Kurdistan Center
for Democracy in the Middle East
Accueil En
Accueil Fra
Accueil Ku
Accueil En Accueil Fra Accueil Ku accueilAr
Khoyboun Flag
Home Page Accueil En Articles articles LangueArt
LangueArt archives
archives contact
contact titres livres
titres livres
About us
about us

Turkey’s concerns about PKK are not legitimate

Jun 28, 2022



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 Post.

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.

First, 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. Turkey’s complaints about cross-border terrorism are fiction. Syrian Kurdish authorities protect their border. Turkey repeatedly violates it and kills scores annually. Turkish aggression toward Iraqi Kurds in Sinjar and Qandil is likewise one-sided.

To suggest that Turkish concerns about the Kurdish diaspora in Sweden or Finland are legitimate is to legitimize racism. It is akin to allowing Russia to hunt down and demand disempowerment, detention, or expulsion of ethnic Ukrainians in Europe and Central Asia. It sets a precedent for China to use its membership in international organizations to extract concessions against Uyghurs or Taiwanese.

The Biden administration is right to be concerned. Erdogan’s behavior raises questions about the future viability of NATO. Rather than assuage Turkey, however, or appease it at the expense of human rights and the rule of law, it is time to ask whether NATO can survive Turkey.

Appeasement will not work. Blackmailers seldom have personal honor. Bargaining with Erdogan will only encourage further demands. Rather, it is time for a united front in which the United States and Europe are willing to use sanctions and other elements of coercion until Erdogan understands holding NATO hostage will bring Turkey not glory but only pain.

*Michael Rubin (@mrubin1971) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner's Beltway Confidential. He is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.