Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan traveled to Turkey's troubled Kurdish region Friday where he pledged to address the Kurds' long running grievances through further democracy and social reforms. Mr. Erdogan's remarks are seen by some observers as signaling a fresh beginning in Turkey's relationship with its restive Kurdish minority.
The crowds applauded wildly as Mr. Erdogan termed the Kurdish problem "my problem, our collective problem" and said that all of Turkey's citizens, whether Kurds, Circassians or others, are equal.
The prime minister spoke in Diyarbakir, the largest city in Turkey's predominantly Kurdish southeast region and a hotbed of Kurdish nationalism. He acknowledged that the Turkish state had made mistakes in its dealings with the Kurds. To ignore past mistakes, he told a cheering crowd, was not fitting behavior for great nations such as Turkey.
This is the first time a Turkish prime minister admitted to wrongdoings on the part of the state. In a meeting with a group of Turkish peace activists earlier this week Mr. Erdogan said the Kurdish problem could not be solved through purely military means.
Mr. Erdogan's visit comes amid mounting violence between Turkish security forces and the separatist rebel group known as the PKK. Scores of Turkish soldiers have died in the attacks that have spreading across the Kurdish southeast region ever since the PKK called off a five-year unilateral truce in June 2004.
Analysts say the rebels have resumed their fight in a bid to pressure Mr. Erdogan's government to sit down at the negotiating table. Mr. Erdogan has rejected rebel calls to negotiate a truce saying he will not talk to "terrorists." Mr. Erdogan reiterated that position Friday and appealed to Kurdish mothers to prevent their children from joining terrorist ranks.
The prime minister's speech won strong praise from Kurdish leaders. Diyarbakir's mayor, Osman Baydemir, said it has laid the ground for "turning a new blank page" between the Turkish state and the Kurds. But like many he cautioned that Mr. Erdogan needed to match his actions with words.
Meanwhile, two Turkish soldiers were killed in the southeastern province of Tunceli on Thursday in clashes with the Kurdish rebels.