Turkey’s ongoing military operation on both sides of its border with Iraq highlights the recurring problem confronting the Turkish government and military in their fight against Kurdish terrorists: The insurgents’ area of operations, like the Kurdish population itself, straddles Turkey’s borders with Iraq, Iran and Syria. The governments of all four countries share an interest in suppressing Kurdish separatism and violence, but each has at times also found Kurdish terrorism to be a useful tool to pressure the others.
This transnational component to the problem means that the current Turkish military operation, which followed coordinated attacks by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in Southeastern Turkey last week that left 24 Turkish soldiers dead, is unlikely to suppress the Kurdish insurgency for long. The operation might at best deter further foreign backing for the PKK as well as provide the maneuvering room the Turkish government needs to address Kurdish grievances in a planned constitutional reform, although it remains unclear whether the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) will use the opportunity to that end.
In 2009, the Turkish government reversed course and adopted a more flexible and inclusive policy toward its Kurdish minority. The Kurdish “opening” within Turkey saw the government give Kurds more cultural rights, including the right to use the Kurdish language in public. AKP leaders also apologized for past Turkish repression of Kurdish rights.