Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Talking Turkey: Violence between Kurds and Security Forces Escalates in Turkey

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Talking Turkey: Violence between Kurds and Security Forces Escalates in Turkey

Article excerpt

Talking Turkey: Violence Between Kurds and Security Forces Escalates in Turkey

Recent riots and bloodshed in southeastern Turkey marked the beginning of a showdown between Kurdish rebels and Turkish security forces that is likely to escalate in the coming weeks. Both the Turkish government and the separatists of the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) seem prepared for the worst.

"It's war," said newly elected Turkish Prime Minister Suleyman Demirel. "This is an aggression against the state. There is no other word for it."

PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, who lives in Syria and operates from a base in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley, is just as confrontational. "Our plan for this year is a popular rebellion that will spread throughout Turkey," he said. "Maybe 100,000 people will be killed. But our struggle will continue."

Ocalan launched the uprising on March 21, the first day of spring and "Nawroz," the Kurdish New Year. On that day, well-equipped PKK guerrillas attacked public buildings and security force headquarters in several towns, including Cizre and Sirnak, in Turkey's southeastern provinces, where more than half of the country's 12 million Kurds live. PKK instructions, issued over several days, called on the Kurdish population to demonstrate for the Kurdish separatist cause and make Nawroz celebrations the beginning of a Kurdish "intifada."

Thousands of Kurds, mostly young people, marched in several towns and villages in southeastern Turkey with Kurdish flags and banners supporting the PKK while shouting anti-Turkish slogans. When the security forces tried to control and disperse the crowds, PKK guerrillas launched their attacks, supported also by local armed Kurds. For two days, they held positions in and around Sirnak and Cizre, until Turkish troop reinforcements arrived and restored order and authority. Many civilians were killed in clashes that resembled civil war.

"From now on, every day will be a Nawroz," Ocalan proclaimed. "We have 10,000 fighters, half of whom are in Turkey. We'll raise hell. There will be a lot of bloodshed."

The government's reaction is to meet force with force. Demirel and his coalition partner, Erdal Inonu, leader of the Social Democratic Party, made it clear that the government will not yield to "terrorist" threats and violence. They ordered all necessary measures to defeat the terrorists and prevent the spread of the uprising.

Ironically, the PKK's "declaration of war" against Turkey came after Demirel's new coalition government had recognized Kurdish identity and seemed to be seeking a peaceful solution to the problems in eastern Turkey. Under his leadership, Turkey had moved considerably from the mentality--which prevailed until last year--of ignoring completely the existence of the ethnic Kurds. Demirel has followed a much more liberal policy, granting linguistic and cultural rights and ending repression of the Kurdish population.

The PKK's campaign of violence, however, derives more from Ocalan's long-term plans and strategy than from the presence of the Demirel administration, which inherited the Kurdish issue along with many other serious political and economic problems.

"Turkey cannot continue to be a unitary state," the 45-year-old PKK leader has declared. "There should be a referendum that will allow the Kurds to express their will and whether they want to be independent... We shall soon take action to form our own Parliament and determine the future of the Kurdish region."

Although according to the Marxist-Leninist Ocalan, that region comprises most of the southeastern and eastern provinces of Turkey, no Turk is prepared to accept a secession of any part of the country. …

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