Why Terrorism is Increasing and What Should be Done

Prof. Atilla SANDIKLI
05 October 2012
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Due to the ascending increase in terrorist attacks throughout Turkey in recent months, Turkish society has developed many questions concerning the issue, with many opinions and views being shared in the local press. Yet, there are several causes of the sudden growing increment of terrorist activities. The causes can be gathered under three main headings: firstly, the Arab Spring and the events occurring in Syria; secondly, Turkey’s new anti-terrorism campaign strategy; and lastly, the strategy of the PKK terrorist organization, which has taken regional developments into consideration.

1- Arab Spring and the Situation in Syria


The first cause of the increase in terrorist activities is the Arab Spring, which began as a request for freedom and resulted with the downfall of many authoritarian regimes Public uprising-like movements firstly launched in Tunisia and quickly spread to neighboring countries like Egypt, Libya, and Yemen. Incidents in Syria affected Turkey differently aside from other Arab Spring countries, due to Turkey’s rather long border and a contingent of people in Syria having historic, cultural, and family relations to Turkey.


In the beginning, Turkey conducted several meetings with Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad in order to meet the demand of the Syrian people’s freedom requests. Ankara tried to direct the Assad regime in a way that it can lead the Syrian regime to meet the demand of freedom and also enable them to integrate the regime into the international system. Even if there were important attempts to implement such changes and Assad seemed to accept them, it became apparent that attempts to seize such opportunities of change were not sincere, nor did they make any effect on Baath Party regime.


The U.S. had the “Big Middle East Project” (BMEP) on their agenda. The US spent over a $1 billion to assist local civic organizations create an atmosphere of freedom and spread this idea to the masses. As a result, the Arab Spring emerged. The movement began in Tunisia, with Syria being the latest. Due to the rejection of Syrians’ freedom demands, people tried to show their requests for rights in the streets. The Assad regime, of a Baathist nature, responded these protests harshly, which led to an increase in the numbers of anti-regime protests.


“This is an internal affair of Syria” may be made as a comment regarding recent events, yet the situation in Syria turned out different after all. First of all, in the Bush doctrine, there are “bandit states” like the (since fallen) Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq and the Muammar el-Gaddafi regime in Libya (which was also overthrown during the aftermath of the Arab Spring). The ‘wind of change’ has blown against the Syria authoritarian regime. In the second place, individual security comes into prominence within all security matters. Due to this aspect, the violent applications of authoritarian regimes against their citizens, which even turned into massacres in some countries, cannot yet be counted as internal affairs. These types of events will result in international interventions.


Civic people organized effectively after the Syrian regime began to oppress anti-regime civic protests.  Due to increased responses of people and rising tension, armed conflagration took place. As a result, Assad started to apply more tense and violent operations against the rebels. Recent estimates have numbered more than 200,000 Syrians dead and over 500,000 injured people as a casualty price of the clashes between the Assad regime and civic protesters. Moreover, between 500,000 and 600,000 people have since been forced to leave the country.


Before the Arab Spring, Turkey was in the highest level of diplomatic relations with Syria as a result of its “Zero Problem” policy and retooled regional integration policies. Yet, all of it changed within a following year, resulting in Turkey and Syria becoming two enemies. The incidents in Syria affected Turkey in two ways. At first, there are people who migrated from Syria to Turkey due to civil war. Secondly, an authority void emerged as a consequence of the civil war in Syria. Thus, the clear authority void in northern Syria led Damascus to the use of the PKK terrorist organization against Turkey. As a matter of fact, Syria regime has a tendency of using and supporting terrorist organizations, in the case of Turkey’s recent growth and development era as Syria has done in the past.


The tendency became visible from Syria’s 29-year long Hafez al-Assad era, like the embrace of [now jailed PKK symbolic leader] Abdullah Öcalan in Syria, in which guarding and sponsoring PKK terrorist organization camps, and supplying education, logistics, intelligence, money and weapons to PKK were all seen. So-called “genetic characteristics” of Syria’s tendency of using PKK against Turkey arose when Syria and Turkey turned into enemies. In the meantime, the Turkey that was on the way to becoming the center of interest in the Middle East, powered by its economic, cultural and politics and strengthened position in Middle East, probably disturbs Syria in addition to some other Middle Eastern countries. Syria therefore needed to have strategies that would be cutting into Turkey’s growth and force Ankara to deal with its internal affairs. Like in the past, Syria once again began to use the PKK terrorist organization as a tool piece. One of the main reasons that the PKK terrorist organization ascends its activities is, in addition to receiving support from other countries, the PKK also takes Syria’s support and guidance.


Along with the incidents in Syria, several evidences have emerged that Iran changed its attitude towards the PKK terrorist organization. In recent past, PJAK (the Free Life Party of Kurdistan) existed as an extension of the PKK terrorist organization in Iran. Iran conducted military operations on Kandil Mountain amidst several rumors about the arrest of current PKK acting commander Murat Karayılan. After the Iranian military operations, the activity of PJAK suddenly vanished. There could had been two causes for this: whether the PKK terrorist organization would channel its remaining strength to Turkey entirely or there was a mutual deal arranged between Iran and the PKK. Thus, there is a possibility that Iran has supported the terrorist organization since the recent occurrence of Turkey-Iran tension.


The Massoud Barzani administration in northern Iraq had an indecisive policy in this matter. On the one hand, the Regional Kurdish administration has stated that they are supporting Turkey’s demands, while on the other hand, they would follow a path in which “Kurds will never struggle with each other.” The Turkish authority’s wish for a ceasefire with the PKK terrorist organization was the reflection of Turkey’s ambivalent policies. Is it possible that Turkey will exact a ceasefire with the PKK when PKK terrorist members are roaming inside the Turkish territory?


Outside aid to the terrorist organization has become a current issue again after the sponsorship of the Assad regime to the PKK. In this perspective, the PKK acquires its greater financial and armament support from European countries. The terrorist organization can behave with ease in Germany, France, the UK, Austria, Denmark, Holland, Belgium and Greece when financing them via doing legally covered-up illegal activities. The PKK terrorist organization has been on the European Union’s list of terrorism organizations since 2004. Also, the PKK is involved in many illegal activities in European countries such as:  drug trafficking extortion exacted on the Kurdish population, money laundering, issuing of fake documents, human trafficking, and sabotage of private properties and so on. However, the previously mentioned European countries, all of which are NATO allies of Turkey, are not eager to act against the PKK terrorist organization, so they are supporting and safekeeping indirectly.


The magnitude of the US support can be questioned, despite the US declaring its unconfined support of Turkey’s PKK struggle. Even if a country is not directly supporting a terrorist organization, it cannot be said that this country does not support terrorists at all. Supporting the military and financial struggle against terrorists is required, and without it, that country is otherwise indirectly supporting terrorists. Turkey and the US are/were close allies in many Middle Eastern issues, so the States should support Turkey’s struggle with PKK terrorist organization directly in all means. Washington claims to support Turkey, yet Washington did not sell either IHA drones or Super Cobra Choppers although Turkey was in need for both items as effective anti-terrorist tools. Moreover, there are important and suspicious question marks about the US that are limiting Turkey’s military operations to PKK camps at Kandil and Northern Iraq.


In this point of view, the US as Turkey’s ally did not and is not providing adequate support against the PKK terrorist organization. Thus, the lack of support should be identified as indirectly aiding the PKK. The probable reason behind the lack of the US support is that Turkey cannot efficiently and accurately use its foreign political power; therefore Turkey is not able to create international support for its struggle against the PKK terrorist organization.


After all, the PKK terrorist organization (which is supported by different interest groups) has several missions to accomplish: to hinder Turkey to become regional magnet by its fast growth rate by corroding Turkey via the carrying out of terrorist activities. Thus, when PKK activities are needed, financial and weaponry requests of PKK are met. The continuance of sponsoring the PKK is bound to PKK’s role of being used as a tool when the PKK keeps serve for the sake and interests of its sponsors, these countries will be continuing to finance the PKK. Even though Turkey can provide security against PKK terrorist activities, Turkey is being worn out. Yet, being able to achieve security would cause a decrease in help towards the PKK from its sponsors.

2. Turkey’s New Anti-Terrorism Suppression Strategy


The second reason behind the PKK’s growing terrorist activities is Turkey’s recent decisive and resolute suppression operations Turkey has tried to find a solution through a parley with the PKK terrorist organization. However, the PKK used these attempts to its favor and created the KCK (Kurdish Communities Union) as its sub-entity. PKK has tried to move its armed forces from rural areas to the major cities. The KCK has organized into the municipalities of southeastern Turkey. Via the creation of vast urban formations near the cities, the KCK has begun to so-called “judge and punish” Kurdish citizens and many citizens were executed during these judgments.


The institutions like BILGESAM has released publications about what the KCK is and how much the KCK can create problems and further damage. (1) The government started to initiate a new suppression strategy against terrorism. Effective and influential operations by Turkish Armed Forces, Turkish Gendarmerie and Police against the KCK in various cities have crippled the PKK’s organization structure. Winter preparations in southeastern Turkey and the re-structuring attempts of PKK were also shattered, so in rural areas PKK has weakened day-by-day after these operations. Democratic, socio-cultural and socio-economic reforms were made in the process caused people hesitate and decrease support given to the PKK. Many NGOs have noted that there is no means to violence and armed aggression, as it leads to nowhere.


The PKK terrorist organization did not allow Kurdish people to criticize PKK by any means. The PKK has silenced comments and statements of [BDP deputies] Osman Baydemir and Leyla Zana, and kidnapped [CHP member of Parliament] Hüseyin Aygün. Due to its bleeding, the PKK needed to state its existence to its sponsors and its militias via ramping up its violent actions. Thus, the PKK has increased pressure on citizens and make its presence known by violence, force, and blood. The PKK activated all its remaining militias and power to apply all kinds of violent actions to create fear, intimidation, exhaustion, and an environment of brutal violence. When creating such an atmosphere, the PKK wanted to make a perception of “things should be done in any ways.”

3. The Ongoing Strategy of PKK Terrorist Organization


Another reason behind the increased terrorist activities is the current strategy of the PKK. Like all terrorist organizations, the PKK has three-phased strategy. The first phase is being recognized and identified as a terrorist organization via doing violent and bloody acts and creating atmosphere of fear and violence. The second part is to try to achieve a manipulation effect on society and being able to struggle with government through an acquired atmosphere of fear and violence. The third and last phase is trying to establish a terrorist organization authority into certain regions after banishing government authorities via creating a civil revolt.


With the influence of Arab Spring, the PKK organization has tried to accomplish Phase 3 without fulfilling Phase 2, aiming to create a balance with the Turkish Armed Forces in southeastern region. In the beginning, the Turkish-Kurdish struggle tried to emerge, but both Turkish and Kurdish citizens have acted with reason and common sense, so none of them fell to provocation by the PKK. The second application was that the PKK wanted to create mass civil parades which were meant to turn into civil rebellion. The PKK organization even considered killing people in these parades to achieve this transformation. Although the PKK tried many attempts for the transformation, Kurdish citizens and security forces have behaved reasonably and patiently, not giving any credit to PKK attempts. Thus, the PKK did not succeed in what it wanted to do.


The PKK, which cannot achieve Phase 2 and suffered many losses, only had a single method left - to create a center of gravity within a limited region in which has the PKK would have authority rather than the state. The PKK wanted to respond to state intervention with civil citizens and, if it is needed, it can kill those citizens and blame the state as a responsible organ. As a result, the PKK wanted to diminish Turkey’s international support against its organization, destroying the public trust in the state regarding the struggle against terrorism and weaken the foundation of Turkey’s Middle East and Syria policy.


The PKK terrorist organization wanted to jump into the 3rd phase of their strategy at Şemdinli. To achieve the 3rd phase, the PKK did concentrate some of its members into certain rural areas of the Şemdinli district, laying landmines on roads, and sending some militias to town in order to attack public institutions and hoist the PKK flag at these institutions. The final purpose was that the PKK wanted to create a “safe” zone for itself and, in time, expand that zone.


However, that plan was failed. The processes of democratization and socio-economic and socio-cultural reforms in Kurdish issue have dried the base of the PKK’s plans. Those reforms include many aspects: Kurdish citizens could now openly explain their identities more easily, many Kurdish language departments had opened in universities, and many economical incentives were given to southeastern area when the PKK was literally making things that are the total reverse of these reforms such as attacking construction sites and sabotaging construction equipment by PKK militias. At last, Kurdish citizens began to react against PKK acts, so citizens of Şemdinli (and some militias who escaped from the hold of the PKK) gave the PKK-related intelligence to security forces to stop the PKK actions against Turkey.


How Should Turkey React?


The success against terrorism can be achieved only by using the right and effective strategies and struggling with all citizens who should act patiently and decisively. Even though the PKK tried hard to achieve its own agenda, it could not sustain supremacy among citizens’ perspective. Also, many of the PKK’s violent acts were hindered before they came to existence and many arms and explosives belonging to PKK were seized by police and armed forces. There have been many operations carried out against the PKK’s internal and external financial sources, like drug trafficking. Besides, it was the first time that the Turkish Armed Forces and police made coordinated operations in the rural areas, which many PKK militias were caught or neutralized during those operations. Although there were few acts in which the PKK succeeded, many of them were also eventually canceled or hindered, so no one should ever feel intimidation or fear. All Turkish citizens should stand upright against all terrorist activities of PKK.


Turkey should continue its 4 dimension anti-terrorism struggle strategy, which was detailed in a publication by BİLGESAM.(2) Moreover, Turkey should continue with its democratization, socio-economic, and socio-cultural reforms, and breaking international financial and weaponry aid to the PKK as soon as possible. The consequences of democratization and social reforms show their positive effects on society day-by-day, and all those have weakened the inside support towards PKK in Turkey. On the other hand, the armed struggle against PKK should be proceed decisively and it should not be forgotten that every success against PKK will decrease the violent atmosphere that PKK wanted to create. Also, international support against PKK terrorism should strengthen and spread. These support mechanisms should be intelligence, logistic, and operational, aside from political aspects only. The “Forward/Deepen” defense strategy (that is one of the most important defense mechanisms) should be applied effectively and efficiently against the PKK starting from the Kandil Mountain trough to other PKK camps close Turkish border in Northern Iraq and all over the Turkey. Otherwise, trying to have successful results from struggles with the PKK in rural areas will be impossible.







(1) Atilla Sandıklı, The Structure and Activities of the Terrorist Organization KCK, October 14, 2011,


(2) Atilla Sandıklı, Turkey's Combat against PKK Terrorism, (in Turkish), (Istanbul: BILGESAM Publications, 2011)


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