enough, the United States is also pledging to help Erdogan on another matter. He has long sought to clear an ISIS-held area of Syria that is coveted by both Kurdish nationalists and (pro-Erdogan) Ottoman irredentists in Turkey. The latter, it seems, still have yet to accept the country’s 1920s borders.

Hard though it may be to believe, the facts on the ground are as follows: The U.S. military is now helping Turkey’s hardliners achieve their goals against the very Kurdish fighters whose close coordination with U.S. bombers have pushed ISIS back from Kobani and disrupted its supply lines. All the while, Turkey sat on its hands and refused to halt lucrative ISIS smuggling.

Marginalizing the Kurds

In effect, the Americans managed to sell out the Kurds, perhaps Syria’s only remaining true “freedom fighters,” as they proved to be in the defense of Kobani. Read more

Turkey Elections 2015: The Kurdish Gambit

In a complex and probably ill-conceived gambit that I barely can follow, the leading national Kurdish political party in Turkey (the HDP, founded in 2012) will attempt to contest the June parliamentary elections as a single slate. They will pursue the slate option over Kurdish groups’ usual choice of running all parliamentary candidates as independents to qualify for seats reserved for non-party candidates.

The latter move was the course of action the party’s antecedents previously used in most national elections to skirt the country’s 10% national vote representation threshold for parties, which they have generally been (and continue to be) unlikely to achieve. So what prompted the decision to take the riskier move of running as a party and what might happen if it fails?

If the party manages to scrape past 10%, Kurds will have many more seats in Turkey’s parliament than at present, under a unified banner, and would be somewhat more influential. If they fail to reach 10%, even just barely, Kurdish representation in the national parliament will collapse — possibly to zero members — while handing as many as 50 extra seats to the ruling AK Party. This will have the double-whammy effect of giving the AKP enough seats to amend the constitution into an authoritarian executive system without needing multi-party support to do so. It will also conclusively demonstrate that Kurds have no voice in Turkish democracy.

At first glance, that would appear to be a devastating blow. But the plan comes with a silver lining that unfolds if the HDP implodes through a failed effort to reach 10% as a unit this year. The hardliner wing of Kurdish politics (i.e. the PKK militants instead of the pro-diplomacy HDP politicians) will see both ensuing results (no Kurdish representation and an authoritarian constitution) as openly validating the need for violent resistance (in an already heated pre-election environment). Ordinary Kurdish civilians will bear the brunt of the ensuing damage.

However, by wiping out the HDP in the national elections, their sister party DBP — which only contests local and regional elections — will suddenly become the leading political face of democratic Kurdish politics. DBP is currently the Kurdish equivalent in Turkey of Scotland’s SNP pre-2014 in the United Kingdom: A leftist party mostly focusing on regional-level politics but pro-separatist, which the nationwide left-leaning parties can’t endorse. That means the DBP’s rise to the face of Kurdish politics in Turkey in the aftermath of the HDP’s expected fall will also fuel political dysfunction to the benefit of the PKK hardliners. But, at the same time, the DBP will also remain a potential legal negotiating partner at the sub-national level, possibly for independence or substantial autonomy, if the Turkish government decides to come around on that.

And the only way that such a complex and Machiavellian scheme with “victory” scenarios from all outcomes (including crushing defeat) is possible is that all of these groups (the HD Party, the DB Party, and the PKK) are controlled by and following the orders of one man: Abdullah Ocalan. Now it remains to be seen which moves unfold in his elaborate chess game.

In the end of course, it might just be a plain old disaster rather than a clever scheme.

This post was transferred from G+ and edited for clarity.

US and Turkey part ways on Syrian Kurds

US cargo planes yesterday began ferrying supplies and ammunition from the Iraqi Kurdish Regional Government to Syrian Kurdish fighters in the besieged town of Kobani, despite protests from Turkey’s president.

Earlier Sunday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country would not arm the Kurdish fighters, calling them “equal” to the Kurdistan Workers Party that both Turkey and the U.S. consider a terrorist group.

Erdogan said “it would be very, very wrong to expect” the Turkish government “to openly say ‘yes’ to our NATO ally America giving this kind of support. To expect something like this from us is impossible.”

This echoes the strident remarks made last weekend by Erdogan’s former deputy prime minister and the current number two in the president’s ruling AK Party, in which he asserted that the battle at Kobani was essentially just terrorists fighting terrorists. It also follows last week’s resumption of Turkish airstrikes against the PKK Kurdish fighters in Turkey after two years of peace.

That, combined with the embarrassing reversal on Turkish airbase use for the Syrian campaign a week ago, appears to have served as a breaking point for the United States on trying to placate Turkey on American policy on Syria’s Kurds, because there was another big shift in addition to the supply drops:

[Erdogan] made the comment days after the United States said it held its first direct talks with the Syrian Kurdish political party the Kurdish Democratic Union Party, which is tied to the Kurdish fighters in Kobani.

The Democratic Union Party (PYD) was formed in 2003 by the Syrian Kurdish backers of the PKK in Turkey, about five years after Syria’s Hafez al-Assad regime switched from supporting the the PKK to supporting the Turkish government and ejected the PKK from Syrian territory. During the current civil war, the PYD emerged as the central government structure of the increasingly independent Syrian Kurdistan in the country’s north, an area called “Rojava” or “Western Kurdistan” (eastern Kurdistan being the Iraqi and Iranian areas of Kurdish populations).

Because of their affiliation with the PKK against Turkey, the United States and the rival Kurdish political parties in Iraq had kept their distance from the PYD and their fighters (known as the YPG), but the threat of ISIS increasingly forced everyone toward a fork in the road on whether to embrace them or leave them behind. Turkey’s government appears to have taken the latter path, while the United States is choosing the former. (The Iraqi Kurdish Regional Government is still more on the fence. Despite yesterday’s aid to Kobani, they have complained as recently as last week that they don’t want to help the PYD because they might be allied with Bashar al-Assad, a dubious albeit vaguely plausible allegation that periodically circulates.)

Given the YPG’s vital help earlier this summer in relieving the ISIS siege of the Yazidis on Mount Sinjar in Iraq, helping the Kurdish fighters at Kobani is only fair. Moreover, the Kurdish paramilitaries in Syria remain one of the most reliably US-friendly militant groups in the country’s civil war, and the United States can ill afford to abandon any friends there now.

With the United States now directly talking to Kurdish leaders in Kobani in real time, coalition efforts to lift the siege at Kobani should make much more progress. As I noted previously, it seemed that Turkey’s obstruction and opposition to anyone coordinating with YPG fighters directly was a major impediment to military support at Kobani:

Not only has Turkey still not let coalition planes use airbases close to Kobani — which would make it much easier to reach to offer air support — but Turkey appears to be discouraging the US from talking to Syrian Kurd commanders on the ground to gain real-time intelligence. This may be why coalition airstrikes have been so limited and ineffective at Kobani: there are no spotters on the ground to report rapidly shifting targets for American planes. In contrast, the airstrikes have been much more effective in breaking Iraqi sieges at Sinjar and Amirli in part because the US has a much stronger and pre-existing, working relationship with the anti-ISIS commanders on the ground, particularly within Iraq’s Kurdish Regional Government’s paramilitaries.

The US, of course, is also more focused on broader strategic targets that will break ISIS overall, not just at Kobani […] But relief airstrikes have occurred in Iraq at several key points, which implies that if the United States had more ability to break the siege at Kobani, they would do so. A lot of that impediment seems to hinge on Turkey’s vacillation regarding how to handle the situation at Kobani (and its unwillingness to work with the Syrian Kurdish fighters or let the US work with them).

Already we have seen US airstrikes on ISIS at Kobani hit with more frequency and more accuracy in the past several days as YPG commanders provide targeting coordinates to American bombers.

We may well be witnessing the emergence of another far-reaching Middle Eastern alliance between the United States and a minority quasi-government with a large paramilitary.


With airstrikes, Turkey-PKK ceasefire apparently over

I guess this is the payback promised on Sunday by President Erdogan. NYT:

Turkish fighter jets struck Kurdish insurgent positions in southeastern Turkey on Monday, shaking the country’s fragile peace process with the Kurds and demonstrating the complexities surrounding the American-led coalition fighting the Islamic State, which Turkey is under heavy pressure to join.

Turkish news reports said the strikes had been aimed at fighters of the Kurdistan Worker’s Party, known as the PKK, and were in retaliation for the shelling of a Turkish military base.

Such airstrikes were once common, as Turkey fought a Kurdish insurgency in a conflict that claimed almost 40,000 lives over nearly three decades. But hostilities essentially ceased two years ago when the peace process began, and both the Turkish newspaper Daily Sabah and an online statement from the PKK said the airstrikes on Monday were the first since then. The Turkish military also released a statement, but it did not mention airstrikes specifically, only an exchange of fire with “terrorists.”

Interesting that they didn’t respond with fighter jets to occasional shelling by ISIS from Syria in recent weeks.

This latest development will likely validate and cheer up the hardline Turkish nationalists in the elite who never supported the peace process — and will probably confirm the suspicions of the public majority that also opposed the attempts to negotiate peace in 2012 and 2013.

The PKK and Kurdish media reported no casualties so far, and the group called the airstrikes a violation of the ceasefire:

“After almost two years the occupying Turkish army conducted a military operation against our forces yesterday for the first time […] with these air strikes they violated the ceasefire.”


Map: Ethnically Kurdish zones of Turkey, Iraq, Syria, and Iran -- circa 1992. (Credit: CIA)

Map: Ethnically Kurdish zones of Turkey, Iraq, Syria, and Iran — circa 1992. (Credit: CIA)

Erdogan promises payback after Kurdish protests turn violent

Recep-Tayyip-ErdoganAs post-election betrayals go, saying “We will make them pay dearly” of an ethnic minority constituency you heavily courted in the presidential election two months earlier, after seeking their votes in parliament the year before to amend the constitution significantly in your favor, is probably pretty high up there.

But that’s exactly what President Recep Tayyip Erdogan did as Turkish and Syrian Kurds’ protests on Turkey’s inaction at Kobani became violent in clashes with security forces and then resulted in deaths of government officials, according to Hurriyet Daily News, a major Turkish newspaper:

“We will make them pay dearly” Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan vowed in a speech in eastern Turkey’s Bayburt yesterday. “Like they paid for what they did in Bingöl, they will pay more in future,” he said.

He was talking about a clash between the security forces and a group of Kurdish militants on Oct. 9 in another eastern city of Bingöl. Following a call by the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), which focuses on the Kurdish problem, to end the violence-infected protest demonstrations against the government, the police chief of the city was attacked by gunfire in the downtown part of the city; he was heavily wounded and two of his deputies were killed. During the hot pursuit, the security forces had killed four militants in a car while they were trying to escape with their guns; one of them turned out to be a civilian government employee.

The government accuses the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) of being behind the attack, despite the ongoing peace talks that have continued for the last two years.

Hurriyet also reported that a wider crackdown on Kurds in Turkey appears to be imminent:

A day before, on Oct. 11, Erdogan also said there will be new and stricter measures to fight with the “vandals on the streets,” and are expected to be brought to Parliament this week.

Erdogan signals that there could be more security measures if the PKK resumes its armed campaign as the country is heading for a parliamentary election scheduled for June 2015. Such a hardening in security policies in relation with the Kurdish problem could not only break the peace dialogue, but could mean a harder line in Turkey’s foreign relations as well.

So much for peace at home, so much for Kurdish cultural recognition, and so much for the improved relations with Iraq’s Kurdish Regional Government in recent years or the ISIS-induced era of good feelings from June to September of this year. It was a good run for the year and a half it lasted. Now back to your regularly scheduled decades of unresolved internal conflict.