Commentary

Kurdish Terrorism Increases in Turkey as Relations with Europe Sour

Middle East In Focus

Middle East Policy Council

Views from the Region

Kurdish militants have perpetrated yet another act of terror inside Turkey, this time targeting a military bus. The attack is one of many in the recent months targeting military personal and civilians, aimed at sowing chaos in the country and engaging the Turkish military in an expensive war of attrition. But that is not the only headache for Turkey’s president, Recep Erdogan, as Ankara’s relations with Europe continue to deteriorate. The German Bundestag recently passed a non-binding resolution characterizing the 1915 killings of Armenians as a “genocide” — wording that Turkey rejects as historically inaccurate. The reaction in Turkish papers to the passing of the resolution has been predictably swift and emotional, although there are some who have urged a more measured approach to the issue.

In a recent editoria l commenting on the terrorist attacks in Istanbul, the Saudi Gazette editorial staff noted that the attacks demonstrate the “futility of terror.” However, rather than taking a hardline approach, the editorial urges the Turkish government to find ways to overcome the differences with the Kurdish militants: “The latest terrorist outrage in Turkey is almost certainly one more futile act of violence in a confrontation between the government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the Kurdish militants of PKK....Beside the immediate destruction and heartache produced by terrorist attacks, they are in essence counterproductive....The slaughter caused by Kurdish killers merely strengthens Ankara’s will to defeat them. The tragedy is that President Erdogan proved himself the first Turkish leader to have the political courage and power to reach out to the Kurds, broker a ceasefire and grant Turkish Kurds recognition of cultural and political rights that had long been denied them....The lesson of this latest mass murder in Istanbul is that blood will continue to flow needlessly until one day it is replaced by ink that flows from a pen onto an agreement that resolves this needless conflict.”

The Gulf Today editorial, on the other hand, acknowledges that these are trying times for Turkey, especially in light of the threat of Islamist terrorists, declining tourism revenues and the refugee crisis, but emphasizes the need for Turkey and international community to stand united in times like these: “The terrorist attack that targeted the Vezneciler district in Istanbul, in which scores of people were killed or injured, is a cowardly act that contradicts all human and moral values....To compound the problems, such incidents are happening at a time when Turkey itself is going through a challenging phase. Economic trouble, Daesh threat and millions of refugees are among the major issues that Turkey is presently struggling to cope with....What the attackers fail to understand is that such acts of terrorism will never win as entire humanity now stands together against the evil. It will be foolish to imagine that such abhorrent actions will stop the people and nations from striving to build a peaceful and sustainable world....Terrorism is an international issue. The world community should intensify its collective efforts to uproot the dangerous menace and find drastic solutions to combat the phenomenon.”

Hurriyet Daily News’ Murat Yetkin explores an unexpected outcome from the increased reliance of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on the military, which had been under siege by Mr. Erdogan, but which now finds itself in a much stronger position: “The Turkish Armed Forces have played an important role in this anti-terror fight, together with the police and gendarmerie forces....After the military was called on to suppress the PKK in the recent operations in urban areas, it obeyed the political orders. But the soldiers made it clear to the government (then under Ahmet Davutoğlu) that what they were doing was not 100 percent lawful. The soldiers did not want to carry the entire responsibility for security operations before the courts and so asked for legal adjustments to be made....The new legal adjustments reportedly not only bring extra powers, but also extra-legal protection to the Turkish military, especially regarding domestic security matters. One example is that government permission - which means political permission - will be needed for the trial of military officers in cases of suspected misconduct or crime....In a sense, because of the latest upsurge in Turkey’s anti-terror fight, the military has thus regained many of the powers and protections that it had previously lost under Erdoğan’s AK Parti rule.”

However, terrorism is not the only concern in Erdogan’s mind, especially in the aftermath of the German parliament’s approval of the genocide resolution. Turkish parliamentarians have taken their own steps to counter Germany’s actions, with one member of Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) having already “prepared a legislative proposal over the German killings of locals in Namibia in the early 1900’s to be described as ‘genocide’, following the German parliament’s approval of a resolution that described the 1915-16 killings of Armenians by Ottoman forces as ‘genocide.’...AKP Istanbul deputy Metin Külünk noted that the population of Nama people in Africa decreased during clashes with Germans in the early 1900’s in Namibia, vowing that he would propose parliament approve of the killings as ‘genocide’....He also said that global powers wanted to take over Turkey and used the Armenian issue as a tool in this cause. Külünk also claimed that Europe was the homeland of genocide.”

Mr. Erdogan has received some crucial support from the Armenian patriarch in Turkey who, according to a Good Morning Turkey report “has condemned the Bundestag’s approval of a resolution recognizing the World War I-era killings of Anatolian Armenians at the hands of the Ottoman Empire as ‘genocide’, claiming the vote politicized a sensitive issue....Ateşyan added that the painful history of the Armenian people was being utilized as a tool to ‘blame and punish the Turkish nation and Turkey in the international political arena’, calling all to understand the ‘use of the Armenian nation by imperialist powers’....The archbishop’s letter sparked outrage from some segments of the Turkish-Armenian community, as the country’s leading Turkish-Armenian weekly, Agos, published a letter addressed to the religious leader, inviting him to ‘common sense’.”

But as already noted, the patriarch’s letter has not been received well by some segments of the Armenian minority in Turkey, many of whom found the sentiments expressed by the patriarch offensive, as expressed in an open letter published on Agos: “We have read your letter about the Armenian Genocide resolution of Bundestag, which is addressed to the President and signed on behalf of ‘Turkish Armenians Society’, with sorrow, anger and shame. Please regard this letter as the voice of those members of that society who disagree with the content and style of your letter. You define the systematic and almost complete annihilation of a people by the decision of the state itself as ‘the events happened during the tragic times of World War I’; this is an affront to the ancestors, victims and the survivors in the eyes of the society to which you also belong....The Armenian Genocide, as a crime against humanity, is a concern of the whole humanity. You said that you pray for the good of two peoples. The common future of those peoples would be possible only when an honorable reconciliation is achieved, because then, there won't be this kind of oppression that caused you to deny even your own history.”

In Turkey, some observers, including Hurriyet Daily News’ Guven Sak, were quick to connect the actions of the German parliament with the desire of the latter to even the score with Erdogan: “So the Bundestag’s decision is first and foremost about German politics. It is not about doing justice to the sufferings Ottoman Armenians back in 1915, if you ask me. If that was the objective, it could have happened earlier, because Germany hardly changed its mind about historical events since the last time the issue came up. No, this resolution was about pushing back against Turkey....The members of the bundestag doubtless took pleasure in going up against President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The man hurt their pride when he bent Europe to his will, so they are now returning the favor....Both sides need to exercise restraint. The cooperation between our countries is simply too important to falter on something so nakedly emotional. The migration challenge is one big item looming on our common agenda. Turkey and Germany cannot overcome it without each other.”

But not all agreed that Turkey’s reaction was the appropriate one, with Nuray Mert suggesting that Turkey needs to come to terms with its past, or at least allow for a frank debate on the subject: “Turkey’s reaction is...[a] matter of concern as the president claims that ‘some in Germany are plotting against Turkey’. The president’s words are rather restrained in comparison with his supporters in the media and politics who not only accused Germany directly, but also trotted out the discourse of a ‘Western plot against Turkey which has proven to be the rising star of Islam.’...Under the circumstances, any attempt to discuss that particular episode in history is labelled as treason. It means that ‘the Old Turkey’ and ‘the New Project’ agree on the worst common ground, which is a fanatical nationalist understanding of the past....To sum up, the best use of history is to face up to the historical realities and tragedies so as not to make similar mistakes, rather than name and shame any national or political community....Turks need to recognize the shortcomings of our historical vices, not just to avoid political vulnerability but also to heal our national psychology which produces obsessive defensiveness and aggressive denial.”


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