More than 8,500 foreign fighters have been deported from Turkey since the start of the Syrian civil war 10 years ago, the Turkish Interior Ministry said Saturday.
According to the ministry, terrorism suspects from 102 countries were expelled, including 44 from the United States and 1,075 from EU countries. In the first 10 months of this year, 61 suspects from eight EU countries were deported.
The ministry said a total of 8,585 militants have been deported since 2011 as a result of Turkey’s efforts to ensure its security within and beyond its borders. The deportees left their countries to join organizations such as the Islamic State and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, and its branch in Syria.
Since 2016, Turkey has conducted three military campaigns in northern Syria and maintains a military presence in the northwestern province of Idlib, as well as other areas within the Syrian border. She is currently conducting operations against the PKK in northern Iraq.
The Islamic State group carried out a series of major terrorist attacks in Turkey in 2015 and 2016 after Ankara joined the international coalition to fight the militants. Hundreds of people died as a result of bomb explosions and firearms.
The conflict with the PKK has resulted in tens of thousands of deaths since the group launched its armed campaign in southeastern Turkey in 1984. The United States and most Western states view the PKK as a terrorist organization.
The Syrian wing of the PKK has been instrumental in supporting the US-led effort to oust Islamic State militants from northwest Syria. Washington’s ties to Kurdish militants, who it claims are different from the PKK, have heightened tensions with Ankara, which views them as terrorists.
Abdullah Ocalan / Reuters / © Jamal Saidi
The Kurdistan Workers’ Party was formed on November 27, 1978 as a left-wing socialist party. After the military coup in Turkey (1980), almost the entire leadership of the party was arrested, however Abdullah Ocalan (the founder of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party) and a number of fellow party members managed to find refuge in Syria.
Since the early 1980s, Syria has sought to weaken its neighbors by supporting the autonomist aspirations of Turkish and Iraqi Kurds, while insisting that its own Kurdish minority subjugate its ethnic identity to Syria’s Arab identity. In the 1980s and early 1990s, the Syrian government supported the PKK’s actions against Turkey, arming and training its members in camps in the Lebanese Bekaa Valley, which was occupied by the Syrian army. Since the mid-1980s, the PKK already had a partisan army of many thousands (known as the Kurdistan People’s Liberation Army – (Artêşa Rizgariya gelên Kurdistan – ARGK)) and ramified political structures united in the National Liberation Front of Kurdistan (Eniya Rizgariya NetewNK Kurdistan).
At the same time, Syria provided assistance to the Iraqi Kurds – the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, which was founded by Jalal Talabani in Damascus in 1975. For this, the Turkish and Iraqi Kurds renounced all claims to leadership against the Syrian Kurds. In 1998, however, Syria, under strong pressure from Turkey, ended its support for the PKK, expelling its leader, Abdullah Ocalan, from his home in Damascus and closing down PKK camps in Lebanon. Shortly thereafter, Ocalan was arrested in Kenya and sentenced by a Turkish court to death (commuted to life imprisonment). The PKK moved its camps to Iraqi Kurdistan. This, however, did not end the cooperation between Syria and the PKK: the Syrian authorities did not oppose the desire of the Syrian Kurds to join the PKK to fight against Turkey. Syrian Kurds even took part in terrorist attacks in Turkey.
In 1999, the Kurdistan People’s Liberation Army was transformed into the People’s Self-Defense Forces (NSS), which consists of professional militants and has developed bases in the remote highlands of Kurdistan. The political structures of the PKK control Kurdish society both in Turkey itself and in the European diaspora. The PKK has a large budget, which is put into circulation through the businessmen controlled by the party. The main combat targets are the Turkish government security forces.
The Turkish government uses more than military force to fight the PKK. It is believed that Turkish intelligence is behind the creation of an alternative group, Kurdish Hezbollah, which carried out the murders and kidnappings of PKK activists.
In August 1999, the PKK announced a ceasefire and proclaimed the Draft Democratic Confederation, which is a non-state entity uniting the Kurdish autonomous republics to be created within the countries that divided Kurdistan among themselves.