ISTANBUL – ‘A new tactic’, says Murat Karayilan, commander of the Kurdish armed movement the PKK via a Kurdish news agency. No, says the Turkish army, it’s a big anti PKK operation. Fact is that in the South-east of Turkey an unusually long battle is being fought between the army and the PKK. The fighting has been going on now for eleven days.
Usually confrontations are short: the PKK attacks an army post or police station or explodes a mine, after which they quickly go back into hiding. The army, in its turn, bombs PKK camps in the mountains on the Turkish-Iraqi border. Battles that last for days, like now in the Semdinli region, are unusual.
Whether the PKK, like Karayilan says, has really changed tactics, must nevertheless be doubted, says analyst Gareth Jenkins. He works in Istanbul for the American Institute for Central Asia and the Caucasus. Jenkins: ‘The PKK can’t really hold territory; they don’t have the military means for that’.
But that it is a one-sided, long lasting attack on the PKK, like the army says, isn’t very convincing either: the military’s power is so much greater that such an operation shouldn’t have to last eleven days.
The fighting started when eleven days ago the PKK put up roadblocks in the area, stopped cars and checked people’s identities. That triggered the army action. Jenkins: ‘I think the PKK changed tactics already about a year ago. Then Kurdish groups declared so-called ‘democratic autonomy’, and ever since the PKK wants to show they ultimately call the shots in the area.’
The road blocks have increased ever since, just like attacks on companies that cooperate with the state or on state property in the region, like oil pipelines and dams. Also the PKK more than before has been interfering in solving local disputes about, for example, land and water rights or between different clans.
Bigger attacks in which more soldiers get killed, carried out by several smaller units, are allegedly part of the new strategy too. Maybe something went wrong there in Semdinli. Jenkins speculates: ‘Maybe they got caught and not all units could get away in time. Usually the PKK moves in small groups, with eight to ten men. But this is not a fight between the army and one small PKK unit, because in that case it would never last so long.’
The Turkish media in the meantime report little about the continuing battle, possibly on orders of the Turkish government. When the government will come out with a statement about Semdinli, remains unclear.