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Turkey’s Concerns About PKK are Not Legitimate

Michael Rubin

Washington Examiner, June 28, 2022

“While Erdogan has transformed Turkey into a state sponsor of terrorism,  Syrian Kurdish forces that evolved ideologically from the PKK rallied to fight and defeat the Islamic State.”

It’s become boilerplate diplomatic and journalistic language whenever Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan throws a temper tantrum about Kurdish self-governance in Syria.

“These are legitimate [Turkish] concerns. This is about terrorism. It’s about weapons exports,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said during a visit to Finland. Previewing the Group of Seven and NATO summits, Biden administration officials spoke of “Ankara’s state and security concerns.” “Turkey has legitimate security concerns on its borders,” declared Asli Aydintasbas, an Istanbul-based contributor to the Washington P

It is time to stop buying the idea that Turkey’s concerns are legitimate.

True, in the 1980s, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, the PKK, waged an insurgency in pursuit of a separate state after decades of Turkish discrimination against Kurds. At the time, the PKK engaged in horrific abuses against those whom it saw as agents of the Turkish state. By the early 1990s, however, Turgut Ozal, who dominated Turkey for a decade first as prime minister and then as president, proposed negotiating with the PKK. Danger persisted, even after Turkish special forces captured PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan in Kenya in 1999. Turkish security-enhanced precautions for bus, train, and plane travel across the country through the early 2000s. Nor was the PKK threat limited to Turkey. When I first visited Iraqi Kurdistan in 2000, travel between Duhok and Erbil was risky after sundown because of PKK raids. In 2003, while working for the Coalition Provisional Authority, the PKK briefly held me at gunpoint while I was traveling in the mountains a few miles south of the Turkish border.

Much has changed in recent decades, however.

irst, the PKK abandoned its quest for a separate state. For decades, it has pursued federalism based not on ethnicity but on local districts. While Erdogan has transformed Turkey into a state sponsor of terrorism — there likely would have been no Islamic State in Iraq and Syria had Turkey not facilitated the group’s movements and supply across its borders — Syrian Kurdish forces that evolved ideologically from the PKK rallied to fight and defeat the Islamic State.

The world rallied around Yazidi victims of genocide but will not listen to them. Ask Yazidis and they will describe how Syrian Kurdish militias defended them after Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga abandoned them and Turkey targeted them.

 

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