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Turkey's twin fight against ISIL and the PKK

Last Tuesday’s deadly terrorist attack in Sulthanahmet in Istanbul could amplify alarm within the Turkish government, which currently faces two

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Turkey's twin fight against ISIL and the PKK

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Last Tuesday’s deadly terrorist attack in Sulthanahmet in Istanbul could amplify alarm within the Turkish government, which currently faces two different and equally challenging threats. Observers speculate that Ankara may have been tolerating the radical Islamic State movement ISIL because it counterbalanced Kurdish resurgence in northern Syria, and diverted the PKK Kurdish rebels and possible sympathisers within Turkey. Before Sulthanahmet, ISIL’s targets were politically removed from the government.

The attack in Diyarbakir in the southeast, in the run-up to the June 7th general election, targeted the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party, killing four supporters and wounding more than 100.

In Suruç, on July 20th, 33 Kurdish and Turkish university students were killed while raising awareness about Kurdish-versus-ISIL battles in Kobani in Syria.

In Ankara, on October 10th, trade unionists and peace activists in an anti-war protest and also demanding attention for the Kurdish conflict were struck by twin suicide bombings which claimed a further 100 lives.

It took Diyarbakir and Suruç to convince the Turkish government to be more active against ISIL. Last July, Ankara granted the US-led coalition use of Incirlik air base. But although the authorities said they were ready to fight the enemies of the nation, many observers believed they were especially interested in one adversary: the PKK.

A two-year cease-fire between the Turkish government and the PKK militants collapsed last July. Since then fighting has flared across southeastern Turkey. Last weekend was one of the bloodiest, with 32 Kurdish militants killed.

The PKK struck back last Wednesday, killing six people when a car bomb exploded near a police post in Diyarbakir province. The fighting has driven many residents to flee their homes in towns near the Syrian and Iraqi borders.

With the sustained threats both from ISIL and the PKK, Turkey needs more than ever to restore a sense of national unity. Any authoritarian counter-terrorism measures, however, pose a risk that the Turkish government may further polarise society.

To look more closely at Turkey’s twin challenges in tackling ISIL and the PKK, on two different fronts, euronews spoke to retired military officer and terrorism expert Professor Atilla Sandıklı.

He gave his analysis as Turkey said that bombardments by its tanks and artillery had killed almost 200 ISIL fighters in Syria and Iraq in retaliation for Tuesday’s deadly suicide attack in Istanbul.

Bora Bayraktar, euronews:
How did Turkey get to this point? When you consider the PKK and ISIS terror campaigns?

Prof. Atilla Sandıklı / Haliç University:
“Turkey’s increasing influence and expansion of its soft power has annoyed global and regional powers. For this reason, some nations have tried to harm Turkey’s projects, plans and strategy by triggering problems within the country. They wanted to weaken Turkey’s position in the region. This initiative was to force Turkey to think about its own problems. They are doing it through what we call 4th generation war, proxy war or vague war.”

euronews:
Before embarking on this military intervention, what legal steps did Turkey take? What is the basis of these operations under international law?

Prof. Atilla Sandıklı / Haliç University:
“Turkey is the only country among those taking military action against ISIL in the region which has a border with Syria, and it is the most affected by the developments. I think questioning Turkey’s involvement there is absurd. Are its forces operating in line with international law? There are no state and international norms in Syria. Nonetheless, Turkey is trying to work in accordance with international legislation. That’s why Turkey has not intervened in Syria with its land forces so far. Turkey could do it and could solve most of the problems. But Turkey has not done that because there is no legal basis. At least we can say this: Turkey is obeying international law at least as much as the others are.”

For a more in-depth insight, here is a transcript of the full interview:

euronews:
Turkey is launching operations against the PKK in southeastern cities and simultaneously fighting against ISIL. Can Turkey fight two battles at the same time? How is Turkey fighting the PKK and ISIL at the same time?

Prof. Atilla Sandıklı /Haliç University:
“When you look at these two cases, Turkey is fighting in different arenas. The first one is against the ISIL groups within Syria and Iraq. The second part is the terrorist cells within Turkey’s own territory. And the struggle here is to disrupt their preparations for attacks. The third area of struggle is the terrorist PKK’s actions within Turkey.

“Turkey does not use its land forces in its fight within its own territory. The main tools here are the gendarmerie and the police forces. Therefore the land forces of the army can be used in the conflict in Iraq and Syria very effectively. They act efficiently. This is one thing. The second point here is that the PKK is not active in rural areas as they were before. They create problems in the cities since they moved into populated areas. For this reason the Turkish army has also the capacity to operate effectively in rural areas. From this angle we can say that Turkey is in a position of being able to fight on two levels. The only problem may arise in the area of intelligence.

“Because the issue has turned to a proxy war situation, it is difficult to gather intelligence from Syria, Iraq and within Turkey, to stop terrorist activities, to stop the consequences of this proxy war. But Turkey is part of the coalition against ISIL at the same time as a NATO member.
Turkey’s security is also their concern.”

euronews:
How did Turkey get to this point? When you consider the PKK and ISIS terror campaigns?

Prof. Atilla Sandıklı / Haliç University
“Turkey sent some messages to the region and to the world during the Arab Spring. They said:
‘Nobody can make plans here without our approval.’ Turkey’s increasing influence and expansion of its soft power annoyed global and regional powers. For this, some countries tried to harm Turkey’s projects, plans and strategy by triggering problems within the country. They wanted to weaken Turkey’s position in the region. This initiative was to force Turkey to think about its own problems.

“How is this executed? Nowadays, it is not possible to target Turkey directly, or make it an enemy and declare war. They do it with what we call 4th generation war, proxy war or vague war.

“Therefore here the global powers are against Turkey, as we saw after Turkey shot down a plane Russia spoke about Turkey in a hostile way. Iran also has been trying to expand its area of influence by using Shia sectarianism. They see Turkey as the main obstacle to this. We can consider Iran as an important party in this proxy war, with the goal of blocking Turkey’s initiatives. The Iraqi central government and the Assad regime are still in place. They have a tradition [of supporting terrorism). They can support the proxy war within Turkey.

“But the more worrying issue is that some members of our coalition do not care about Turkey’s interests in the region. We can say that they indirectly may support actions against Turkey.”

euronews:
Before embarking on this military intervention, what legal steps did Turkey take? What is the basis of these operations under international law?

Prof. Atilla Sandıklı / Haliç University:
“As you know, Turkish planes did not take part in these military operations. Turkey conducted them with its other weapons’ systems. We have artillery missiles with a 40 km range. We have tanks at the border. Turkey hit its targets with these weapons. Since we have a border connection with ISIL, Turkey hit ISIL targets from the border. At the same time in Iraq, against ISIL we have bases in Bashika and other places. With tanks and rocket launchers we are able to strike them.

“When we look at Russia, Iran or the Syrian regime, do they fight against ISIL?… Only the Iraqi central government is doing some operations to liberate their land. But the others are at war not with ISIL but with the groups which Turkey organised to fight ISIL. They are trying to break the power of these forces.

“When you look out there, who is there? The US? Russia? Yes. Iran? Yes. Is there the influence of the Saudis? Yes. All global and regional powers are there (in Syria) Why is the presence of Turkey being questioned? Turkey is the only country among them which has a border with Syria, and it is the most affected by developments. I think questioning Turkey’s involvement is absurd. Are they operating according to the international law? There are no state and international norms in Syria. But Turkey still is trying to work in accordance with international law. That’s why Turkey did not intervene in Syria with its land forces so far. Turkey could do it and could solve most of the problems. But Turkey did not do that since there is no legal basis.

“At least we can say this: Turkey is obeying the international law at least as much as others are.”