The Turkish war of aggression in Southern Kurdistan - Part Two

What is Turkey aiming at with its war of aggression in Kurdistan? Why is it attacking now and what are its plans in case of a military success? An analysis by Civaka Azad - Kurdish Center for Public Relations - deals with these questions.

In the first part of this two-part analysis, we looked at what Turkey is aiming for with its war of aggression in South Kurdistan and what medium and long-term goals it is pursuing. Now we first want to take a look at the past Turkish military offensives in South Kurdistan before we deal with the reactions to Turkey's recent breach of international law.

The list of cross-border military operations by the Turkish state in South Kurdistan is long. In fact, the first cross-border military offensive by the government in Ankara happened in 1983, i.e. in a phase when the PKK guerrillas were still forming and had not yet started the armed struggle in Turkey. With 7,000 soldiers, the Turkish military entered five kilometres deep into south Kurdish territory, but the operation was not particularly successful at the time. Because just under a week after the start of the military offensive, the Turkish soldiers withdrew, on 2 June 1983. Countless other wars of aggression by Turkey in South Kurdistan followed. From the beginning of the 1990s, Ankara was repeatedly able to count on the support of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP). However, Turkey did not record any lasting successes in any of these wars. The aim of the invasions was always to crush the PKK. But despite countless cross-border military offensives, the PKK is still in existence almost 40 years after the first offensive.

Gare attack ended in fiasco

The AKP does not appear to have learned any lessons from these military failures. On the contrary, because the current attack is the third breach of international law in South Kurdistan since the beginning of 2021. On 10 February 2021, the Turkish army launched the first of these three attacks. The target area was the Gare region. This operation did not last long and ended in a fiasco: the military withdrew after just three days. In addition, as a result of the heavy air raids by the Turkish army, twelve Turkish state employees who were prisoners of war in the hands of the PKK were killed. Shortly after this military defeat, Turkey launched a second major attack in South Kurdistan on 23 April. The targets this time were Metîna, Avaşîn and Zap. The Turkish army took control of some strategic hills as part of this operation. But in the last few weeks and months she has not been able to make any progress. Those familiar with the region report that the Turkish soldiers can hardly leave their bases because the guerrillas continue to dominate the field. In the course of this war, the Turkish military has also used chemical weapons numerous times to gain control of the PKK's tunnel systems in the mountains. However, there was no international outcry against these war crimes. On 17 April, Turkey started the third war of aggression in southern Kurdistan in just under 14 months.

What role does the Kurdistan Democratic Party play in the current war?

The outcome of Turkey's current military operations in South Kurdistan also depends to a certain extent on the attitude of the Kurdish population and the political parties in the region. A few days ago, Murat Karayılan addressed the Kurdish population directly and in clear words on behalf of the PKK: “Our people should know that we regard this phase as an exceptional situation. It is mobilization time. Accordingly, everyone must do what they can. We are in a very important and critical phase. She is extremely sensitive. We must break this enemy attack wave.”

This appeal makes it clear how critical the phase is in Turkey's current war of aggression. One reason for this is the attitude of the KDP under the leadership of the Barzani clan. In the past few weeks, those responsible for the KDP have met frequently with Turkish government officials. Most recently, the Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI), Mesrûr Barzani, met with the Turkish President Erdoğan and his secret service chief Hakan Fidan in Istanbul on 15 April, two days before the start of the offensive. Two weeks earlier, persistent rumours were circulating in the Kurdish media that the KDP would like to support Turkey in an upcoming military operation in southern Kurdistan. Provocations were even planned in South Kurdistan, which the PKK should be blamed for in order to legitimize the KDP's entry the war in front of the Kurdish population. There were no provocations. But the KDP obviously supports the Turkish war of aggression. Already on the first day of the war, Turkish attack helicopters did not take off for the attack from the Turkish side of the border, but from southern Kurdistan. This is done in coordination with those responsible for KDP. The plan is probably to attack the areas controlled by the PKK both from the north, i.e. from the side of the Turkish border, and from the south.

On 20 April, during a visit to London, Mesrûr Barzani publicly defended the Turkish military offensive in South Kurdistan: It was not Turkey, but the PKK, which did not respect the Kurdish autonomous region in South Kurdistan, he said. The PKK is pulling Turkey into South Kurdistan and is responsible for the fact that 800 villages had to be evacuated due to ongoing acts of war, he added. With these statements, which Barzani made at an appearance at the Chatham House think tank, he made it clear which side he was on in the current war of aggression. Incidentally, during his visit to London, he was greeted by angry Kurdish demonstrators, who threw eggs at his vehicle.

And what are the other reactions in South Kurdistan and Iraq?

All further reactions both in South Kurdistan and in Baghdad are relatively unanimous: The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) condemns the Turkish offensive, as does the Iraqi Foreign Ministry. Muqtada al-Sadr, the leader of the largest parliamentary group in Iraq, also condemned the war of aggression and warned Turkey. As a sovereign country, Iraq will not remain silent in the face of Turkish attacks, Sadr said. Both in Iraq and in South Kurdistan, the KDP is alone with its support to Ankara’s offensive. However, it is questionable whether the warning words of the other political actors in Erbil and Baghdad will be enough to actually stop the war of aggression.

What about the international reactions?

The international community is currently silent about the Turkish war of aggression. And silence in this context means consent. Turkey is not only exploiting the international focus on the Ukraine war to lead its invasion. The AKP regime may also have received the green light from its NATO partners for the cross-border attack. The Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar attended the Munich Security Conference in February of this year and undoubtedly exchanged views with the allies about his country's military plans. Incidentally, there was also a meeting with another member of the Barzani family, Kurdistan Regional President Nêçîrvan Barzani. Following this meeting, Akar stated: “It was a very positive and constructive meeting. I believe that our meeting will make a significant contribution both to our countries and to the NATO alliance.”

The war of aggression in South Kurdistan is therefore likely to have been coordinated with the NATO countries, which explains the collective silence in the western community of states. This also applies to the German government, whose criticism of Russia's war of aggression in Ukraine, which violates international law, also reveals its hypocrisy. Breaches of international law, aggressive wars, the (possible) use of chemical weapons, airstrikes and the targeted killing of civilians are all rightly condemned and criticized when it comes to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. However, Berlin prefers to close its eyes to the fact that the NATO partner Turkey is practicing this same practice in Kurdistan.

And why does this war concern us at all?

But the federal government is not silent without reason. It has always supported the Turkish war in Kurdistan. It has been doing this for decades, not only with economic and military support, but also by criminalizing Kurdish activists in Germany. German weapons technology is also used in the current war of aggression. The political magazine Frontal 21 had already made public at the end of last year that the Turkish combat drones, with which people in Rojava and South Kurdistan are repeatedly murdered, are equipped with target acquisition systems from the German armaments company Hensoldt. Turkey was also one of the main buyers of German arms exports in 2021. Whether Turkey can continue to wage its wars of aggression in Kurdistan undisturbed also depends largely on whether Germany can continue to support Turkey in its wars undisturbed. Last year they impressively demonstrated how far the state authorities in Germany go. When activists from Germany wanted to travel to South Kurdistan in June to document the last Turkish invasion in the area, the federal police issued a ban on leaving the country for 16 people. So anyone who works for peace in Kurdistan could come into conflict with the foreign policy interests of Germany.

The fact that working for peace is more important today than ever needs no further explanation. Having a clear stance against aggressive wars that violate international law is more important than ever and can help prevent future wars. All of this applies to the current war in Ukraine as well as to Kurdistan. And if the international community, including the German federal government, remains silent about the wars of the AKP regime in Kurdistan, even supports them, then the responsibility lies all the more with society. In this sense, we can and should all do our part to end the wars in Kurdistan, in Ukraine and around the world.