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Soldier Funeral Protests Pose Political Challenge in Turkey

  • Dorian Jones

Fehime Aydemir (R), the mother of Turkish officer Metin Aydemir, cries over his coffin during funeral services in his hometown of Erzurum, Turkey, Aug. 19, 2015. Aydemir was one of the three officers killed Tuesday in an operation against Kurdish PKK rebels.

Fehime Aydemir (R), the mother of Turkish officer Metin Aydemir, cries over his coffin during funeral services in his hometown of Erzurum, Turkey, Aug. 19, 2015. Aydemir was one of the three officers killed Tuesday in an operation against Kurdish PKK rebels.

Protests are increasing as government ministers attend funerals of Turkish soldiers who were killed by the Kurdish rebel group PKK. Some funerals are taking place in AK Party strongholds.

Analysts say the dissent is an indication of growing discontent with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the AK Party because of renewed fighting with the PKK. That, observers say, may spell trouble for the party in expected November elections.

"Murderer president, murderer AK Party," mourners shouted at a minister attending the funeral of a soldier killed by the PKK. Similar protests have occurred at the funerals of other soldiers as renewed fighting with the PKK escalates.

International relations expert Soli Ozel says the president and AK Party might have made a miscalculation.

"The unabashedly exploitative way the AKP, the president tried to use the funerals and I think there is enormous fury against the PKK for certain, but also against those in power," says Ozel.

The renewal in fighting with the PKK after a two-year cease-fire came weeks after the AK Party lost its majority in the June general election.

President Erdogan has made little secret of his desire for early elections in a bid to restore his AK Party’s majority. But this is only adding to growing public skepticism about what lies behind the return to hostilities, according to political columnist Semih Idiz of Cumhuriyet newspaper and Al Monitor website.

"More than one columnist has claimed that what the government is after here, really is to agitate the public so that if there is early elections, they will vote for the AKP as the only party that can provide stability," says Idiz.

Past funerals of security force members frequently were a focal point of Turkish nationalism and anti-PKK sentiment, often extending to all Kurds. "Death to Kurds" was not an uncommon chant among mourners.

Some opinion polls have indicated a small increase in AK Party support, at the expense of the nationalist MHP. But observers warn if the funerals continue and the president and his AK Party are increasingly held responsible for the escalating conflict, they could pay a heavy price in the expected November early election.

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