Turkey must double down on counterterrorism agenda

Published 20.08.2019 00:08

Turkey's Interior Ministry announced the suspension of three mayors on Monday over their alleged links to the PKK terrorist organization. The former mayors of Diyarbakır, Mardin and Van are accused of misallocating public funds to provide financial support to the PKK, attending funeral services for dead terrorists and hiring relatives of known PKK operatives out of support for the group — which Turkey, the U.S. and the EU consider a terrorist organization.

This development hardly took anyone by surprise. As the PKK's political wing, the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) does not even attempt to distance itself from terrorists. In recent years, its leaders have instigated deadly riots, voiced support for suicide bombers and even served as mules for the PKK. The three ousted mayors, according to Turkish officials, carried on the tradition.

Critics protested Monday's decision, claiming that Turkey's actions violated the people's democratic rights. They argued that the decision to remove elected mayors from office was an impediment on political representation and deprived local communities from public services.

Nothing could be further from the truth – in the absence of any sympathy for the PKK's twisted ideology, anyway. Turkey took similar measures in 2016 in response to well-documented violations by the HDP-controlled municipalities. Independent trustees, who replaced ousted mayors, promptly fired employees with PKK links, some of whom were actually fighting in Syria, delivered much-needed services to local communities, and promoted public safety. Their efforts, together with a nationwide crackdown on terrorist cells, led to a notable decline in violent attacks, impeded the PKK's recruitment efforts and deprived the group of revenue.

Others were quick to depict what occurred as a crackdown on Turkey's Kurds, conveniently disregarding that ethnic Kurds living in Turkey have traditionally been disproportionately targeted by PKK terrorists. Nor did they mention that dozens of Kurdish officials, who were elected to office on various parties' tickets, continue to serve their communities. To play the ethnicity card in an attempt to distract the public from terrorism is a cheap, ineffective and disgraceful tactic.

Turkey's zero-tolerance policy toward terrorism serves the international community's interests as well. Radicalized individuals are known to cross ideological lines and carry out attacks on behalf of seemingly competing groups. That a Daesh suicide bomber, who perpetrated a deadly attack in Turkey, was on trial for being a member of the Revolutionary People's Liberation Party-Front (DHKP-C), a left-wing terrorist group, attests to this fact. At the same time, sources note that the PKK's Syrian affiliate, the People's Protection Units (YPG), frequently releases imprisoned Daesh militants, who pledge to carry out attacks against Turkish citizens. The Turkish police arrested a group of Syrian terrorists earlier this month in Konya, where they were planning to detonate explosives stashed inside a teddy bear. There is no telling what other countries such cells could target in the future.

It is now the justice system's turn to prosecute all relevant individuals, document their crimes and lock them up. There can be no grey area between the political arena and the realm of terrorism. All parties, including political movements, civil society and the media, have a responsibility to prevent anyone from blurring that line. Above all, that responsibility lies with the HDP and its allies – the Republican People's Party (CHP) and the Good Party (İP).

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