Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar announced that the Turkish armed forces had launched an operation dubbed “Claw Lock” against the the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in the Metina, Zap and Avashin regions within the territory of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). The PKK, however, made an announcement that the advance of the Turkish soldiers in the Zap region had been blocked. +Gerçek talked with Kurtay Serhat, a journalist in the region, about the scope of the operation and its effects on the public, the role of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and whether it has any connection with the Ukraine war:
“If this war did not exist, the regime would not exist”
What do you think the reason is for this military operation starting now?
The current regime could not survive without war. The Justice and Development Party / Nationalist Movement Party (AKP-MHP) coalition is a coalition of two parties that came together over the concept of war. Since 2017 in particular, these operations have been carried out periodically to varying degrees each year, from the spring months until the end of autumn. The spring and summer months are especially preferred as the most practical. These military operations are about the character of the regime and its military survival. If this war did not exist, in short, this regime would not exist.
In other words, as the elections approach, should it be seen as being directed towards domestic politics?
It is a step towards domestic politics as well. To motivate their voters, to create a victory from here if they can and sweep the elections. The regime has actually been trying to achieve this for two years, but they haven’t been able get the result they wanted. This time they’re trying more extensively. One dimension of this military operation is a reflection of the clash of cliques among themselves. If you notice, the conflict between Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu and [Defence Minister] Hulusi Akar is reflected in their statements. The basis of the regime is war. Without war, racist and chauvinistic factions would not be able to hold their own cliques together. If you look at it in terms of foreign policy, these military operations are not profitable, the benefits only come in domestic politics.
Last week, KDP leader Masrour Barzani and his delegation were in Istanbul. Immediately afterwards, this large-scale operation began. Did this meeting have any effect on the military operation?
The KDP has always taken part in Turkey’s military operations to varying degrees. As an aside, the Barzani family has stood in a negative place in Kurdish history since the Republic of Mahabad in 1946. During the Republic of Mahabad, Mela Mustafa Barzani was the commander of all military forces. He abandoned the will of the people and surrendered to the Soviets. This is their history. Similarly, there was Mustafa Barzani who, as a result of an agreement signed by the Iranian and Iraqi governments against the Kurdish people in 1975, cast aside his 75,000-strong forces in one day and said, “There is no revolution anymore, everyone should go home and submit”. The continuation of this is the war with the PUK and sometimes with the PKK, that we call a civil war, pursued by his son [Masoud] Barzani. And now Masrour Barzani does the same.
Why do they act so recklessly at this point? This shows how desperate the AKP-MHP regime is, at the point they have reached in this war. The steps they have taken indicate that the AKP-MHP regime has collapsed, because normally they would not have the luxury of putting the KDP at such a risk. The KDP is convenient for them both economically and in terms of Kurdish politics. It is important for the Turkish state. If they play these cards now, they won’t have many left. However, at the point they have reached, they want to play the KDP openly, but the KDP is not in a position to do very much for them either. If the KDP goes to war, this place will turn into a bloodbath. The region is a very sensitive one and the Kurds will definitely not accept it. The Kurds have shown tolerance to the KDP until now, but they have reached a point where it will definitely turn into conflict.
By conflict, are you talking about a conflict between the KDP and other Kurdish forces?
If it can, the KDP wants to cover up their complicity by driving the official government forces of the Kurdistan Federal Region into the war in order to legitimise its cooperation with the Turkish state. But the government is not just limited to the Barzanis. There is also the PUK, there is also Goran. There are different political formations, there are Islamic-minded sectors. These are all against them. It is only the Barzani family that supports the policies of the Turkish state and tries to implement them. There is also a clique within the KDP that stands against the Barzanis. They are trying to bypass all of them. For this reason, they are constantly seeking provocation.
They tried a lot last year, but they failed. But this year, they put their own special powers into play. The Roj Peshmerga, formed from refugees from Rojava, are Masrour Barzani’s own forces, the Gulan Forces. These are forces that act directly under Masrour Barzani’s instructions. They are almost stronger and better equipped than the soldiers of the Kurdistan Federal District. All weapons and resources are directed at them. They are currently trying to play this card.
What is the scope of the operation? What kind of geographic area does this operation cover?
Geographically, it is at a depth of 25-30 km inside the border. But the AKP-MHP regime’s plan is to create a belt from Afrin to Rojhilat, that is, to the Iranian border, and create an area they call a safe zone, and from there, further south to the line of Mosul, Shengal [Sinjar] and Tal Afar. To this end, they formed a force under the command of a man whose name I can’t remember, who left Mosul during the ISIS-era attacks when he was governor of Mosul, then came back and formed a force called Hashdi Watani from Sunni forces. Some Turkmens were included in this. They are trying first to bypass these places, wrestle them out of the control of the PKK, and then go down to the plains of Mosul and implement their plans there.
Their plans are progressing within the framework of Erdoğan’s famous dream of the so-called National Pact. The region is also called the Zap region locally, where PKK forces are also located. It is a region with an average breadth of 15-20 km. But it is a very large area of land. It is a very steep region with very deep valleys. It is not a place that lends itself to the operations of a military power, so it is very difficult to control these areas. For this reason, drones and UAVs are constantly making reconnaissance flights. There are constant air strikes. Even before this operation, there were very frequent air strikes.
According to PKK data, there have been 600 airstrikes since the beginning of the year. These are not normal air attacks, but 1 ton high explosive bombs in the inventory of the Turkish Armed Forces (TAF) that are dropped every day. Likewise, the outposts on the border line routinely bombard the area. In the operation that started two days ago, they started with a large number of helicopters. They basically focused on four regions. One region is the region on the Çukurca border. The other region is a region that is more in depth within the territory of Southern Kurdistan, a little further on. They did an airdrop there. A descent has been made to the mountain range called Kure Jaro, located on the Sheladize sub-district of Amadiya. Last year, near the Avaşin region, where the war was intense, a lowering was made on a large mountain range, some of which remained in the Zap region and some in the Avasin region. This is all borderline, but it’s a steep mountainous terrain.
Is there a civilian settlement in that region?
Civilian settlements and villages were burned and destroyed during the Saddam era. However, the villagers who lived in the area after a few years started to cultivate their lands there. There is civilian movement.
How do these continuous military operations affect the people living in the KRG? You just stated that not everyone supports the KDP, do they react?
Unfortunately, they can’t go out and show a reaction. Once they took to the streets, they used their right to show a democratic reaction, and then they were attacked by the KDP. There are dozens of detained youth from Sheladize who are constantly on the [human rights] agenda of Europe. They were arrested on the pretext of harming the Turkish state during the protest against the Turkish base in the fall of 2019. From 2017 to 2019, 163 civilians lost their lives in the air strikes of the Turkish state. In the incident that took place in 2019, a group of young people were paddling with their children next to the town centre. Turkish warplanes bombed it. If I’m not mistaken, three young people lost their lives. There was a reaction to that.
Their lands are already under occupation, their villages have been destroyed, and they have very serious economic problems. When these events overlapped, the people reacted and marched to the city centres, chanting anti-KDP slogans. When it came to the city centre, the events grew and they could not control it and the Turkish military base was burned and destroyed by the protestors. There was material damage to the Turkish state, but they did not suffer any loss of life. That reaction still continues. The people of that region have already suffered very seriously.
Not only in that region, but further inland, in the Haftanin region, the Brados line towards Kandil, the people of the region here are under great pressure. It was also reflected in the press, just the other day, the Turkish bases there detained the young people who went onto their own land. A pressure mechanism has been established in this way and unfortunately the KDP encourages it. The KDP is not such a democratic thing. It is an insidious, authoritarian structure. The people have been in power for thirty years now, they have been ill-fated with their oppression. “We knew Saddam at least was the enemy. I wish there was Saddam, then these things wouldn’t exist,” they say.
Does the Ukraine War have an effect on this operation now?
I don’t think it has a serious effect from the Ukraine war. It is not same. Because as far as I have observed, there is no international pressure on the Turkish state at the moment. On the contrary, operations in these regions are encouraged by the United States and other powers. The reason for this is that the weapons in NATO’s inventory are being tested. These are not reported about to the Turkish public, it is unknown. UAVs and SİHAs were handed over to Turkey by NATO and they were all tried here first. On the other hand, there is a major crisis in the Iraqi state. They make use of them. Turkey is trying to fortify itself here. The United States has largely withdrawn from these regions. They are mostly trying to implement their own policies through the KDP. And yet, the vacuum is left to the Turkish state and Iran. Iran is cautious about this because it knows that the Turkish state will pose a threat to itself here. That’s why he doesn’t want him to get too close to the border.
But when it comes to the Medya Defence Zones (controlled by PKK), they don’t make much of a noise. Everyone agrees on this issue in terms of international powers. Fuat Hussein, who was the Minister of Foreign Affairs in the Kazimi government, is a member of the KDP. He is Masrour Barzani’s right-hand man. Its most important task is to legitimize the attacks of the Turkish state. Europe and America are not even there at all. So many chemical weapons were used here last year. The documents came out and not a single step was taken. But when it comes to Ukraine, they create a storm. Unfortunately, this is a painful reality of our region.
“Sri Lanka applied the same model, 10 years later it suffered a major collapse”
It is important for the Turkish public to state the following. This operation is not a terrorist or security operation as it is presented. It is the regime’s effort to sustain itself. This also has a huge cost. A report was prepared comparing the 10 years of the Vietnam War with the last 6 years here. There was a tremendous cost. Considering the economic crisis in Turkey, it has an economic cost. It also has a cost that deepens fault lines between cultural and political lines and peoples.
It promotes racism and nationalism. It reveals mafia structures within the state and causes them to form a dominant structure within the state. These are all the costs. I ask myself sometimes, are there so many planes flying in Ukraine? Are there that many airstrikes? I’m not so sure. There isn’t a day we go here without hearing the sound of airplanes and shells. It’s a constant state of war. This is always hidden from the public. Whenever they want, they say ‘we killed terrorists’ here and there. Sri Lanka applied the same model. 10 years later it suffered a major collapse and eventually went bankrupt. If the Turkish state continues like this, there will be nothing left behind. As a matter of fact, it is already showing the signs of it.
This is a war with enormous costs. Everyone, from politicians to journalists, needs to approach this war with this responsibility and within this framework. Unfortunately, there are no serious voices in the public opinion that this war should be stopped.