Analysis |

Turkey Adhering to Military Option, Despite Terror Attacks

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan broke off talks with the Kurds last June. Despite the wave of terror acts, including Saturday's in Istanbul, he's still talking tough.

A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el
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People hold signs reading "We are not afraid, we are here, we won't adjust," during a vigil at the site of the terror blast on Istiklal Street, Istanbul, March 19, 2016.
People hold signs reading "We are not afraid, we are here, we won't adjust," during a vigil at the site of the terror blast on Istiklal Street, Istanbul, March 19, 2016.Credit: AFP
A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el

Mass terror attacks in Turkey are rapidly becoming routine, spilling from the east of the country to the large cities. Last week it was Ankara, which was also struck last month. Istanbul, meanwhile, suffered a terror attack in January that killed 10 German tourists and yesterday terrorists struck again in the heart of the city’s tourism center, on Istiklal Avenue. The attack killed four people, including two Israelis and one Iranian citizen.

This is the kind of terror attack Israel endured in the second intifada, which died down only after the disengagement from Gaza and after conducting negotiations with the Palestinians.

Turkey, which canceled the reconciliation process with the Kurds last June and started bombing Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) bases in Iraq and the People’s Protection Units (YPG) in Syria immediately afterward, still adheres to the military solution. It continues to wage violent battle against Kurdish concentrations in the east of the state, imposing closures and sieges on cities and villages. Thousands of civilians are fleeing the region and hundreds have been arrested. Turkey is also continuing the bombardments in Iraq.

The Syrian front, however, is closed to Turkey for the time being, due to the cease-fire declared last month in Syria. But continued terror attacks could lead Turkey to attack in Syria, arguing that as the United States and Russia continue to attack the Islamic State group, Turkey is permitted to attack what it classifies as terror organizations.

Yesterday’s attack was aimed at Turkey’s economy. Some 4.5 percent of its gross domestic product comes from tourism. After the blow it received following its downing of a Russian fighter jet last November, the number of tourists to Turkey plummeted by more than 14 percent. The number of Russian tourists dropped by more than 40 percent, with the resort city of Antalya bearing the brunt of terror attacks.

From next month, Turkey is set to host a large horticultural exposition, Expo 2016, in Antalya. It was hoping the planned performances of Jennifer Lopez, Madonna and Justin Bieber would repair some of the damage to the country’s tourism. But following yesterday’s attack in Istanbul – Turkey’s main tourism hub – it is doubtful whether even these artists can help.

As with any struggle against terror, Turkey still has the option of resuming talks with the PKK. Organizations in Turkey, including the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP), are willing to mediate. It appears that the PKK also has an interest in reaching understandings with Turkey to stop the war in the southeast, which is causing frustration and despair among the Kurdish population.

But President Recep Tayyip Erdogan continues to see the HDP as a sort of fifth column. He is demanding the dismissal of the party’s parliamentarians, or at least to revoke their immunity so they can be put on trial, and stated that he sees no difference “between a terrorist holding a bomb and a gun, and a terrorist holding a pen and supporting them.”

Security officials secure the area near the scene of an explosion in the heart of Istanbul's shoppint district, March 19, 2016.Credit: AP

By doing so, Erdogan is branding as terrorists most of the Kurdish population and activists who oppose his anti-terror policy. Three Turkish academics have already been indicted for committing this “offense.”

Erdogan is unwilling to engage in a dialogue with the PKK because “you don’t negotiate with terror.” He also fears any talks with the Kurds will legitimize the Syrian Kurds, who last week declared “independence” in the three Kurdish districts on the Turkish border. He is concerned that the United States will see such talks as ratification for military and political cooperation with the Syrian Kurds.

The struggle against the Kurds and the terror attacks in Turkey are also endangering the refugee exchange agreement signed Friday between Turkey and the European Union. The agreement calls on the EU to resume and accelerate the talks to accept Turkey into its ranks. But at the same time, the leaders of France and Germany have said Turkey would get no allowances in human rights issues.

Erdogan will have to explain how the war against the Kurds in his country is compatible with preserving human rights and convince the EU that the war against terror overrides the demand to stop suppressing freedom of speech and arresting his opponents.

This may not be a critical dilemma at this juncture, because the EU states are eager to put an immediate stop to the wave of migrants. They will pay Turkey $6 billion in exchange for the latter’s cooperation, and leave the protest against the human rights violations and anti-terror methods to an unknown date.

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