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 Turkey should resist urge for war with Kurdish militants: International Crisis Group (ICG)

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Turkey should resist urge for war with Kurdish militants: International Crisis Group (ICG)  12.9.2012  

September 12, 2012

ANKARA,— Turkey's Kurdish conflict is at its bloodiest in more than a decade but Ankara should resist the urge for an all-out military offensive and tackle the legitimate grievances of the country's millions of Kurds, a think-tank said on Tuesday.

Turkey has seen a dramatic rise in violence over the past year with Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants launching more and more brazen attacks. Suicide bombings and kidnappings have in turn drawn a harsh military response from Ankara.

More than 700 people have been killed since parliamentary elections in June last year, making this the deadliest period since the capture of the PKK's leader, Abdullah Ocalan, in 1999, the International Crisis Group (ICG) said in a report.

"Stepping up the struggle to wipe out the insurgency by physical frontal assault, even if understandable, will never be enough to solve the conflict and will bring thousands of deaths that will push more Kurdish youths to take up arms," it said.

"The government and mainstream media should resist the impulse to call for all-out anti-terrorist war and focus instead, together with Kurds, on long-term conflict resolution."

Four times as many people have died in the last year than in 2009, the ICG said, with some 400 PKK fighters, more than 200 security personnel, and at least 84 civilians among the dead.

The Turkish military said on Monday 88 of its soldiers had been killed between the start of the year and September 6, more than 10 troop deaths per month. At least three more soldiers have been reported killed since then.

But as the PKK has increased its attacks so Ankara has returned to its hardline stance against the militants, who have been fighting the state since 1984.

Last week the military carried out an offensive in the southeast involving some 2,000 troops as well as war planes and attack helicopters. F-16 fighter jets also struck suspected PKK targets in northern Iraq.


With more than 40,000 people killed since the start of the conflict almost 30 years ago, Turks and Kurds alike now increasingly concede that military action will not solve their problem, the ICG said in the report.

"What has been missing is a clear conflict resolution strategy, implemented in parallel with measured security efforts to combat armed militants, to convince Turkey's Kurds that their rights will be gradually but convincingly extended," it said.

"Above all, politicians on all sides must legalize the rights most of Turkey's Kurds seek, including mother-language education; an end to discriminatory laws; fair political representation; and more decentralization."

While Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's government, which swept to a third election victory last June, has broken taboos notably with reforms relating to the Kurdish language, it has "zigzagged" in its commitment to Kurdish rights, ICG said.

Legal Kurdish factions and the PKK, which is considered a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union, have also given contradictory signals, it said, making conciliatory statements, calling for mutual truces but with few condemnations of militant attacks.

The ICG urged the PKK to rein in factions that attack and kidnap civilians and for security forces to limit aggressive crowd control. It said both sides should work toward a ceasefire but that the PKK should not use this as a chance to rearm.

With a secure parliamentary majority and presidential elections two years away, Erdogan's ruling AK Party should seize the opportunity now to kick-start democratic reforms that would meet the demands of many of Turkey's Kurds, who make up around a fifth of the country's 75 million people, the ICG said.

"If Turkey is unable to embrace these basic rights, it will show that it has as much a Turkish problem as a Kurdish one," the ICG said.

"Turkey is still in a position of strength and can move forward ... But given rising tensions and restive youth, this window of opportunity may not be open for much longer."


The PKK has several times proposed peaceful solutions regarding Kurdish problem, Turkey has always refused saying that it will not negotiate with “terrorists”.

Since it was established in 1984, the PKK has been fighting the Turkish state, which still denies the constitutional existence of Kurds, to establish a Kurdish state in the south east of the country. More than 40,000 people have since been killed.

But now its aim is the creation an autonomous region and more cultural rights for ethnic Kurds who constitute the greatest minority in Turkey, numbering more than 20 million. A large Turkey's Kurdish community openly sympathise with the Kurdish PKK rebels.

The PKK wants constitutional recognition for the Kurds, regional self-governance and Kurdish-language education in schools.

PKK's demands included releasing PKK detainees, lifting the ban on education in Kurdish, paving the way for an autonomous democrat Kurdish system within Turkey, reducing pressure on the detained PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan, stopping military action against the Kurdish party and recomposing the Turkish constitution.

Turkey refuses to recognize its Kurdish population as a distinct minority. It has allowed some cultural rights such as limited broadcasts in the Kurdish language and private Kurdish language courses with the prodding of the European Union, but Kurdish politicians say the measures fall short of their expectations.

The PKK is considered as 'terrorist' organization by Ankara, U.S., the PKK continues to be on the blacklist list in EU despite court ruling which overturned a decision to place the Kurdish rebel group PKK and its political wing on the European Union's terror list.

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