How Will Turkey Respond to Growing Rebel Violence? ; Next Month the European Union Will Hear a Progress Report on Turkish Membership, with a Final Vote Due in December

By Yigal Schleifer Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, September 22, 2004 | Go to article overview

How Will Turkey Respond to Growing Rebel Violence? ; Next Month the European Union Will Hear a Progress Report on Turkish Membership, with a Final Vote Due in December


Yigal Schleifer Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


The ambushing of Turkish forces by Kurdish guerrillas. Bombings of hotels in Istanbul. The evacuation of a village in Turkey's predominantly Kurdish southeast. This may sound like a recounting of events in the bloody 15-year war fought in the 1980s and '90s between Turkey and the separatist Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). But, in fact, it is the story of the past few months.

While the fighting is nowhere near the levels reached during the previous conflict, when more than 30,000 lost their lives, the potential of Kurdish-related violence once again appears to be looming in Turkey. How Turkey responds will not only have profound implications for life in the country's Kurdish areas and across the border in northern Iraq, but also for Turkey's relations with the US and the EU, analysts say.

The PKK (which now calls itself Kongra-Gel) called off a five- year unilateral cease-fire in June. Since then, more than 30 Turkish security personnel have been killed in a series of attacks, while some 70 rebels have died.

In early August, coordinated bombings struck two Istanbul hotels and a fuel depot in the city, killing two and wounding 11. An unknown Kurdish group took responsibility for the blasts, but Turkish officials said they believe the PKK was behind them. Several smaller explosions linked by Turkey to the PKK have also gone off throughout the country in recent weeks.

In July, the 343 residents of a small village in the southeast were forced out of their homes for six weeks while security forces tried to flush out rebels from the area. For many Kurds, it was an ominous reminder of the '80s and '90s, when some 3,600 villages were emptied as a result of fighting, displacing 300,000 people.

The PKK began its cease-fire after the 1999 capture of its leader, Abdullah Ocalan. It withdrew its fighters from Turkey to the mountains of northern Iraq, where it today has an estimated 5,000 members. With the start of last year's war in Iraq, Turkey had asked the US to use its military presence in the country to confront the PKK. American officials have said the US plans to go after the rebel organization but that right now it's a question of not having enough resources in Iraq. …

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