Turkey Peace Talks Off Table in All-Out PKK War, Aide Says

  • Erdogan is determined to finish off the PKK, top adviser says
  • Resolutions short of PKK surrender no longer on the table

Turkey is determined to wipe out the PKK separatist group, a top aide to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said, dismissing the possibility of peace talks to resolve the insurgency.

Erdogan won’t be swayed by calls to resume negotiations with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, the Kurdish militants who’ve waged a 32-year war against the Turkish state, adviser Ilnur Cevik said in an interview at the presidential palace in Ankara on Tuesday.

“The PKK is clearly losing ground,” Cevik said, using the Kurdish abbreviation for the group, which is classified by Turkey and allies including the U.S. and European Union as a terrorist organization. “Erdogan is determined to continue weeding out the PKK everywhere in Turkey and finishing off the PKK once and for all.”

While past Turkish military attempts to crush the Kurdish group have eventually failed, the current crackdown may play into Erdogan’s short-term ambition to centralize more power in the presidency, according to analysts including Wolfango Piccoli, co-president of Teneo Intelligence in London. Since 1984, the war has cost Turkey about $400 billion, according to government estimates, and left tens of thousands dead.

Costs Mount

Cevik says as many as 5,000 PKK fighters have been killed since the violence flared after the collapse of peace talks last year, along with 400 soldiers and policemen and up to 200 civilians.

The unrest is hurting an economy that’s also struggling with the impact of tensions with Russia, and Islamic State attacks. Foreign tourist arrivals dropped for an eighth consecutive month in March, the longest streak of annual declines in records going back to 2006, according to data published by the culture and tourism ministry on Thursday.

Tourism accounts for 6.2 percent of Turkey’s economic output, according to the Association of Turkish Travel Agencies, and 8 percent of employment. Tourism revenue may fall below $20 billion this year for the first time since 2008, political risk consultants at Eurasia Group estimate.

More violence could trigger a “significant market impact” should it hit the struggling tourism industry and further depress domestic demand, Tim Ash, head of emerging-market strategy at Nomura International Plc in London, said on Wednesday. Hours later, a suicide bomber blew herself up outside the Grand Mosque in Bursa, the western city’s main tourist attraction, wounding dozens of people.

Military Means

Erdogan’s adviser offered the dim view of peace prospects as lawmakers from the main Kurdish political party face prosecution on charges of supporting terrorism. The Kurdish lawmakers are stepping up lobbying efforts for U.S. and European support to restart negotiations with the PKK, which Erdogan has ruled out. “Any talks with a terrorist organization are out of the question,” he said on Sunday.

“Despite all of the government’s threats and triumphant announcements of body counts, the war against the PKK is one that Ankara cannot win solely by military means,” Teneo’s Piccoli said. Seeking to prosecute Kurdish politicians risks not only more violence, but also making Turkey “even more isolated from the West,” where allies are encouraging a return to peace efforts, he said.

Faysal Sariyildiz, a Kurdish lawmaker for the Peoples’ Democratic Party, or HDP, said attempts to kick the party from parliament are “a mistake which would only aggravate the conflict rather than solving it.”

U.S. Visit

In an interview on Friday, Sariyildiz said he’s been shuttling from funeral to funeral since talks collapsed, burying Kurdish dead. Government and military leaders have been treading a different path, praying by the flag-draped coffins of slain security personnel at Kocatepe, Ankara’s biggest mosque.

Selahattin Demirtas, a co-chairman of the HDP, departed for the U.S. on Wednesday for talks with U.S. officials. In Ankara on Thursday, parliament began debating a proposed constitutional amendment to lift his and dozens of other Kurdish politicians’ immunity, allowing them to be prosecuted on terrorism charges.

“We regard this as a measure that aims to destroy the people’s will,” HDP lawmaker Idris Baluken said during the parliamentary committee meeting.

Violence surged after the HDP won parliamentary representation for the first time in June, briefly depriving the ruling AK Party that Erdogan co-founded of its single-party majority. When coalition negotiations among parties collapsed, Erdogan called new elections and the ruling party regained its majority less than five months later.

Anger, Resentment

Erdogan may be betting that the military’s onslaught against Kurdish militants will win support of the nationalist opposition party for another change to the constitution, one that would increase his powers, according to Anthony Skinner, a director with U.K.-based forecasting company Verisk Maplecroft. Erdogan has been pushing for a change that centralizes power in the office of the president, rather than parliament.

Erdogan is “catering to the demands of staunch Turkish nationalists” who were never supportive of peace talks, Skinner said on Wednesday. “He’s working on multiple fronts to enhance the odds of success, and removing the HDP is part of the equation.”

While that may win him the support he needs to take more power, it doesn’t bode well for peace in the southeast, said Mehmet Kaya, head of the Tigris Communal Research Center in Diyarbakir, the nation’s largest Kurdish-majority city.

“The government’s attempt to force elected Kurdish lawmakers out of the parliament will only worsen the violence, as it is virtually sidelining politicians who are seeking a peaceful solution,” he said. “That is fueling Kurds’ anger against the AK Party more than they resent the PKK for bringing the war to their doorsteps.”

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