Reuters reports: Images of smiling Kurdish MPs hugging rebels, rifles slung over their shoulders, at a remote roadblock in Turkey’s mountainous southeast hit a raw nerve.
The embrace, depicted in Turkish newspapers as battles raged with government troops, fed a climate of animosity which is undermining hopes of a revival of secret talks to end a 28-year-old separatist conflict.
Escalating violence could instead now entrench a primarily military response from Ankara to an insurgency that has killed more than 40,000 people. Nine Turkish police and soldiers were killed over the weekend in clashes with Kurdish rebels.
The roadside meeting came as Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) rebels, inspired by the growing influence of an allied Kurdish group in Syria, laid siege to Turkey’s mountainous district of Semdinli bordering Iraq and Iran.
“It is a vicious cycle,” said Soner Cagaptay from the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “Whenever there is a spike in violence, Turkey’s willingness to consider a political solution becomes weaker.”
Ankara sees the hand of Damascus in the PKK’s new found energy, accusing it of arming the rebels and allowing a PKK-linked party to control parts of Syria to prevent locals joining the 17-month uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.
“The PKK has been excited by the developments in Syria and is trying to prove its worth and credibility by trying to take parts of Turkish territory, however temporarily,” Cagaptay said.
In a show of strength, the PKK has set up roadblocks and kidnapped Turkish officials and is believed to be behind recent deadly bomb attacks on the western coast of Turkey and in the city of Gaziantep, near the Syrian border.
“The aim of these acts is to show that no place in Turkey is safe, that they are capable of spreading terrorism to every region…and prove their control and influence,” said retired major general Armagan Kuloglu, an analyst at a think-tank in Ankara.
He said the attacks were aimed to sow discord between Kurds and Turks. The PKK, listed as a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and European Union, had little prospect of drawing Ankara back to the negotiating table with such a strategy.
Talking to the PKK was long unpalatable to Turkish public opinion. While recordings leaked last year from secret meetings in Oslo between the intelligence service and the outlawed group suggested times may have changed, that window for negotiations may be closing. [Continue reading…]