The PKK has entered a new strategic phase. This phase is called “strategic balance” in the PKK’s Marxist guerrilla literature. Borrowed from Latin American rural guerrilla theory, this concept describes efforts to show to the public that there is a balance of power between state forces and terror elements. To this end, terrorists try to destroy the state’s authority in a specific region and claim control over it. The organization maintains public order using the militia in this region and secures supremacy in the minds of the public. Securing control over a certain area is considered to ensure a strategic balance between state forces and the terrorist organization. In short, what the PKK is trying to prove by the many casualties in Şemdinli is that there is such a strategic balance.
But why in Şemdinli? The answer to this question can be found on the map. The message it wants to spread travels via Iran and Iraq, and a connection to the ongoing civil war in Syria is also made. With the ongoing clashes, public opinion the world over is that this is a civil war similar to the one in Syria. Thus, the legitimacy of the Turkish state is undermined in the eyes of its own public and the world. Şemdinli is a suitable area for such domination. It has appropriate logistic possibilities. Indeed, heavy weaponry could be deployed by the terrorist organization right in the district’s center.
To a further question: Why now? This question has no answer, other than the ongoing civil war in Syria. The temporary control of the PKK’s sister organization in Syria, the Democratic Union Party’s (PYD), over northern Syrian provinces makes the PKK’s timing meaningful. The PKK sees it as an opportunity. With the attack it has launched in Şemdinli, it is trying to take advantage of this opportunity.
All of the foregoing are the visible reasons. It is clear that the real intention of the PKK is not to trigger a civil war by establishing control over a specific region. The Turkish state is in a strong position. Indeed, the clashes in Şemdinli are restricted to a small mountainous region. The PKK attacks against the Geçimli, Üzümlü and Karataş military outposts in Çukurca, located 100 kilometers away from Şemdinli, are proof that the PKK is having a hard time maintaining its attacks. In this way, it is trying to divide the military forces it is fighting in Şemdinli. The casualties it has suffered both in Şemdinli and in Çukurca indicate that things did not go as planned for the PKK.
Then, we need to ask: What is the PKK really trying to do? The PKK is not after a strategic move, but a tactical advantage. It is known that talks between the top leaders of the PKK and the state officials of Turkey are underway. The PKK seeks to gain a tactical advantage in these talks. By showing that it is seeing the regional developments and is now pursuing a new strategy, it will try to obtain more concessions at the table. This is the case, and to think otherwise is to underestimate the PKK’s strategic skills. The PKK’s leadership knows very well that the temporary state of affairs in Syria will not breed permanent results.
Thus in Şemdinli the PKK plays an armed game in order to convince its addressee with violence. Who is its addressee? The Kurds whom it will call to rebel by showing that it has established a strategic balance, or the international players whom it will call to intervene by showing that there is an ongoing civil war in Turkey? The clashes have been ongoing for 15 days, but there is no development indicating either of these options. Therefore, we must conclude that the PKK’s addressees are the state officials with whom it is discussing the laying down of arms. The PKK is trying to convince its addressees using its sole weapon: violence. This time, it is shedding more blood.