SEMDINLI, Turkey -- Kurdish militants, whove been at war with the Turkish state for the past 30 years, tried out a new tactic this summer. As they cut the main road from the Iran and Iraq borders to the southeast Turkish market town of Semdinli, they declared that it wouldnt be the familiar hit and run operation. This time it was hit and stay.
Hoping to set a trap for the Turkish army garrison here, rebel fighters from the Kurdistan Workers Party placed 50-caliber heavy machine guns and rocket launchers on high ground to ambush the motorized units the army was certain to send. But the army avoided the main road and destroyed the heavy weapons from the air. It lofted drones to spot the guerrillas, then pounded them with long-range artillery.
Twenty days into the operation, the Turkish high command announced Sundaythat it was over. It claimed that 115 guerrillas had been killed, and that only six Turkish soldiers and two village guardsmen had died.
The rebel campaign obviously hadnt worked as planned. Even so, it did have an impact: By distracting the Turkish government, it served the interests of two of Turkeys neighbors, Syria and its close ally, Iran, both of which are eager to counter Ankaras open advocacy of ousting Syrian President Bashar Assad.
In a regional realignment thats been under way since the Syrian uprising started in March 2011, Iran and Syria appear to be providing support and sanctuary to the Kurdistan Workers Party and egging on its struggle against Turkey. Kurds live in Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey, and the Kurdistan Workers Partys headquarters have been in northern Iraq. Now, however, as Iraqs Kurdistan Regional Government draws closer to Turkey, the Kurdistan Workers Party is finding allies elsewhere.
Iran is one example. Charging that Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar are responsible for the bloodshed in Syria, Maj. Gen. Hassan Firouzabadi, the Iranian chief of staff, warned last week that after Syria, Turkey and other states will be next in line.
Turkey denounced the baseless accusations and unworthy threats made against our country. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish prime minister, went on to urge Iranians to protest their government policy: I ask the Iranians. Is there a place in your religion for defending a regime that kills its people, or not? If Syrians are fleeing their country, shouldnt Iran be brought to account?
Meanwhile, Kurdistan Workers Party ties with Syria have improved dramatically, as Assad, searching for troops to fight the opponents of his regime, handed over control of nearly all the countrys Kurdish-dominated region to a Kurdistan Workers Party affiliate. Syria also provides a base for Bahoz Erdal, whom Turkish officials say is commanding Kurdistan Workers Party fighters on other fronts in Turkey.
Thus, a group that Turkey and the United States label terrorist appears to be moving into power right on Turkeys border. It could prove a major problem for Turkey, whose 80 million population includes more than 14 million Kurds more than half of all the Kurds who live in the Middle East.
Semdinli, a town of 19,000 situated in a picturesque, narrow valley, is a case study of that problem. The Kurdistan Workers Party launched its first violent assault against Turkish security personnel here on Aug. 15, 1984, and has been back often. The latest intervention began July 23, when guerrillas set up a checkpoint on the other side of Mount Goman, on the main road to the Iran and Iraq borders.