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As Syria burns, Turkey's Kurdish problem is getting worse

Not far from the Turkish border with Syria, another war is raging.

In the heart of the ancient city of Diyarbakir, behind its historic black-stone walls, security forces have been engaged for weeks in clashes with the youth wing of an outlawed Kurdish separatist group. Whole neighborhoods have been sealed off under curfew; tens of thousands of people have been forced to flee.

The mini-rebellion has been echoed elsewhere in Turkey's restive southeast, a region that is home to a majority Kurdish population and that has been in the grips of a low-level civil war since tensions flared last summer. The violence is likely the worst seen in the past two decades.

The Turkish government claims more than 200 policemen and soldiers have been killed since July, while some estimates place the local civilian death toll around that number as well. The Turkish crackdown on the militants — fighters belonging to the banned Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK — has led to more than 500 guerrilla deaths.

There's little indication of the hostilities calming. Since a peace process between the two sides fully collapsed last year, separatist-minded Kurds in a number of towns and neighborhoods pushed for de facto autonomy. The predominantly Kurdish border town of Cizre has been a hotbed of unrest and resistance for more than a year now and is now in the midst of an intense Turkish military clampdown.

Rights groups and critics of the Turkish government accuse the state of denying civilians stuck in the siege adequate access to medical care. On Tuesday, the top human rights official at the United Nations also urged Ankara to investigate an incident that occurred last month, which involved the apparent shooting of unarmed civilians, leading to a number of casualties.

Video footage appeared to show a group of civilians moving in front of an armored military vehicle before they "were cut down by a hail of gunfire," said Zeid Raad al-Hussein, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights.

Turkish authorities have previously rejected claims that their security forces were impeding aid to civilians. "They are deliberately not bringing the wounded out," said Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, referring to the Kurdish militants holed up in parts of Cizre and other towns in Turkey's southeast.

The PKK's insurgency has blown hot and cold since the early 1980s. It has led to some 40,000 deaths in those years. Under the rule of Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party, some of the causes for Kurdish grievance — including the suppression even of the use of their own language — started to be addressed. But the shadow of the Syrian war has led to a profound unraveling.

[Source: By Ishaan Tharoor, The Washington Post, 03Feb16]

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small logoThis document has been published on 05Feb16 by the Equipo Nizkor and Derechos Human Rights. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.