Considering the dozens of Turkish air strikes in Qandil, the whining sound made by the drone overhead was a little unsettling when I visited this September. In my mind I can picture the drone operator sitting in a dark trailer somewhere back in Turkey, zooming in on the top of my head with the camera lens on the drone and contemplating whether he should scramble fighter jets to drop a 500 pound bomb on me. “We need to go back,” my PKK escort, Zagros, says. “It is not safe right now.” He is worried about the drone acting as forward reconnaissance to scout out targets for Turkish aircraft, just as I am. We are done for the day, and heading back to a place to bed down for the night. Tomorrow would be another day, hopefully with less drone activity.

The history behind the air strikes is as long as it is complicated, dating back to the hostilities between the PKK (Kurdistan Worker’s Party) and the Turkish government in the 1980s. It could be traced even further back to previous ethnic tensions between the Kurds and the Turks. The latest round of violence, in the form of air strikes against PKK and civilian targets in Kurdistan, most likely has its origins in the last round of elections in Turkey, which for the first time brought the Kurds into the political process via the Kurdish HDP (People’s Democratic Party) by electing MPs to the Turkish parliament. HDP need 10 percent of the vote to meet the minimum threshold to be represented in the government, and managed to secure 13 percent of the votes, gaining 81 seats in the parliament during the general elections on June 7th, 2015.

Suffice to say that this did not sit well with the Islamist-leaning Erdogan-led government, or the ultra-right wing Ataturk nationalists. On July 17th, Erdogan rejected the 10-point Dolmabahce agreement between the HDP and Turkey’s deputy prime minister, a de facto ceasefire between Turkey and the PKK that had also been endorsed by Abdullah Ocalan, the PKK’s leader and figurehead who has been held in a Turkish prison since 1999.

“The goal is to keep HDP behind the 10 percent threshold and change the system from a parliamentary system to a presidential system. Since the elections, they have only allowed the parliament to function for 20 hours, for swearing in and to make a decision to allow the Turkish military to go abroad to Iraq. Is this democracy?” Zagros asked me in a later interview.

SOFREP Investigates Turkish Air Strikes Against the PKK in Kurdistan
In Qandil, a few kilometers away from the site of the airstrike I inspected.

On July 20th, at least one bomb ripped through a Kurdish gathering in Suruc, which is located about 10 kilometers away from Kobani, Syria. Here, the Kurdish YPG and YPJ fighters had been fighting a fierce battle against ISIS, the jihadis long suspected of receiving logistical support from the Turkish MIT intelligence service. The Suruc bombing killed 33 Kurds and aggravated an already tense ceasefire brokered between the PKK and the Turkish government.

ISIS claimed responsibility for the Suruc attack, but doubt has continued to linger as to the actor responsible for the bombing. While in Qandil, I asked my PKK escort about the attack, and he replied that the “deep state was behind that attack…shadow powers.”  The deep state is a reference to a collusion between intelligence services and organized crime. We see the deep state present in places like Pakistan, but the deep state also alludes to shadowy connections elsewhere, such as the Cold War-era “Gladio” construct in Europe. Turkey itself has a long history of of such collusions, including the Gray Wolves.

“The decision to attack the Kurds was taken in the 30th of October of 2013 in the national security assembly,” Zagros explained. “After the Kobani events…they came to such a conclusion that the Kurdish freedom movement is getting more and more powerful so [they] have to attack the Kurds.” Regarding Suruc, Zagros said that the Turkish government “reformulated their plans” after the elections, “and this time they attacked the PKK under the disguise of ISIS. They did a massacre in Suruc.”

In August, Erdogan called for snap elections, unsatisfied with the HDP upsetting his chances at securing a super majority for his party, a majority which would have allowed him to change the Turkish constitution. At the time, Erdogan remarked, “I won’t waste time. As president, I know the scope of my authority and I am in a position where I need to use my powers all the way.” While the snap elections were scheduled for November 1st, Erdogan continued to ratchet up tensions between Turkey’s political factions. Whether the Suruc bombing was in fact launched by shadowy figures in the Turkish government or not, it played right into Erdogan’s hand. The bombing torpedoed the ceasefire agreement, acting as a provocation to reignite open conflict between the Kurds and the Turks.