Since the founding of the Republic, Turkey’s archenemies have been those whose who harbor legitimate claims against their territory: Greeks, Armenians and Kurds. Ankara’s deepest fears always involve some conspiracy consisting of several of the aforementioned groups collaborating against them to dismantle modern Turkey.
Usually these claims are nonsense, if not utterly absurd.The plot of a Turkish bestseller, Metal Storm, dicussed previously at Coming Anarchy, cuts to the heart of Turkey’s paranoid nationalism and its current conflicts with both the Kurds and Armenians. The plot? America invades Turkey and divides the country between the Greeks and Armenians. It may sound far fetched but this populist and reactionary book plays on the country’s ultimate fear: the disintegration of Turkey into various ethnic homelands.
With that in mind, a recent article in Today’s Zaman,a English-language Turkish daily, alleges something along the same lines.
The Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), faced with increasing pressure to end its activities in northern Iraq, may be seeking to re-establish its camps in the Armenian-controlled Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan, intelligence reports indicate.
[...] Confronted with an increasingly hostile environment, the PKK has already begun evacuating its camps in northern Iraq, according to recent intelligence reports from the region. PKK administrators are now having talks with Armenia to relocate their camps to the Armenian-controlled Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan, intelligence reports suggest. PKK leaders have also been talking to 12 Kurdish villages in Armenia, located near the border with Turkey.
While not necessarily unlikely, it would seem to be awfully convenient for Turkey given the escalating situation in northern Iraq and southeastern Turkey. However, it would not be the first time Turkey’s enemies collaborated. Greece, Iran, Syria and the USSR have all armed and train the PKK at various points in time and Greece is has continued to even through the 90s and most likely today. It is therefore hardly unthinkable that Armenia would do the same.
With the green light to launch operations in northern Iraq, Turkey has nevertheless dropped off the radar. While the occasional anti-terrorist operations make Turkish news, they almost always are within Turkey itself and few real attacks have been carried out within Iraq as far as we know. However, with the many weeks of warning, the PKK had plenty of time to shut down its bases in the Qandil mountains and scatter or relocate. Equally predictable was that the Turks would expect this which also explains the lack of public fireworks there. Any guerilla group needs the spotlight but as international attention grew and everyone who picked up a paper suddenly knew the locations of PKK bases, the time had come for a change.
Yet, today there are few hospitable places for the PKK to go. While operations naturally continue in Turkey and Iran (by PJAC), both Syria and Iran no longer support the PKK making moving physical bases and training areas very difficult. North Iraq was long a safe haven for all of the Kurds, law-abiding citizens and PKK members alike. As that day comes to an end and Iraqi Kurds are less willing to risk their autonomy and success for their kin across the border, the PKK has two options: melt back into the population until things cool down or move shop.
In most people’s mind, Armenia usually conjures up the faces of local immigrants or perhaps vague ideas about genocide at the hands of the Turks. However, less known is that mountainous Armenia as well as Azerbaijan are both home to a very small number of Kurds. In fact, maps of Kurdistan usually include a sliver of each. Thus, the PKK could indeed have connections to the Caucasus although these groups are not only small and isolated but may not be as sympathetic to the cause. In addition, the PKK has developed links with radical Armenian organizations such as ASALA giving it a potential second network of support or at least contacts in the region.
The Caucasus is full of ethnic strife, long standing grudges and unfinished conflicts and Nagorno-Karabagh is no exception. Largely isolated from the world, poor and mountainous, it is both mountainous and difficult to travel through, both advantages to the PKK. Armenia, of which it is a de facto part (despite a laughable facade of independence), does indeed seek to settle the conflict between it and Azerbaijan but never plans to relinquish control of the area. Thus, they lose little by allowing the use of the territory by the PKK. However, one major obstacle exists: the location. Nagorno-Karabagh may be safely located a fair distance from Turkey and in a difficult to traverse area, but there is a major downside. Launching attacks into Turkey would be considerably difficult. Border countries like Syria, Iraq and Iran have longer, mountainous borders which are easier to sneak through. The distance from Stepanakert to the nearest border area with Turkey is around 115 miles through some of the highest mountains of Armenia proper.
While a PKK relocation to Karabagh is merely unconfirmed intelligence at the moment, Armenian support would be neither unthinkable nor unlikely. However, were Karabagh to be used by the PKK it would likely be for smaller scale training operations rather than a base from which to launch attacks against Turkey. In addition, it seems all too convenient for Turkey that their Kurdish and Armenian “problems” can now be publicly linked together and used to further the government’s aims both domestically and internationally. Whatever the reality, a skeptical positions remains the best for the moment.
NOTE: “Kansas” is a term used by those traveling and living in Armenia and Azerbaijan to refer to Karabagh. Discussing the situation as a foreigner is not always a good idea. Similarly, Israel is often referred to as “Disneyland” among outsiders while in Arab countries.