Why Turkey’s president fears a Kurdish rebellion from the east

The campaign has been relentless: an “onslaught” of collective punishment, according to Amnesty International. Sur was subjected to more than 100 days of 24-hour curfews until operations ended in early March. The dust is settling and the bodies are being buried but much of the city remains closed off behind police barricades. No one is allowed in or out, except those in the lorries responsible for taking the rubble away. The militants were mostly young men from the neighbourhoods under curfew who supported the political objectives of the PKK and took up arms despite mass arrests.

The special forces of both the police and the gendarmerie have stayed on after the fighting to maintain order, but residents are most wary of the Ford Rangers with blacked-out windows that you can see patrolling the streets or ominously parked at main junctions. They are used by a harsher, previously unknown special forces group that appears to hire only very large men with beards and long hair.

The fight for Sur coincided with an even bloodier conflict in Cizre, in which the Turkish national army stationed artillery and tanks on the surrounding hills and flattened the town centre. Hundreds of civilians were killed and more than 100 people burned to death after soldiers stormed the basements of three residential buildings where wounded militants were holed up.

The military operations have spread to Sirnak, Nusaybin and Yüksekova, further into the heart of Turkey’s Kurdish provinces in the far south-east, where most villagers do not speak Turkish. The PKK has vowed to expand its resistance. The Turkish army often appears to view these areas as rebellious Ottoman provinces in need of reconquest. When it defeats militants and takes control of a neighbourhood, its soldiers raise the Turkish flag in courtyards and many write racist slogans on the walls of buildings in order to stamp their authority.

Turkey has attempted once more to use tanks and soldiers to suppress Kurdish political ambitions and it has done so with the quiet acquiescence of European countries that care more about Turkey taking back the deported migrants who arrived in Dikili on 4 April aboard the Nazli Jale than about the rights of Kurds.

It does not take much insight to conclude that the only conceivable end to it all is a negotiated settlement extending substantial political and cultural rights to the Kurds


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