Alliance Syria and Turkey: Dealing with the Kurds

Turkey and Syria have signed what can be termed a historic deal in the fight against terrorism. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Syrian Prime Minister Muhammad Naji al-Otri, who was in Turkey on a visit on Dec. 21, have signed an agreement which will regulate how members of the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in northern Iraq will be treated.

Under the agreement, PKK terrorists and leaders in northern Iraq will be attracted to Syria, which is planning a general amnesty for PKK militants. The country also promises an employment scheme for those who might want to come back from northern Iraq and re-integrate into Syrian society.

Under the Justice and Development Party’s (AK Party) democratic initiative, which seeks to end terrorism by expanding the cultural rights and freedoms of Turkey’s Kurds, important questions emerged regarding what to do about PKK commanders hiding in northern Iraq. So far neither Iraq, the regional government of northern Iraq, nor the US have made any efforts to capture PKK militants in the region. For a number of reasons, Turkey has failed to make the possibility of surrender attractive for militants who might want to return to a normal life. One option previously considered was to facilitate the transfer of these individuals, whose entry into Turkey is not possible, to a Scandinavian country; but Turkey did not like the idea of high-ranking members of the PKK living in a European country.

The northern Iraqi administration did give PKK militants some opportunities to lay down their arms; Turkish intelligence sources noted that some ex-PKK members have found employment in the northern Iraqi military. However, Turkey does not trust that country’s sincerity in disarming the PKK.

It is this lack of trust on Turkey’s part that is behind the agreement with Syria. Turkey knows that PKK militants will never surrender here, as a band of PKK members who surrendered last year in October as part of the democratic initiative were faced with judicial prosecution despite promises to the contrary. Turkey also doesn’t want to see PKK leaders or members in third-party countries that are not trustworthy. If these militants can be relocated to and kept in Syria, this would ease Turkey’s job in fighting terrorism tremendously, a senior security official who asked not to be named, told Today’s Zaman.

The deal also marks a historic point in the progress of relations between the two countries. Syria used to be the PKK’s number one supporter in the region until 1998, when Turkey threatened war. Over recent years, Syria and Turkey have declared the PKK a common enemy.

Turkey’s own return-home program abruptly stalled when the October 2009 returnees from PKK bases in northern Iraq and the Kurdish populated refugee camp in Makhmour made something of a huge rally about their entry into Turkey, angering not only the country’s population and the AK Party government, but also prosecutors. Based on this experience, Turkey believes the healthiest way to handle PKK returnees would be to repatriate them to Syria.

There are an estimated 4,000 militants in northern Iraq, with about 1,500 of them believed to originally be of Syrian origin.

Syrian PKK detentions

Syria launched a significant operation into the PKK in 2010 and arrested more than 400 terrorists this year. It also shared a great deal of intelligence and findings from interrogations of the PKK militants who were captured. A delegation of four experts from the Turkish National Intelligence Agency (MİT) traveled to Syria, where they obtained information from the interrogations. The latest wave of PKK arrests in Syria were on Oct. 26, when the Syrian police, acting on intelligence gathered jointly by the security units from both countries, arrested 250 people suspected of financing the terrorist group.

One reason that has brought Turkey and Syria closer in their fight against the PKK was the infighting within the terrorist group. PKK members of Syrian descent in the Kandil Mountains in northern Iraq such as Fehman Hüseyin and Nurettin Sofi, have since lost much of the influence they once wielded over the group. Syria, aware of the bitter fight for power inside the PKK, announced last year that it was planning to declare a general amnesty for PKK militants.

Although it has been more than eight months since Syria first spoke of the possibility of a general amnesty, this has not yet been realized. Most security experts say that work on the issuing of the amnesty should speed up following this meeting between Erdoğan and Otri.

 

Muhabir: ERCAN YAVUZ

 

Today’s Zaman

December 24, 2010

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