Civil war looms as ethnic tensions escalate in Turkey
ISTANBUL - Escalating ethnic tensions in Turkey following deadly clashes in the Kurdish region triggered warnings that the country could be sliding towards a full-blown civil war.
Fighting between the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) rebel group and security forces have left more than 100 soldiers and police officers as well as dozens of PKK fighters and civilians dead since late July. Ankara has responded with air strikes on PKK positions in south-eastern Turkey and northern Iraq and large-scale military operations that included a week-long curfew in Cizre, a predominantly Kurdish city of 120,000 people near the Syrian border.
In what some observers see as an ominous sign, tensions are no longer limited to the battlefield but have started to affect society as a whole. Dozens of rallies by nationalist Turks have targeted the legal Kurdish party, the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), and ordinary Kurdish citizens.
A crowd of several hundred Turks, some armed with sticks and stones, tried to lynch eight Kurdish construction workers in Bolu in north-western Turkey on September 14th. Reports said it took more than seven hours to disperse the mob and save the workers after the crowd set fire to the half-finished building where they were hiding. The incident began when nationalists said the Kurds had insulted the Turkish flag.
In an effort to calm the crowd, authorities took the father of a Turkish soldier killed by the PKK to the building site. “If we attack them and punish them ourselves, it will be civil war,” the father, Ahmet Temel, said in a speech.
Temel’s is not the only one warning of large-scale civil strife. HDP co-leader Figen Yuksekdag said there were more than 100 attacks on party offices around the country, in what she called a “dress rehearsal for a civil war”.Cem Ozdemir, leader of Germany’s Green Party and a politician of Turkish descent, said during a visit to south-eastern Turkey that there was a real danger the country could descend into civil war. “One has to be careful that things don’t go in that direction,” he said.
Critics accuse President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of fanning tensions in the hope of winning back nationalist voters who deserted his Justice and Development Party (AKP) in elections in June, before new elections scheduled for November 1st. Without naming Erdogan, columnist Mehmet Yilmaz wrote in the Hurriyet daily that “politicians who become ever more belligerent and who accuse everyone who step in their way of being a ‘terrorist’ or of ‘supporting terrorism’” were responsible for the worsening situation.