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Turkey Worried About Upswing in Violence Between Military and Kurdish Rebels

  • Dorian Jones

Turkish armed forces say they bombed bases of the Kurdish rebel group the PKK in northern Iraq, after a PKK attack in Turkey killed 17 people, including two soldiers. The clashes mark the latest escalation in the 26-year armed conflict. While fears are growing over a return to an all out war, there is some hope for peace.

The Turkish military said in a statement that the warplanes targeted rebel positions in an effort to avoid civilian casualties before returning safely to Turkey.

The Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, uses the mountainous Iraqi region as its main base to launch attacks against the Turkish state. Those attacks have escalated in the last few months with more than 50 Turkish soldiers killed.

Journalist Metehan Demir is an expert on the Turkish army. He says the strikes in Iraq are part of an ongoing escalation in the conflict.

"It could escalate more in the coming days," said Metehan Demir. "It should not be a surprise for us. And that was, of course, what triggered the tension in the region between Turkey, Iraq and United States. It is inevitable we will see that."

Nearly every day there are clashes between the Turkish state and the PKK, which has been fighting for greater rights for the last 26 years. The conflict has claimed over 40,000 lives, mostly civilian.

The resurgence comes after government efforts to resolve the conflict collapsed.

The recent escalation in fighting is being taken seriously by Turkish officials. Dilek Korban is with the Turkish research group Tesev. She says the renewed violence could prompted more of an effort to settle the conflict peacefully.

"The more grave and serious the situation, the more window of opportunity you have simply because the Kurds and Turks don't go to war any more," said Dilek Korban. "People don't want fighting that real."

The head of the main legal Kurdish party has called on the government to implement a peaceful solution to the conflict. That call also has been echoed by several leading figures of the country's powerful business community.

Umit Boyner is head of TUSIAD - Turkey's main business confederation:

"All these years we could not solve the terror problem by just killing more and accepting the killings of our children, " said Umit Boyner. " One of the biggest deficiencies of Turkish politics is it keeps the doors closed to dialogue at critical times. It is a must today to prepare the ground for agreement without surrendering to old habits and the mentality of a zero-sum game."

The new leader of the Turkey's main opposition party, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, also chimed in, dropping the usual hardline nationalist discourse of his party over the PKK. Earlier this month, following the killing of Turkish soldiers in a PKK attack, Kilicdaroglu said "blood cannot wash away blood".

Despite nationalistic sentiments running high over the the funerals of the Turkish soldiers who were killed, there has been few anti-PKK protests on the streets of Turkey.

Analyst Korban says the government has a unique opportunity to act, but time is of essence.

"There is more the opportunity to take bold steps, let's say," said Korban. "So the question why is not the government doing that? You have to make use of the opportunity immediately. It's there, but you have to be quick. Otherwise there will be war."

The 1990's in Turkey were dominated by the PKK conflict, which claimed tens-of-thousands of lives and displaced at least a million people, almost bankrupting the country. Turkey's prosperity and progress in the last decade came only after peace returned to much of the country. With the recent escalation in violence, there is a growing feeling that Turkey is at a critical turning point.