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    How can the PKK problem be managed? Lessons learned from Erdoğan

    Nihat Ali Özcan, PhD28 July 2011 - Okunma Sayısı: 1577

     

    Since 1972, Turkey has been struggling against the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, that has the desire to found "an independent Kurdish state." The problem is quite sophisticated and can be examined from different perspectives such as ethnicity, human rights and insurgency.

    This article has two aims; the first to clarify the PKK's strategy and second to focus on Turkey's new "counter-terrorism" strategy. Both sides have so far based their strategies on "the people." Despite differences in methods and targeted populations, the aim is always to "harness the support of the people."

    Originally, the PKK embraced the Maoist "protracted revolutionary warfare strategy." It owed this to its Marxist/Leninist ideology, geographical conditions and its sponsors in the Eastern Bloc. The aim was to disable the government with "violence," after which the people could be mobilized and the PKK could set up a parallel authority. The PKK partially achieved this in the past and is trying to do the same now.

    The PKK was loyal to its classical insurgency strategy till the end of 1994. It however was forced to adopt a revised strategy after the number of militants fell from 17,000 to 5,000. The gravity point of the new strategy was "the people," too. Hence, violence was of secondary importance. The primary aim, then, was to exploit the opportunities offered by democratic politics. Currently, the PKK skillfully continues to combine terror, guerilla warfare and street protests with political activism. In sum, this is a typical case of insurgency.

    The ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, won the latest general election in a sweeping victory. Yet this victory was followed by the PKK's troubling attacks. Naturally, the AKP's agenda is different from that of the PKK. As in all democracies, the AKP's primary aim is to satisfy the electorate who ensure re-accession to power. As the new presidential election approaches, the AKP does not want to waste its energy on issues like terror that are too complex and difficult to solve between electoral periods. Still, the problem persists.

    It is important to evaluate Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's counter-insurgency strategy accurately. The ultimate aim, as part of the new strategy, of destroying the PKK's "hybrid action" capabilities by activating the police forces is not possible under the current circumstances, at least not with the suggested means. This is however indeed a time-saving and wisely prepared "public diplomacy" initiative.

    As Erdoğan stresses, the aim is "to manage the problem." Our prime minister has not only successfully defined the core of his strategy in the last nine years as "managing the public perception of counter-terrorism," but also made the army, which he wants to trivialize, pay the bill.

    As the last elections and debates in the media show, Erdoğan manages "counter-terrorism" very well. He can do the same in the future very easily. And the people will keep listening to the success story of the new strategy, largely informed by urban legends. But one should keep in mind that the history of insurgencies as dynamic phenomena is full of such dramatic tales of social engineering.

     

    This commentary was published in Hürriyet Daily News on 28.07.2011.

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