DIYARBAKIR,  afp – 5.10.2012 – The outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) announced on July 23 that it would drop its ambush strategy and opt instead for large-scale ground control of the mountainous areas surrounding the town of Semdinli, bordering Iraqi Kurdistan and Iranian Kurdistan. “The strategy is now changed, individual guerrilla attacks are no more,” said a senior PKK leader, Duran Kalkan, according to Firat News agency, which is close to the rebels.

“The aim is not just to inflict damage on the opponent, but also to bring about democratic autonomy, build a democratic self-government for the Kurdish people,” said Kalkan.

Achieving the aim will require negotiations, analysts said. Since the announcement, Ankara has faced a broader fight for territory where rebels claim they have “dominance” over three other locations, all along the Iraqi border, beyond which the PKK has its main bases.

Achieving territorial dominance does not necessarily mean completely liberating areas from Turkish troops, according to a pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) lawmaker. “It means the troops are stationed in their barracks and they do not go out for operations in the rural areas, because the guerrillas are there,” lawmaker and party co-chair Gulten Kisanak told AFP.”They (guerrillas) have the upper hand on the highways, they do identity checks at roadblocks, sometimes raise flags, do things that say ‘hey, we are here’.”

Analysts, however, doubt the ability — and the willingness — of the PKK to maintain such dominance permanently against the second strongest army in NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. “For a group like the PKK, which has a limited number of militants, it is not at all possible to physically defend a territory,” said Nihat Ali Ozcan, a specialist in security issues from the Ankara-based think-tank TEPAV.

“It is against nature, it is against all logic,” he added.

Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan already announced the PKK’s defeat in Semdinli after an all-out army assault involving some 5,000 ground troops in September.But Irfan Aktan, a journalist who specialises in the Kurdish question, contested Erdogan’s claim of victory, saying the army-led operations did little to end the PKK presence in that region. “According to our information, there are around 1,000 (PKK) militants who turned up in Semdinli, Daglica, Cukurca, and Yuksekova (in southeastern Hakkari province),” he said. “Even if 200 have been killed, there are still 80 percent remaining.”

Despite the losses, the PKK turned out to gain a psychological advantage, said the journalist. “It showed that if it wants, the group can organize very big operations.”The aim of the rebels was to make an impact on public opinion, agreed Ozcan, the TEPAV analyst. “An upsurge in the number of losses influences public opinion and it is public opinion that puts pressure on the government,” he added, pointing to Erdogan’s recent remarks signalling new talks with the rebels if the negotiations would promote a settlement.