Turkey launches air attack on PKK

By bne IntelliNews October 15, 2014

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The Turkish army launched an air attack on the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) on October 14, in the first operation on this scale since 2012. The government has already cut its GDP growth forecast for 2014 citing the conflicts in neighbouring countries, and reigniting the conflict with Turkey’s Kurdish minority could put further pressure on the economy. 

Turkish fighter jets attacked positions held by the PKK in the Daglica district close to the Turkish border with Iraq. Hurriyet Daily News reported that the Turkish General Staff ordered the bombings in response to a series of armed attacks by the PKK in early October. 

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said on October 14 that the military had acted following “very serious harassing fire” around the Daglica military outpost. “Naturally it is impossible for us to tolerate this. Hence the Turkish armed forces took the necessary measures," Davutoglu told a press conference, Reuters reported. 

A year and a half on from the March 2013 ceasefire, relations between the government and Turkey’s Kurdish minority - estimated at estimated 11m-14m people - are under heavy strain because of Ankara’s reluctance to step in to support fellow Kurds in neighbouring Syria. Kurds within Turkey are angry that the government has stood by while Kurds in Syria face a massacre by Islamic State (IS) forces in the town of Kobane close to the Turkish border. Many Kurds have tried to cross the border to fight in the Syrian conflict, but have been turned back by the Turkish military. 

An estimated 37 people were killed in early October when riots broke out across majority Kurdish regions of south-east Turkey. As well as clashes between rioters and police, fighting also broke out between Kurdish protesters and members of radical Islamic group Hizbullah in the town of Diyarbakir, where eight people were killed on October 7. 

Ankara is now facing the dilemma of whether to support Kurds in northern Syria against IS, in case this strengthens Kurdish forces, enabling them to renew their fight for an independent Kurdish state in southern Turkey. However, a failure to act has already angered Turkey’s ethnic Kurds and risks restarting the conflict between Turkey and the PKK, which resulted in around 40,000 deaths.

The jailed leader of the PKK Abdullah Ocalan has warned that if no progress is made by October 15 then talks will end, and a statement from the PKK is expected later on October 15. The party also said in an October 14 statement that the air operation against its bases violated the 2013 ceasefire. 

Ankara is still considering its next move after the Turkish parliament voted to allow intervention in the conflicts in Iraq and Syria on October 2. Officials from Turkey and the US are in talks on Turkey’s role in the fight against IS. Washington is hoping at least to secure access to Turkish military bases and airspace. However, Davutoglu has said that the priority for Turkey is to establish a buffer zone within Syria, and Ankara also wants regime change in Syria to be a condition of its involvement. 

The conflicts in neighbouring countries have already taken their toll on the Turkish economy. On October 8, the government lowered its 2014 growth forecast from 4% to 3.3%, with Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan citing the situation in Syria and Iraq in addition to growing uncertainty in the global economy.

Before the conflict erupted in Iraq, the country was Turkey’s second largest export market after Germany, and an important route for exports to third countries. Turkey has also been affected by the conflict in Ukraine and the resultant slowdown in the Russian economy. 

"The growth target is a little lower than what we set at the beginning of this year," Babacan told a press conference, according to AFP. "This is because exports with Russia, Ukraine and Iraq have decreased due to geo-political tensions ... Unfortunately, the situation in Iraq and Syria is not improving.” 

A resurgence of the conflict with the Kurdish minority could further hurt Turkey’s growth prospects, since the country’s strong economic growth within the last decade is partly attributed to domestic stability. 

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