Change of strategy: Kurds to opt for territorial dominance in Turkey

Achieving the aim will require negotiations

Kurdish rebels have launched a new shock strategy for territorial "dominance" in the southeast of Turkey, one that analysts say is designed to press the Turkish government into negotiations for autonomy rather than grab a military victory.
The outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) announced on July 23 that it would drop its ambush strategy and opt instead for large-scale ground control of the mountainous areas surrounding the town of Semdinli, bordering Iraq and Iran.
"The strategy is now changed, individual guerrilla attacks are no more," said a senior PKK leader, Duran Kalkan, according to Firat News agency, which is close to the rebels.
"The aim is not just to inflict damage on the opponent, but also to bring about democratic autonomy, build a democratic self-government for the Kurdish people," said Kalkan.
Achieving the aim will require negotiations, analysts said.
Since the announcement, Ankara has faced a broader fight for territory where rebels claim they have "dominance" over three other locations, all along the Iraqi border, beyond which the PKK has its main bases.
Achieving territorial dominance does not necessarily mean completely liberating areas from Turkish troops, according to a pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) lawmaker.
"It means the troops are stationed in their barracks and they do not go out for operations in the rural areas, because the guerrillas are there," lawmaker and party co-chair Gulten Kisanak siad.
"They (guerrillas) have the upper hand on the highways, they do identity checks at roadblocks, sometimes raise flags, do things that say 'hey, we are here'."
Analysts, however, doubt the ability -- and the willingness -- of the PKK to maintain such dominance permanently against the second strongest army in NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.
"For a group like the PKK, which has a limited number of militants, it is not at all possible to physically defend a territory," said Nihat Ali Ozcan, a specialist in security issues from the Ankara-based think-tank TEPAV.
"It is against nature, it is against all logic," he added. Psychological advantage
Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan already announced the PKK's defeat in Semdinli after an all-out army assault involving some 5,000 ground troops in September.
"The lesson they learnt there was very heavy," said Erdogan on September 26, adding that 239 Kurdish rebels and 144 members of Turkish security forces had been killed since the beginning of the year.
But Irfan Aktan, a journalist who specialises in the Kurdish question, contested Erdogan's claim of victory, saying the army-led operations did little to end the PKK presence in that region.
"According to our information, there are around 1,000 (PKK) militants who turned up in Semdinli, Daglica, Cukurca, and Yuksekova (in southeastern Hakkari province)," he said.
"Even if 200 have been killed, there are still 80 percent remaining."
Despite the losses, the PKK turned out to gain a psychological advantage, said the journalist. "It showed that if it wants, the group can organize very big operations."
The aim of the rebels was to make an impact on public opinion, agreed Ozcan, the TEPAV analyst.
"An upsurge in the number of losses influences public opinion and it is public opinion that puts pressure on the government," he added, pointing to Erdogan's recent remarks signalling new talks with the rebels if the negotiations would promote a settlement.
"If negotiations allow us to fix something, let's do it", said Erdogan.
The Kurdish conflict in Turkey has taken more than 45,000 lives since 1984, when the group, branded a terrorist organisation by much of the international community, took up arms against the Turkish state.