Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Islamic State: Is Turkey Jeopardizing Peace with Kurdish Minority?

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Islamic State: Is Turkey Jeopardizing Peace with Kurdish Minority?

Article excerpt

An 18-month-old ceasefire between Kurdish rebels and Turkey is increasingly imperiled by the crisis in the besieged town of Kobane in Syria, as well as by the Turkish government's growing authoritarian streak.

In recent days, fighters of the self-declared Islamic State have tightened a siege on Kobane, which lies near the Turkish border, and over 140,000 mainly Kurdish inhabitants have fled into Turkey. Kurdish politicians are now accusing Turkey of either facilitating or else failing to act against the militants.

Turkey has denied coddling Islamic State. Its parliament is due to vote Thursday on a government proposal to allow foreign forces to launch raids into Syria and Iraq. Turkey's own military already has a mandate for cross-border incursions.

Turkey has been holding informal peace talks with Abdullah Ocalan - the imprisoned leader of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has fought a 30-year-long insurgency against Turkey - since Mr. Ocalan declared a ceasefire last March. The peace initiative, widely seen as Turkey's best chance at resolving the conflict, has boosted investment in the impoverished southeast and led to improvements in civil rights for Turkey's 15 million Kurds.

In return for expanded freedoms, the government wants the PKK to lay down its arms. But the strife in Kobane could put those talks at risk. Last week Murat Karayilan, a high-ranking commander in the PKK, told a Kurdish TV station that peace negotiations with the Turkish government were "finished."

"The ceasefire and the peace process is in a very fragile situation," Ertugrul Kurkcu, a member of Parliament for the pro- Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party, the political affiliate of the PKK, tells The Christian Science Monitor.

"The state of the ceasefire is not only determined by the situation in Turkey, but the situation in the entire Kurdish nation," Mr. Kurkcu says, alluding to the Kurdish-populated region of Syria, referred to by Kurds as Rojava.

In a report issued Monday, Human Rights Watch said discrimination against Kurds had eased under the ceasefire and that these changes "could further human rights for all ethnic and religious minority groups in Turkey." But it also warned that weakening rule of law and civil rights under the 12-year leadership of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan "may well jeopardize" the peace process.

'Buffer zone'The Democratic Union Party (PYD), which seized control of a Syrian enclave in 2012 from regime forces, has close links to the PKK and is regarded warily by Turkey. For the past two years it has been one of the main rebel groups fighting IS in Syria. In recent months, however, IS militants armed with US-supplied heavy weaponry looted in Iraq have gained the upper hand.

"The situation in Rojava, and particularly in Kobane, is seen by the Kurdish armed movement as a proxy war by Turkey against Kurdish gains in Syria," says Kurkcu, reflecting the widespread conviction among Kurds in Turkey that Ankara is aiding IS. …

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