October 2015Middle East

Violence Escalates Between Turkish Troops and Kurdish Guerrillas

By Matthew Schaller
Staff Writer

Violence in Kurdish-populated Southeastern Turkey has escalated since the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK) claimed responsibility for two separate attacks that resulted in the deaths of 14 police officers and 16 soldiers respectively.

The Kurdish group, which has been labeled a terrorist organization by the European Union, the United States, and Turkey, has increased their attacks on security forces since the peace process created by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in 2012 was terminated in July this year.

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu vowed to eradicate the rebels from their strongholds in Turkey and neighboring Iraq. “These terrorists must be wiped out from the mountain; whatever happens, they must be wiped out,” Davutoglu said.

In response, nationalist mobs attacked dozens of buildings belonging to the Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party, including its headquarters located in the Turkish capital of Ankara. According to lawmaker Garo Paylan, “There are hundreds in front of the building now, chanting slogans and throwing stones, breaking the windows.” There were also separate attacks in Istanbul and Erzurum province, the latter resulting in 2,000 people overrunning a state construction project suspected of sympathizing with the PKK.

Meanwhile, across the border in Northern Iraq, Turkish ground and air forces have stepped up their offensive against the rebel group, with the New York Times reporting that as many as two battalions have entered the country. Dozens of F-16 and F-4 aircraft targeted PKK bases in Qandil, Basyan Avashin, and Zap.

According to President Erdogan, “The recent developments are a result of the ensuing panic,” adding that “losses inflicted on the organization by Turkish military operations can be expressed in the thousands.”

Human rights groups, including Amnesty International and the Council of Europe, have become increasingly concerned about the enforcement by the Turkish government of a curfew on certain Kurdish villages. In Cizre, harsh treatment of the villagers has been exposed, with pro-Kurdish politicians reporting the deaths of 21 civilians.

Reuters reports that orders from the local governor in the area have instructed Special Forces teams to shoot on sight, leaving the dead unburied. Authorities also imposed a curfew on the border town of Yuksekova as a result of increased activities by the militant group. The Turkish interior minister denied the claims of abuse and stated that these operations have been effective in combating the PKK.

The renewed conflict between the Turkish government and the PKK has been a backdrop to increasingly turbulent political games in Ankara, as well as Turkey’s battle with the self-proclaimed Islamic State along southern border with Syria.

The Peoples’ Democratic Party, which has been the victim of this nationalist fervor, passed the 10 percent threshold in Parliament this past summer and unseated the President’s governing Justice and Development Party. This has resulted in Erdogan calling for elections in the coming weeks, in the hope of restoring his lost majority.

The Kurdish peshmerga have played a large role in combating the Islamic State, raising concerns in Turkey that the peshmerga might fuel a separatist insurrection within the country.

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