Increasing acts of violence by outlawed Kurdish organizations in the region have pushed Turkey and Iran to conduct separate operations on the Iraqi border, which has witnessed serious clashes between Iranian forces and militant groups.
The Iranian army has launched a powerful operation against the Party for Free Life in Kurdistan, or PJAK, in Iran, reportedly crossing the Iraqi border as it intensified its efforts in recent days to reach the group's headquarters in the Kandil Mountains of northern Iraq.
In a separate move, the Turkish military began a limited operation against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, in the Şemdinli district of Hakkari province, on the Iraqi border, the private channel CNNTürk reported Tuesday. It said additional troops have been sent to the military outposts in the region and claimed some targets had been shelled. Turkey's anti-terror operations have intensified following the killing of 13 troops July 14 in Diyarbakır's Silvan district.
Diplomatic sources said the two countries' operations were not linked and no military coordination had been sought thus far despite their continuous cooperation in the anti-terror fight.
PJAK is a banned group with alleged links to the outlawed PKK, which is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union. PJAK operates mostly in Iran from bases in northern Iraq.
The Iranian army launched its recent operation July 16 and clashes between the Sipah Pastaran Army of Iran and PJAK forces intensified over the weekend, the pro-Kurdish Fırat News Agency reported Tuesday, claiming that militants repelled Iranian forces and killed at least five troops. The Iranian army offensive was supported by a strong bombardment, it claimed.
The Fırat News Agency is sympathetic to pro-Kurdish political parties in Turkey and often carries announcements from the PKK.
The Iranian army, however, announced Tuesday that PJAK militants were trapped by a group of Kurdish Basij (volunteer) forces Monday night in the Kandil, Haji Ebrahim and Doleto areas near the towns of Piranshahr and Sardasht in West Azerbaijan province. "The PJAK terrorists were killed by the local Kurdish Basij forces. The bodies of the terrorists were left in the area," the army said, adding that the operations would continue until the last militant was annihilated.
Ankara Mulls New Measures
In Ankara, civil and military officials held a security summit Tuesday to review measures taken against growing terrorism acts, including the government's fresh proposal of giving police a larger role in the anti-terror fight. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Chief of General Staff Gen. Işık Koşaner's weekly meeting turned into a summit as they were joined by Interior Minister İdris Naim Şahin, Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin and Deputy Prime Minister Beşir Atalay. No statement was made after the one-and-half-hour long meeting.
Search for Effective Ways to Fight Terror
The PKK's deadly ambush of troops in Silvan, which has been followed by other attacks on soldiers, has increased public anger and pushed the government to seek more effective ways to fight terror, including the proposal about the police, which was seen by critics as marginalizing the army. Details of the proposal may have been discussed during Tuesday's meetings, though the government has not made the details of its plan public yet. Opposition parties have severely criticized the government over the proposal, claiming it is a punishment to the army and a sign that it distrusts its effectiveness.
"Both our police and military are responsible for the security of our country," Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdağ told reporters Tuesday in response to opposition criticisms. "We are of the opinion that this move will be to the advantage of our country."
Sending newly recruited soldiers to fight militants is not logical, Bozdağ said, adding that this is why the government was planning to deploy professional soldiers. Ankara has announced that it will recruit nearly 5,000 contracted soldiers to serve the army, especially along the mountainous borders with Iraq and Iran, where militants frequently attack Turkish military outposts.
A senior official from the main opposition party on Tuesday demanded information on the developments in the fight against terror.
"If you do not have a secret agenda in the fight against terror, we are ready to give support to you," said Emine Ülker Tarhan, a deputy parliamentary group leader of the Republican People's Party, or CHP. "Putting the police forward in this fight would cause a rift between army and police." she added.
Silvan Attack Carried to Court
Turkey's General Staff made public the results of the investigation regarding the recent attack which left 13 soldiers dead and 7 others wounded in southeastern Silvan town.
Revealing the details yesterday evening, the General Staff said no aircraft had been used during the clash and the claims that the troops had been ambushed while preparing to return to their base were not true. General Staff also said it was a mistake to open the scene of the clash to the press, adding that the issue would be sent to the court in order to clarify the uncertainties regarding the attack.
Turkish PM to Visit Azerbaijan with Hot Agenda
The Nabucco pipeline project, mutual visa exemptions, facilities for businessmen and the Nagorno-Karabakh talks are expected to top Turkey's agenda as Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan prepares to visit Azerbaijan on Wednesday.
Erdoğan, who is making his second visit abroad since forming a new government after the June 12 elections, will discuss bilateral relations and regional issues with Azerbaijani President İlham Aliyev, a senior Turkish diplomat told the Hürriyet Daily News on Tuesday.
The Nabucco pipeline, a multi-billion-dollar project to export natural gas from the Caspian Sea to Turkey, is among those issues, the diplomat said.
Azerbaijan and Turkey are at odds over the project, leaving Azerbaijan the only project partner absent when the legal framework for Nabucco was signed June 8 in Turkey's Kayseri province between Nabucco Gas Pipeline International GmbH and the responsible ministries of the five transit countries, Austria, Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania and Turkey.
An obligatory bilateral transit agreement between Azerbaijan and Turkey was almost signed in May 2010, "but some minor and some important things prevented the two parties from agreeing and finalizing it," Elshad Nasirov, the vice president of the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan, or SOCAR, told the Daily News in a recent interview. Talks between two countries over the transit of Shah Deniz II gas supplies were also suspended in May because of Turkey's parliamentary elections in June.
The issue of facilities for the two countries' businessmen will also be discussed in the meetings, as will the long-standing bilateral visa exemption issue, which has been at a standstill due to Azerbaijan's insistence that if Baku lifts visa requirements for Turkish citizens it would have to do the same for those from Iran. "Talks are ongoing on visa exemption, yet have not resulted in an agreement," the Turkish diplomat said.
Along with bilateral issues, giving momentum to the Karabakh talks will be on Erdoğan and Aliyev's agenda for discussion. Azerbaijan and Armenia's failure in June to come to an agreement over the contested territory has led to disappointment in the international arena.
A flashpoint of the Caucasus, the region known as Nagorno-Karabakh is a constituent part of Azerbaijan that has been occupied by Armenia since the end of 1994. While internationally recognized as Azerbaijani territory, the enclave has declared itself an independent republic but is administered as a de facto part of Armenia.
Another controversial subject is the Turkish-Armenian reconciliation process that has been blocked by Baku, which indirectly threatened Turkey that it would stop supplying natural gas and give Russia preference as its main energy partner.
A set of confidence-building measures are planned between Turkey and Armenia as part of efforts to keep the momentum of the reconciliation process alive. One of these is the idea of starting direct flights from Yerevan to Turkey's Van, a destination for many Armenians who wish to visit an ancient Armenian church on Akdamar Island in Lake Van. The proposal, though, drew a negative reaction from Azerbaijan.
"We do not interfere with the affairs of two [other] countries but we still reserve the right to respond in case of the infringement of the national interests of Azerbaijan," Elman Abdullayev, the first secretary of Azerbaijan's MFA press service, told the Trend news agency in response to the Yerevan-Van flight plan.
Israeli Cabinet Split Over Deporting Turkish Workers, Report Says
Turkish construction workers in Israel may lose their permits in the wake of the apology fray between Turkish and Israeli governments over the 2010 Gala flotilla raid
A disagreement between leading Israeli politicians about whether to apologize to Turkey for last year's Gaza aid flotilla raid has broadened into a conflict about the continued employment of Turkish workers in Israel, daily Haaretz reported Wednesday.
The Israeli Foreign Ministry under its minister, the far-right politician Avigdor Lieberman, has claimed that the Yılmazlar company, which provides employment for 350 Turkish workers in Israel, recently established a political party with anti-Israeli tendencies and objected to the extension of the visas of the 350 workers employed by company. The ministry did not elaborate on the nature of the political party.
The workers originally received their permits as part of an agreement between the two countries' defense ministries, the report said.
Israel agreed to grant the visas to the 350 construction workers employed by Yılmazlar during Ariel Sharon's term as prime minister as part of an agreement that called for the upgrading of Turkish tanks by Israel Military Industries.
Israel's Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry has also objected to the extension of the visas, saying many of the workers have been in the country for more than five years.
The Defense Ministry under Ehud Barak, however, is fighting to extend the visas for fear of damaging Israel's already dismal relations with Turkey.
Sahin Announces Mission, Teams up with NGO's
Women and Social Policies Minister Fatma Şahin said she will personally collaborate with nongovernmental organizations and civil associations to solve the problem of honor killings and violence against women in the country.
"Social policies are an area that requires collaboration. It is not something a minister can do by sitting from her desk in Ankara," Şahin said Tuesday at a press conference following a meeting with the heads of prominent women associations.
Şahin also spoke about 19-year-old Ceylan Soysal, Dörtyol, Hatay resident who was killed by her family last week for "besmirching the family's honor."
"What happened to Ceylan is a wound for us, I will personally follow this case," Şahin said. "I will go and speak to her mother, as well as her 14-year-old sister, who was taken into state protection last week."
Women's Associations Federation head Canan Güllü said she was pleased to work with Şahin, whom she has been collaborating with for many years on women's issues.
"We are happy that Şahin, who is very sensitive on women issues, was appointed as minister," she said adding that they had also presented a recent report to Şahin on women's suicides in the southeastern province of Şanlıurfa.
"In the last six months, 49 women committed suicide in Şanlıurfa. We want an emergency action plan on violence against women. We hope that the new Parliament's first job will be on women issues," Güllü said.
Şahin also spoke about the report and said she would investigate it.
Arzu Özyol, head of the International Federation of Business and Professional Women, said the federation was going to collaborate with Şahin in creating more women-related projects. "We are 100 percent behind her."