Turkey wages lengthy battle for Kurdish stronghold

The Wall Street Journal reports: To most Turks living outside Diyarbakir’s ancient citadel walls, the military operation inside the city [the de facto Kurdish capital in southeastern Turkey] is something they see only in television images of flag-draped solders’ coffins and civilians fleeing urban battle zones.

But the outcome of the broader military operation is likely to have a major impact on the rekindled aspirations of millions of ethnic Kurds in Turkey, whose ancestors’ hopes of building a Kurdish nation were thwarted by world powers after World War I.

Kurdish leaders say they want to make sure they don’t let this new opportunity slip away. “The fate of the Middle East is being rewritten,” said Selahattin Demirtas, the top Kurdish lawmaker whom Mr. Erdogan wants to see stripped of parliamentary immunity. “As Kurds, we don’t want the mistakes made 100 years ago to be made again.”

Mr. Demirtas leads a political group drawing inspiration from the successes of American-backed Kurdish militants in neighboring Syria, where they are governing an autonomous region carved out of parts of the country they’ve seized from Islamic State rivals.

“The Kurds are a growing power in the Middle East,” Mr. Demirtas said in an interview last week with The Wall Street Journal.

Emboldened by the gains in Syria and prodded by Mr. Erdogan’s efforts to marginalize his pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party, Mr. Demirtas is stepping up his calls for self-rule, a politically charged stance in Turkey that skeptics see as a precursor to Kurdish demands for outright independence.

That is becoming an increasing concern for Mr. Erdogan, who has championed the expanding military and political crackdown on Kurdish activists and insurgents across the country.

One of the most important battlegrounds is in Diyarbakir, where more than 2,000 Turkish security forces have spent weeks battling small numbers of Kurdish militants who have laid deadly booby traps throughout a neighborhood that is home to some of the oldest mosques in Islamic history.

Since Dec. 2, large parts of Diyarbakir’s Sur District have been under 24-hour curfew. Many of the 24,000 people living in the now-closed military zone have fled, said Huseyin Aksoy, the Ankara-appointed governor of Diyarbakir. About 4,000 residents are believed to be trapped in their homes while Turkish forces try to uproot what the governor estimates to be no more than 100 Kurdish militants.

Since mid-December, when Turkey sent 10,000 members of its security forces into a “decisive” military operation targeting thousands of Kurdish militants who have declared self-rule in parts of cities and towns across southeastern Turkey, more than 440 Kurdish fighters have been killed, according to the military. [Continue reading…]

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