On the evening of August 4, Kurdistan Workers Party [PKK] fighters attacked three military outposts in southeastern Turkey, killing six soldiers. The attack culminates a series of successful PKK operations. The Turkish military, its morale low after years of having its officers targeted by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his allies and its conscripts targeted by Kurdish insurgents, has been unable to prevent attacks. Turkish claims that the PKK attacks are simply the storm before the calm and that the PKK is on the verge of disbanding itself are risible.
The United States, European Union, and Turkey also consider the PKK to be a terrorist group. Erdoğan’s embrace of Hamas, however, raises questions about whether the PKK designation should stand. After all, Hamas is a far more violent terrorist group, as likely to target civilians as soldiers. The PKK, especially in recent years, has limited its operations toward fighting the Turkish military. Turkish officials say Hamas won an election, but then again, PKK front groups do as well, although Erdoğan’s security forces often arrest the victorious candidates before they can take their seats in parliament. Regardless, the PKK is far more popular in southeastern Turkey than is the Turkish government. Any desire to give credence to Turkish Foreign Ministry explanations that Hamas is legitimate but the PKK is not must be cast aside given that Erdoğan has had his officials enter into secret talks with the PKK. The moment he did so, he legitimized the group, so why should the Danish government, the Belgian government, France, Great Britain, or even the United States refrain from talking to the same PKK representatives?
The geopolitical situation does not help Turkey. Turkish officials have expanded economic ties with Iraqi Kurdistan because they know that Iraqi Kurdish leader Masud Barzani often subordinates Kurdish nationalism to his own bank account. Still, with much of northeastern Syria now under de facto Kurdish control, a greater Kurdistan is forming under the nose of the Turks. Even Barzani will not be able to restrain Kurdish nationalist sentiment for long. At any rate, most Syrian Kurds—perhaps 90 percent—are more loyal to the PKK and its local affiliates than they are to Barzani.
The PKK has expanded its reach so far inside Turkey that the group is even appointing shadow governors and parallel administrations. According to the mainstream Turkish daily Milliyet, as translated by the Open Source Center:
Van province has fallen under the control of Zagros Field Commander and Syrian national Fehman Hussein along with the Zagros and Hakurk provinces. Can Gurhan aka Resit Dostum is in charge of the Zagros province while another PKK member with the codename Zeki Sangali is in charge of the Hakurk province. It has been determined that the organization has 100-125 armed militants in Van and its environs.
In 1983, southern Sudanese rebels reignited their fight against a government and a state to which they did not pay allegiance. Last year, they finally won their independence. The PKK insurgency erupted in earnest in 1984. While diplomats in both Washington and Ankara refuse to speculate about the Kurdish future and the status of the PKK amidst the desire to keep close relations, facts on the ground, Turkish military failures, and events outside Turkey’s border raise the question about whether Turkey will lose its battle for unity and whether its future will resemble far more Sudan’s than the European states to which it says it aspires.