The conflict between Turkey and Kurdish nationalists who are determined to carve a Kurdish state out of eastern Turkey is heating up.
Kurdish insurgents attacked Turkish military outposts near the Iraqi border on Tuesday, killing eight soldiers in the deadliest attack this year. The Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a radical separatist group that has spearheaded an insurgency that has claimed more than 40,000 lives since 1984, is believed to be responsible for the attacks.
Turkey retaliated against the rebels on Tuesday, killing 18 militants, and escalated its response on Wednesday by launching air strikes against PKK bases inside Iraq. Turkey launched similar air strikes and threatened to invade Iraqi Kurdistan during a similar crisis in 2007.
Turkish officials and pro-Kurdish politicians alike denounced the PKK assaults, which came despite recent Turkish concessions to longstanding Kurdish demands for the teaching of the Kurdish language in schools and for more extensive Kurdish-language television broadcasts. The PKK likely seeks to prevent any further relaxation of tensions between Kurds and Turks by fomenting a crisis to provoke a crackdown.
The outbreak of fighting comes after warming Turkish relations with Iraq’s Kurdish Regional Government. The two governments recently agreed on plans to build three pipelines transporting oil and natural gas from Iraqi Kurdistan to supply the Turkish market.
Turkey has also faced growing threats along its border with Syria, which has been convulsed by a popular uprising against Bashar al-Assad’s dictatorship. The PKK has launched attacks recently in Turkey near the Syrian border. The Assad regime is suspected of reviving its support for the PKK, which it halted in 1998 after Turkey threatened to invade. A Turkish journalist has speculated that the Assad regime is once again encouraging PKK terrorism in Turkey, hoping to force Turkey to rescue the Syrian government to bring stability back to the region.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has taken a hard line against Kurdish terrorism. Employing his characteristically harsh rhetoric, Erdogan blazed, “We have never regarded terrorism as a matter of negotiation with anybody, and we will never do so. The only thing to do is for terrorists to lay down their arms.… We will continue our struggle until the end, and sooner or later, we will succeed in our fight against terror.”
However, Erdogan has applied a double standard when it comes to terrorism perpetrated by Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist extremist group that has waged a terrorist war against Israel. Turkey and the wider region would be better off if he ended his hypocrisy on that issue.