Tensions between the Kurdish population and the Ankara government continue to cause incidents even after more than 33 years since the Kurdistan Workers’ Party began the armed resistance in Turkey. After the ceasefire between Turkey and the PKK, more than 2,000 people died in the clashes between Turkish security forces and party supporters.
The coup in 2016 against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has aggravated the already existing state of conflict. Suspecting conspirators among the ethnic Kurds, the Turkish leader ordered aerial attacks directed against PKK militants on Turkey’s territory.
The conflict between Kurds and the Turkish government has lasted for nearly a century. The history of the conflict starts at the beginning of the XXth century, when the region resided by the Kurdish population in eastern and southeastern Turkey, now comprising 18-20 million people, was divided between Turkey, Syria, Iran and Iraq following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. In the following decades, the Kurdish population’s problem has been sharpened by the Turkish government’s efforts to assimilate ethnic Kurds living within its borders. In 1978, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) was founded, a Kurdish separatist organization, which undertook the mission to fight for the territorial independence of Kurds in Turkey and the creation of the national state of Kurdistan. In 1984, a group inside the PKK began an armed resistance campaign against Turkey.
Recent developments of the conflict between the Kurds and the Ankara government have shown that the dispute is far from over. In March 2013, after several failed negotiations, an agreement was announced that would put an end to the hostilities between the two camps.
The ceasefire ended in 2015 following the terrorist attack organized by ISIS in Suruç, where 34 people, mostly ethnic Kurds, died. Protests took place following the attack and the Kurdish people accused Erdogan of collaborating with the Islamic State. The Turkish army was accused of organizing air raids directed against PKK positions in northern Iraq, under the pretext of fighting against terrorism. After this moment, the tensions escalated and re-started the aggression in the area. From the summer of 2015 to the autumn of 2016, it is estimated that 2360 people died as a result of these confrontations.
The conflict between the Kurds and the Turkish government has been taking place on a new front since 2014. Turkey’s policy in the conflict in Syria and Iraq has led to the degeneration of the conflict with the Kurdish fighters. The two camps disputed their positions under the mask of fighting the Islamic State. On the one hand, ethnic Kurds, reunified in combat units called YPG, are recognized as effective fighters against the terrorist organization. Turkey, a NATO member state, although officially engaged in the fight against IS, is accused of being hostile with YPG troops. Ankara denounces Kurdish fighters as part of PKK. On the other hand, officials say that Turkey is using the coalition against ISIS in order to weaken the advance of Kurdish YPG troops in Syria and to attack the territories inhabited by ethnic Kurds in Turkey and Iraq. Sadi Pria, Iraqi Kurdish leader, said that “Turkey openly and shamefully supports ISIS and Al-Quaeda terrorists against free Kurdish fighters.”
The Kurdish issue will continue to be a central point in the Middle East policy. An advisory referendum took place on 25 September in which the population residing in the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan was called to vote regarding the issue of creating a Kurdish Independent State. The official outcome of the referendum has not been announced yet, but it is expected to be a definite expression of independence. This step has a symbolic stake that the Kurds, not just those in Iraq, are pursuing for the creation of a national state. The organization of the plebiscite has raised concerns inside the international community.
Both Turkey and Iraq have reacted to the referendum on Monday by sending troops at the mutual border. The president of Turkey said that Ankara opposes the vote and will impose sanctions by closing the Iraqi Kurdish oil pipeline.