Erdoğan: PKK talks over, fight to go on

No more talks will be held with PKK terrorists, PM Tayyip Erdoğan says, vowing to continue the fight until the militants lay down their arms

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (R) is seen talking with Chief of General Staff Gen. Necdet Özel in this file photo. AP photo

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (R) is seen talking with Chief of General Staff Gen. Necdet Özel in this file photo. AP photo

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan once again spoke to members of press he invited on his plane on the way back from New York to answer their questions and share his assessments.

At times, he tends to be highly irritable and on the edge, according to what some friends who frequently join such trips have said. This time around, however, he was tired, but not irritable. To the contrary, he was at ease. Truthfully, I would have found it odd if he had not been fatigued. After all, his entire week passed with meetings and speeches from 8 in the morning until 11 p.m. at night. His pace was breathtaking. I have summarized the most important sections of this conversation, which lasted for nearly an hour.

He said the fact that the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, was striking places nearly every day and causing a rise in the number of dead soldiers was inevitably more important than what went on in New York.

“As far as I am concerned, they are now seeking revenge, as they incurred serious losses in [military] operations … Our border units will step up in March. They will be more effective, as they will be permanently based there. [Some] 5,000 people have been recruited; they are now undergoing training … Special operations [units] will also enter [the scene] in cities,” he said.

In the meantime, he also indicated that they had come to an agreement with Iran on the issues of intelligence sharing against the PKK and cooperation on [military] operations.

And I could no longer bear it. “I notice we always keep talking of war. I guess there is no peace left,” I said. Yes, the era of negotiations and preparing the background for peace was indeed over.

“The negotiations are now on the shelf. This struggle will last until the PKK lays their weapons down,” he said.

I came to understand later on that what he meant by negotiations were the meetings between the state and the PKK. Such meetings will no longer be held. Under these circumstances, it seems apparent that talks with Abdullah Öcalan, the PKK’s jailed leader, have also been suspended.

The prime minister then added, however: “If the BDP [pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party] enters Parliament, then we would hold political negotiations with them. The rest is up to them. They can share it with whoever they [would like to] share it with.”

An interesting change in perspective. There was the impression that the prime minister had all but discarded the BDP. This statement, however, suggests a totally contradictory process.

Sanctions on the way against Syria

Another striking and novel aspect of the conversation was news of sanctions being prepared against Syria.

“We [made] no decisions to [implement] sanctions against Syria until now. We only took some measures regarding the airspace to control arms traffic; that is all. Soon, I will be paying a visit to the Hatay camp and sanctions will begin after that,” he said but gave no further details.

Another statement he made that grabbed my attention was about his meeting with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a significant part of which was devoted to the situation in Syria. “The only remaining factor that prolongs the [Bashar] al-Assad regime is Iran. The keys are in the hands of Tehran. It is the last remaining country to support [Syria.] They, too, have begun to change their attitude,” he said.

I inquired about the chilling relations with Greek Cyprus, Syria and Israel. I said the impression that Turkey was flexing its muscles was gaining in strength among the international public and asked whether he was discomforted by this. He is not discomforted at all.

“Turkey now needs to show its presence in the Mediterranean, and it will do so. We are going to increase our military strength. However, it is Cyprus and Israel that are pushing us on this matter,” he said.

Thus speaks the prime minister, but Turkey’s image, both internal and external, is increasingly causing skepticism and worry.

I asked myself at the conclusion of this one-week trip: “Has the time to put on the brakes not yet arrived?” I would like to touch on this subject tomorrow.

Erdoğan lashed out at everyone and was cheered

To tell the truth, there was no difference between the Erdoğan we watch in Turkey and the Erdoğan we watched in New York for one week. He praised those he liked, and stood behind them. He lashed out at those leaders who angered him.

He spoke very clearly and spared not a word. Nor did he prevaricate. He did not put up any displays of diplomatic courtesy. He was not calculating over strategic realities like everyone else. He put forward the human factor.

Two countries were spared from Erdoğan’s wrath. To be more precise, he brought two peoples to the fore and practically acted as their advocates. One was Somalia, while the other was the people of Gaza.

Here is how I accounted for those who were on the receiving end of his wrath and why:

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu must be used to these criticisms. He also received his fair share in New York. He referred to Netanyahu almost every time he spoke. He even said he was lying and explained it with an example.

U.S. President Obama was scolded both in bilateral meetings and in the U.N. General Assembly, as well as in the prime minister’s speech at the forum organized by the Foundation for Political, Social and Economic Research, or SETA. “You had said last year that you would be seeing a Palestinian state here. How do you veto [them] now? You ought to change your stance.”

He castigated the United Nations during his speech at the General Assembly right to their faces. He said their stance over Palestine and Somalia was an embarrassing show of impotence.

He went to great lengths during his speech in SETA’s forum to explain that it was a major injustice for the five permanent members of the Security Council to reserve the right to veto, that they were trying to govern the world in accordance with their own wishes and that this was unacceptable.

Iranian President Ahmadinejad received a “softer” scolding for the support he gave to Syria, and especially toward al-Assad. He warned of a highly dangerous confrontation between Sunnis and Alevis in the region if this attitude continued.

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani also received his fair share. When Talabani complained of the aerial offensives undertaken by Turkish planes in bilateral talks, the prime minister said the bombardment would continue on for as long as the PKK remained on the Kandil Mountains and proceeded with their activities in northern Iraq. The prime minister stressed that he ought not to expect a different stance.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister David Cameron, on the other hand, received somewhat furtive criticism. They were slammed for the race over Libyan oil, and for the colonial competition over Africa, particularly in relation to Somalia.

People love Turkey’s defiance

Foreign policy experts, the opposition and other elite circles may criticize these criticisms, but a significant portion of Turkish society is surely very pleased. They like it a lot. Erdoğan’s picking on those around him, his defiance and scolding are swelling their feelings of pride, probably due to the mindset created by years of repression.

It is not just lay folk, but also certain dissident sections of society who are not in tune with his policies who also like this. Turkey’s defiance, the talk over Turkey in the international arena and the cheers the prime minister receives in his trips abroad are creating satisfaction. Of course, there are also limits to the approach.

We could enjoy defiance and slamming, but only on the pre-condition of knowing where to stop. I asked this question to Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu: “We are even threatening certain countries. Do we know where to stop and the limits of speeches?”

“Don’t you have the slightest doubt,” he replied. Let us hope for the best…


Sunday, September 25, 2011
Mehmet Ali Birand –