Kurdish terrorists struck Turkey once again yesterday when a bomb went off at a bustling pedestrian avenue in the heart of Istanbul, arguably the most famous city of the quasi-Islamic country. The explosion, which the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) is suspected to have executed, claimed eight lives.
Earlier, President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan had called the incident a “treacherous attack” that “smelled of terror” and the police arrested a suspect. No organisation had claimed responsibility for the terrorist attack, but the Turkish government pointed fingers at PKK militants and its Syrian offshoot People’s Protection Units aka People’s Defence Units (YPG/YDG).
Abdullah Ocalan established the PKK in 1978. Since 1984, they have been attacking Turkey, demanding a greater degree of autonomy for the Kurdish state. The terror attacks have resulted in over 40,000 deaths so far.
The PKK says it is communist, professing a Marxist-Leninist ideology. The group has never expressly said it wanted independence from Turkey. Rather, the outfit wants to live within the country but “freely and with innate rights”. The establishment in Turkey, on the other hand, accuses the PKK of “trying to create a separate state in Turkey”.
The attacks aggravated in 2015, two years after a ceasefire between Turkey and PKK broke down. Between 2015 and 2017, the Kurdish-Turkey clashes claimed thousands of lives in fighting in south-eastern urban districts and rural areas.
Since then, Turkey’s ruling party AKP and its leader President Recep Tayyip Erdogan have launched several crackdowns on the PKK terrorists. Besides clamping down on all affiliates of the Kurdish groups, Erdogan has launched cross-border military operations into Syria and northern Iraq against Kurdish militants and its PKK’s sister organisation YPG.
Erdogan’s acts often verged on authoritarianism as the AKP targeted the second-largest opposition party HDP too, after accusing it of having links with the PKK.
Recently, Erdogan’s effort to stall the bid by Sweden and Finland to join the Nato post-Russian invasion of Ukraine had a PKK factor. Turkey tried to stop the Baltic nations’ bid over their links with PKK leaders. Turkey wanted Sweden and Finland to hand over individuals it considered linked to the PKK.
About YPG or YDG
Closely allied to the Syriac Military Council, an Assyrian militia, the YPG mostly comprises ethnic Kurds but also includes Arabs and foreign volunteers. The YPG was formed in 2011. It expanded rapidly in the Syrian Civil War and came to predominate over other armed Syrian Kurdish groups. A sister militia, the Women’s Protection Units (YPJ), fights alongside them. The YPG is active in the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (Rojava), particularly in its Kurdish regions.
In early 2015, the group won a major victory over Isis during the siege of Kobanî, where the YPG began to receive air and ground support from the US and other Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve militaries. Since then, the YPG has primarily fought against Isis but also against other Syrian rebel groups and the Turkish Armed Forces.
In late 2015, the YPG became part of the SDF, an umbrella group intended to better incorporate Arabs and minorities into the war effort. In 2016–2017, the SDF’s Raqqa campaign led to the liberation of the city of Raqqa, the de facto Isis capital.
Several western sources have described the YPG as the “most effective” force in fighting Isis in Syria. Sweden’s alleged support for the YPG is one of the points which caused Turkey to oppose Sweden and Finland’s Nato accession bid.
According to Turkey and Qatar, the YPG is a terrorist outfit closely associated with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is listed as a terrorist organisation.
The flag of the YPG is a symbol that is banned in Germany as per Strafgesetzbuch section 86a, although Berlin does not identify the outfit as a terrorist. Key international bodies in the fight against Isis, in which the YPG takes part, do not share the Turkish view of these militants. Bearing in mind this difference, US Army Special Operations Commander General Raymond Thomas suggested the YPG to change their name, after which the name of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) was founded.
A light infantry force, the YPG has limited military equipment and few armoured vehicles.
No end to Turkish-Kurdish fight in sight
No solution appears in the horizon, notwithstanding the initial optimism during the ceasefire in 2013. Erdogan has ceased his initial attempts to appease the Kurds and his anti-Kurdish rhetoric has only grown stronger. In 2019 he said: “If you want to live in Kurdistan, there is a Kurdistan in northern Iraq. Take all the terror lovers with you, clear off and live there.” The PKK has rejected talks with the Turkish state too. Anything less than an independent Kurdish state in southern Turkey is unacceptable to them.