Turkey faces myriad internal and external challenges, including an escalating conflict with Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militants, a crisis over three million Syrian refugees, threats posed by the Islamic State (ISIS), and growing social and political polarisation exacerbated by a July 2016 coup attempt. Crisis Group maintains a unique tracker of the death toll in the PKK conflict and conducts field research to prevent, mitigate or end deadly violence and its consequences. Our ten-year-old presence in Turkey puts us in a unique position to engage the government and all parties not just on domestic crises but also to help Turkey stabilise its exceptionally turbulent neighbourhood.
20 July 2017 marks the two-year anniversary of a collapsed ceasefire that previously held for two-and-a-half-years between Turkey and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Crisis Group's new analysis of open-source data reveals that the ongoing cycle of violence has now killed three times as many as the 2011-12 escalation.
Military operations against Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militants in south east continued with considerable decrease in security force fatalities (ten killed, mostly in rural areas of Hakkari, Bingöl and Şırnak), slight decrease in PKK casualties (at least 22 fatalities, mostly in Diyarbakır, Hakkari, and Van provinces). Three state infrastructure workers killed in Hakkari and Şırnak provinces, allegedly by PKK early Sept. Environment and urbanisation minister 6 Sept announced reconstruction of areas in south east destroyed during 2016 fighting to be completed within six months. Main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) late Aug voiced concerns over claims govt drone killed civilian in Hakkari; President Erdoğan and PM Yıldırım condemned remarks as “terrorist propaganda”; PKK 6 Sept confirmed casualty was member of PKK. Govt 19 Sept confirmed abduction of two intelligence agents reportedly on mission to assassinate PKK leader Cemil Bayık in Sulaimaniah; foreign minister Çavuşoğlu said govt engaged in efforts to bring back agents, said no “direct contact” with PKK. In joint statement with Iran and Iraq, Ankara 20 Sept warned Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Govt (KRG) not to hold 25 Sept independence referendum, warning of “countermeasures”, amid concerns vote will increase separatist nationalism among Kurds in Turkey’s south east, and damage country’s economic and political ties with KRG. Following referendum, Ankara vowed to cut off oil trade with KRG and close Habur border gate; 29 Sept halted all flights to Iraqi Kurdistan from Turkey (see Iraq). Turkey 18 Sept launched military exercise on Iraqi border, beginning in Silopi district and quickly expanding. Iraqi army joined Turkish forces for manoeuvres 25 Sept. Govt 12 Sept confirmed deal to purchase S-400 surface-to-air missile system from Russia, adding strain on relationship with U.S. and NATO. Erdoğan 18 Sept again criticised U.S. for supplying weapons to Kurdish People’s Protection Unit (YPG) in Syria. Small-scale outbreaks of violence between refugee and host communities continued during month; related social tensions in urban districts of Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir remain high.
The Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and its Syrian affiliates face a stark choice: risk their gains in northern Syria through continued prioritisation of the PKK's fight against Turkey, or pursue local self-rule in the area they have carved out of the chaos of the Syrian war.
With one quarter of its inhabitants’ homes destroyed in the past year, Nusaybin is a victim of Turkey’s 33-year conflict with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The state has taken economic steps to help the town, but outreach and Kurdish rights must be improved to prevent new flare ups.
New frictions in Iraq and Syria threaten Ankara and Tehran’s usually peaceful management of their Middle East rivalries. To rebuild trust and avert open conflict, they should coordinate de-escalation, exchange intelligence and designate representatives to open a new channel between their leaders.
Turkey is under growing pressure from nearly three million Syrian refugees. To mitigate domestic tensions and spillover from regional conflicts, Ankara needs to develop, and find support for, new policies that open refugees’ routes to jobs, education and permanent legal status.
Around 900 people, including 350 members of the security forces, have been killed in fighting since peace talks broke down last July between the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and Turkey. As insurgents mix with civilians and rights are violated, some of the worst affected are ordinary people like those in south-eastern Diyarbakır’s district of Sur.
New clashes between the Turkish state and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) have deepened the country’s social cleavages, killed hundreds, and helped the Islamic State. Neither side can win militarily. To end the conflict, Turkey needs more than just a new ceasefire: a clearly defined peace process and, in parallel, a reform agenda addressing Kurdish rights.
Regardless of their actual views on the constitutional changes, Erdoğan's supporters feel the need to support him after the coup.
There is no durable military solution to Turkey's PKK conflict. Peace talks between Ankara and the PKK are the only way forward for a durable solution.
Turkey has always set the Euphrates as a red line [for Kurdish forces in Syria]. The problem is it will be a huge gamble to really do that with US, Russia and YPG, who are a proficient fighting force.
Both because of the Syria theater and domestic politics, it doesn’t look like either [Turkey or Kurdish militants] are going to be willing to seek an alternative route in the foreseeable future.
President Erdoğan has long seen himself as a natural ally of the Muslim Brotherhood throughout the Middle East. Any action against the Muslim Brotherhood he saw as a threat to himself.
The fighting in the southeast, which reignited in July 2015, has killed 1,761 people, according to new figures released by the International Crisis Group.
Directly arming one mainly Kurdish faction in Syria makes U.S. partly responsible for the fate of Syria’s Kurds. Given Ankara’s bitter opposition to the group, Washington should push its Kurdish partner to focus on regional autonomy in Syria, not its insurgency in Turkey.
Originally published in Middle East Eye
On top of major challenges, including the spillover from the war in Syria, Islamic State terrorism and increasingly heavy-handed governance, Turkey's conflict with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) also reignited last year. In this excerpt from our Watch List 2017 annual early-warning report for European policy makers, Crisis Group urges the European Union and its member states to increase efforts toward two related objectives: improving relations with Ankara and finding a political end to the PKK conflict.
Originally published in The New York Times
The journey from the best to the worst of days in recent Turkish geopolitics was partly determined by a deteriorating diplomatic context. Our Director of Communications & Outreach Hugh Pope looks back on two decades of change in a keynote speech for the Dutch Peace Research Foundation’s annual prizes for best new MA theses on peace.