Gaziantep, Turkey -- On the 20th of August, a non-suicide vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (car bomb) went off in the large southeastern Turkish city of Gaziantep, on the Syrian border. The apparent target of the bombing was a police station within the city. To date, 10 people have died as a direct result of the bombing and about 60 to 70 people have been wounded, all of whom were civilians.
Although no group has claimed responsibility and the PKK have officially denied responsibility, the Turkish government is still very keen on blaming the PKK for the attack. Reasons for this are bases upon the PKK's previous attacks in their separatist campaign within this same region. However the Turkish government suspects the PKK may also have been acting on behalf of the Syrian or Iranian government.
Such an innovation is not new to Turkey or to the PKK. When Turkey began building dams on key rivers running from Turkey to Syria, Hafez al-Assad gave the PKK and their leader Abdullah Öcalan sanctuary within Syria. He then provided the group with intelligence and arms to carry out terrorist attacks inside Turkey. He did this in an attempt to convince the Turkish government to stop building the dams which would seriously reduce water flow into Syria. Assad's plan failed when Turkey showed they were willing to go to war with Syria over the PKK, and Assad, after giving the PKK sanctuary for several years gave him up after 20 days of war preparations by Turkey. Turkey and Syria then signed treaties over how much water flow should be allowed to run into Syria.
After the PKK have been used as tools of other governments in a proxy war with Turkey, Turkey easily suspects foreign interference when it comes to matters of the group. Last Monday's attack was no different. Hüseyin Çelik, Deputy Chairman of Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has said that the attack had 'similarities' to attacks carried out by the Syrian Intelligence Agency -- the Mukhabarat.
However today's situation is very different from the one just 14 years ago. Saddam Hussein is out of power and the northern region of Iraq -- also known as Kurdistan for its large Kurdish population -- has almost complete autonomy from Baghdad, making it a de facto Kurdish state. However at least half of the entire Kurdish population lives in Turkey, making the small state in Iraq not nearly large enough to fit all of the Kurdish people. Also with one de facto state present, the Kurds may be looking for more territory.
Meanwhile in Syria there has been an 18-month-old uprising against the current Assad in power, Bashar al-Assad, the son of Hafez al-Assad. This uprising has much been on the mind of world affairs. For not only has it claimed the lives of at least 20,000 people according to the United Nations, and not only has Obama threatened to intervene directly if chemical weapons are used but it is also seen as one of the last hold outs of the "Arab Spring."
But what would Assad -- in his weakened state -- have to gain from telling the PKK to launch an attack in a large Turkish city?
Well, the attack came just two days after the Turkish government began handing out food to the refugees so perhaps Assad would be playing a card to have the Turkish government stop handing out food and thus stop the massive emigration from his country. Assad has tried other measures such as lining the border with mines to deter refugees from leaving the country, but even this proved futile.
Another possibility is that the Kurdish people, after the toppling of Saddam Hussein and now the falling government of Assad see for the first time a real chance for the creation of their own national homeland. So this may just be an attack only carried out by the members of the PKK.
The Chicago Project On Security And Terrorism was the first group in the world to collect all completed suicide attacks and place them into a publicly accessible website. By looking at the previous suicide attacks of the PKK, we can see what the organization values. It is much harder to obtain a complete list of all terrorist attacks because defining "terrorist attack" is incredibly difficult. In 2002, 57 Muslim Countries got together to condemn terrorism: It's just that they couldn't define what terrorism was. For example: throwing a grenade or one falling-round of small arms fire could both be considered terrorist attacks and yet are completely different and left to interpretation. It is much easier to track confirmed suicide bombings. By looking at the database we see that the PKK have had a total of 15 attacks with 43 total people killed. Out of the 15 total attacks, 12 have been against security targets such as military checkpoints, police stations, etc., two have been political assassinations, and only one attack has been orchestrated against a purely civilian target. Leave it to be said that if the PKK does not value attacks against civilians nearly as much as they value attacks against security targets.
Last Monday's attack was an attack against a security target, yet only produced civilian casualties. No one has claimed responsibility for this attack, and in fact the PKK have actively denied involvement. However it is still possible that the PKK is behind the attack: Due to the massive civilian causalities, the group may have ex post facto denied responsibility. The Taliban in Afghanistan for example never claim responsibility for attacks in which large numbers of civilians are killed. The Taliban only claims attacks in which either military or political figures are killed. The PKK may be using the same philosophy to avoid public condemnation.
Everything taken into account: An attack did happen, ten people have died, up to 70 wounded, and the person, group, or state responsible remains yet to be determined. Given that Iran right now is dealing with crippling sanctions against its economy, it seems highly unlikely that the Iranian government had anything to do with the attacks, especially when they get no benefit from the attack, and it would only serve to bolster the large Kurdish population which lives in Iran itself, in a region called Kurdistan. It remains plausible that Assad may have used the PKK in the attack to tell the government of Turkey a message to stop handing out food to the refugees and therefore exciting even more to cross the border. Or perhaps Assad could use the attack against a city in which many refugees would live. The camps are heavily guarded, so it is unlikely for a successful attack to take place there. However it also remains plausible that the Kurds themselves see now a state of their own for the taking, and are acting on their own. With the degree of sophistication in the attack -- remote-controlled car bomb -- it is incredibly unlikely that the attack is an isolated attack independent of any greater campaign.
We will probably never know who committed the attack. However with the situation on the Turkish-Syrian border remaining in a sort of limbo it is very possible that we will come to see more attacks of the same nature.