Around the same time, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) also kidnapped 11 drivers who worked at the Hakkari airport construction site and burnt their trucks. It is also known that the PKK has kidnapped eight soldiers in their attacks since October 2007. Currently, it holds a dozen “valuable” prisoners. It is pretty obvious that it is strong propaganda for the organization to show they are fighting a regular army and have taken some of its members as prisoners. It is pretty functional to look “larger than life,” being able to recruit young militants for a transcendent cause and raise the morale of its militants.
It is reported that the PKK lost 130 militants in the mini-battle it waged in Şemdinli, which lasted 19 days. These even include 16-year-old women. The organization, which has set itself up as a proxy state institution, desires to create a sphere of influence in the predominantly Kurdish areas of Turkey and to assume a permanent political role as the leading organ of the Kurdish people. This would provide the PKK the leverage to lead Kurdish liberation movements in neighboring countries and become a regional actor.
Their major tool and method to achieve this goal is armed struggle and violence. The PKK is a product of Turkey, and there is only one way to prevent this organization from gaining anything through armed politics: to recognize the rights and freedoms of the people it arguably represents as defined in an advanced democracy.
Decentralized government and a liberal constitution devoid of ethnic and religious references that emphasizes an inventory of rights and freedoms would suffice. However, such a constitution and the freedom it entails should not be a noble gift of the state but a product of parliamentary consensus and the work of civil society organizations. In that case, the PKK would have had nothing to ask on behalf of the Kurdish people it claims to represent.
Enjoying a measure of popular support and being able to replenish its ranks with new fighters have kept the PKK alive and kicking. As long as violence paid off, the PKK only gained time to further organize in civil society and receive aid from neighbors that had a score to settle with Turkey. This atmosphere helped the PKK to overturn the negotiating table at which it had sat in secrecy with Turkish government officials.
It was a mistake for the Turkish government to sit at the negotiating table with the PKK to discuss peace. Peace meant the dissolution of the organization, which had plans bigger than a settlement in Turkey.
We can’t say that you do not negotiate with an armed rebel organization. In the Turkish case, you do it to disarm it but deal with the very people who see the organization as their representative for democratization and struggle for equal rights. Refraining from granting these rights and dealing with an armed organization only exalts the organization and blurs the nature of the Kurdish problem. That is exactly what happened.
The PKK used this inconsistency pretty wisely. It played for time and entrenched itself in Kurdish society and the near-abroad. Soon enough the opportune time arrived as three major developments took place in the Middle East: 1: The Arab Spring released an unforeseen popular energy for rights and freedoms in the region. The PKK presented itself as part of this movement. 2: Turkey supported the Arab Spring, and neighboring states that felt they were under pressure, like Iran and Syria supported the PKK against Turkey, a country they deemed to be threatening their regimes. 3: The Kurdish administration in northern Iraq announced that there would be a clash with the PKK. The Syrian Kurds attempted to create their own administration while Barzani supported this process by trying to unite all Kurds in Syria under one political roof. The union of Kurdish and Syrian Kurds raised the old fears in Turkey of encirclement and partition.
There are other actors on the battlefield who feel that the Kurds are opportunistically waiting on the side to feed on their prey. The Free Syrian Army (FSA) is predominantly Arab and Sunni. They are eager to make sure that the new order after the present regime would reflect these characteristics. There are also jihadist elements on the side. Discord among the ranks of the FSA may offer the Kurds, especially the PKK, the chance to exert themselves as the new regional actors. So far, the PKK has acquired this position through its traditional means of struggle, namely organizational power and armed resistance. As long as it can hold to this capacity and recruit fighters, it will follow its maximalist agenda: a United and Greater Kurdistan. Hence the organization will not settle for lesser gains such as democratic rights in Turkey. However, the sovereignty of the Turkish state is valid within its boundaries and within these boundaries that the state has to win the allegiance of all its citizens. Hence, the solution of the so-called “Kurdish problem” does lie in pacifying or convincing the PKK but in satisfying the Kurds of Turkey, who feel excluded and humiliated. It is the Kurdish people in Turkey who should be viewed as the main beneficiary of the democratic opening, not an armed organization that wants to rule all Kurds with an iron fist.