Kurdish Conflict Flares Up Once More

The "Freedom Falcons of Kurdistan" Thwart the Ceasefire

Only a few days after the PKK offered a ceasefire agreement to the Turkish state, the "Freedom Falcons of Kurdistan" carried out a number of terrorist attacks. Ömer Erzeren believes that they were a sign the Kurdish movement doesn't know which direction it's going in

Turkish police officers investigate the crime scene in Marmaris (photo: AP)
Hit where it hurts - The Freedom Falcons have long said they would take aim at tourism in Turkey, one of the country's most important sources of income

​​The "Freedom Falcons of Kurdistan" have made sure the public is aware of their existence with a series of terror attacks on tourist centres in Turkey. Three people died in the Mediterranean town of Antalya. Bombs went off almost simultaneously in Marmaris and Istanbul. According to a statement published in the internet: "We have promised to turn Turkey into a living hell."

Last year, the Falcons claimed to have been responsible for attacks in the holiday resorts of Cesme and Kusadasi. Five people died in the Kusadasi bombing. They claim that their attacks are in protest at the conditions of imprisonment of the leader of the Kurdistan Workers Party PKK, Abdullah Öcalan. He's been serving a life sentence on the prison island of Imrali since 1999.

A few days before the attacks, the prison authorities had imposed on Öcalan a twenty-day disciplinary punishment, which included imprisonment in an isolation cell.

The extended arm of the PKK?

There is little information available about the "Freedom Falcons of Kurdistan." Their first terrorist activities were the bomb attacks last year. Turkish newspapers say that the Falcons were founded on the instructions of the PKK leadership. Murat Karayilan, the PKK's second-in-command after Öcalan, had organised the founding of the Falcons himself and provided the necessary financial support. According to this view, the Falcons are just the extended arm of the PKK. They are the organisation which lays bombs in the tourist areas in western Turkey.

Other media speculate that the Falcons are campaigning against what they see as the moderate position of the PKK. They are a splinter group which is no longer under the control of the PKK leadership. The fact that the PKK leadership condemned the attacks in a statement and spoke of "marginal groups" is an argument in favour of that view. According to a statement of the Kongra-Gel (PKK), "We reject such attacks and express our sympathy with the families of those killed."

Just a few days before the attacks, the PKK had offered the Turkish state a ceasefire agreement. That too is an argument in favour of the view that the Falcons act independently.

On the other hand, the sympathy for the bombers shown by the PKK newspaper "Ülkede Özgür Gündem" is unmistakable. One article is headlined: "The bombs have caused fear in Europe," and the author expresses satisfaction that European states are warning their citizens about the danger of travelling to Turkey or even advising their citizens not to travel.

In a letter to the online version of the paper, a reader expresses sympathy for the Falcons. "I defend the Freedom Falcons," says the writer. "If [the Turkish government] kills us, we must kill them. If they set our forests on fire, we must set their forests on fire."

The Kurdish movement does not know where it's going

But aside from the question as to whether the Falcons are part of the PKK or whether they are a splinter group which takes no instructions, what's clear is that the terrorist attacks are a sign that the Kurdish movement doesn't know which direction it's going in.

Abdullah Öcalan (photo: AP)
Proved to be no Hydra - Since Öcalan's imprisonment in 1999, none among Kurdish rebels has been able to replace him

​​Since the imprisonment of the PKK's idolised leader, Abdullah Öcalan, it's scarcely been possible to observe a political direction. Öcalan's lawyers take what are mostly fragments from their client when they visit him in prison, and these are then declared to be the organisation's official policy.

The organisation certainly is unable to answer why an armed struggle against the Kurdish state is necessary. It's seems highly questionable that bombs will help bring about Kurdish language teaching in schools.

The "Party for a Democratic Society," which is close to the PKK, is a legal political party and its members are active as mayors in several Kurdish areas.

Iraq as a source of danger

In the last few months, Turkey has been raising the political pressure on the USA, the Iraqi central government and the government of the Kurdish part of Iraq to take action against PKK camps in northern Iraq. Currently the PKK can largely do what it wants in the Kurdish regions of Iraq. It has camps there, and armed fighters can easily cross the virtually uncontrolled border to Turkey.

The Shiite Prime Minister of Iraq, Nouri al-Maliki and the president of the United States, George W. Bush (photo: dpa)
By using US anti-terrorism reasoning, Turkey has successfully effected concessions from the US and the Iraqi governments

​​For some time, Turkey has been threatening military action against Iraqi territory if the USA and Iraqi Kurds don't close down the PKK camps. Turkish politicians point out that Israel justified its bombing of Lebanon on the grounds that Hizbollah was attacking Israel from Lebanese territory. It appears that the Turkish threats have had their effect. A few days ago, the USA named a senior general as the coordinator in the fight against the PKK.

Joseph Ralston, who's a former NATO commander in Europe, is to develop a joint policy between Baghdad and Ankara in the fight against the PKK. The Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, has also issued assurances that Iraq would not offer shelter to the PKK. The developments show that the PKK will find it increasingly difficult to survive in the Kurdish regions of Iraq.

Strengthening nationalists

Following Abdullah Öcalan's arrest in 1999, Turkey has failed to use the opportunity to guide radical Kurdish tendencies into a more peaceful, political direction. In the course of the process of moving closer to the European Union, many political reforms were carried out, and these led to liberalisation in Kurdish affairs, the growth of Kurdish media and the increased use of the Kurdish language.

But an amnesty for PKK fighters which would have allowed many of them to return to a normal life, failed to materialise.

The latest attacks will strengthen the position of the hawks in Turkish political life, who see the Kurdish question as merely a matter of security policy. But the growth of nationalism does not just spring from the mood of the military and the government apparatus; it also has its basis in large parts of the Turkish people.

Ömer Erzeren

© Qantara.de 2006

Translated from the German by Michael Lawton

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