Turkey's Kurds Gear up for Revolt

Caught in an escalating guerrilla war between Kurdish rebels and the Turkish military, Kurds in southeastern Turkey are growing more sympathetic to the positions and strategy of the rebel leadership

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

THE Kurds in southeastern Turkey, following the worst fighting in eight years of guerrilla warfare, are primed for revolt.

"The people are caught between the government and the rebels," says Bedrettin Gundes, the deputy mayor of the regional capital of Diyarbakir, "and most of them are choosing the rebels."

More than 100 people have been killed since security forces and separatist guerrillas clashed in pitched battles in a half dozen towns and villages two weeks ago. Since then sporadic attacks, bombings, and hundreds of arrests by Turkish security forces have turned southeastern Turkey into a flash point.

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"Turkey must make this gang, which possesses all kinds of arms and rockets, ineffectual," vowed Prime Minister Suleyman Demirel.

The fighting follows a year of stepped-up activity by the Marxist rebel group, the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK), and a series of political assassinations.

More than 60 Kurdish leaders have been assassinated since the beginning of last year. And many Kurds and human rights groups blame the killings on Turkish security forces, although the government denies the charges.

The Kurdish rebels regularly haul civil servants from vehicles or homes in the southeast for execution.

Turkish forces, although they have driven rebel bands back to their mountain camps, are still struggling to reimpose political control over a region in which most of the provinces have been under emergency rule since 1987.

Olive green tanks and armored personnel carriers move daily past the pock-marked houses and shops of Cizre, a rebel stronghold on the Tigris River.

Police, armed with automatic rifles, brusquely search cars at checkpoints. Trucks filled with soldiers move in columns along the roads, nervously pointing the muzzles of their German G-3 assault rifles toward the embankments.

Each night, in the gritty back streets of the border towns with their low concrete homes and mud dwellings, the muted rattle of automatic fire echoes through the air.

But the recent unrest, which has seen Germany suspend military sales to Turkey, is likely to further alienate Turkey's Kurds. They have watched as Kurds in neighboring Iraq and Muslims in the Islamic republics of the former Soviet Union stand poised to attain the independence Turkish Kurds have sought for 70 years.

"This is not a democracy. We have no civilian government," says Orhan Uysal, an engineer who was badly beaten by police last week. "Only the military rules here and they don't listen to the politicians in Ankara."

The Kurdish language was banned until April 1991, and the Kurds are still not allowed to broadcast or teach in their own tongue.

"I am a Turkish citizen with a Kurdish identity that has been denied by the government," says Mr. Gundes, the deputy mayor.

More than 3,400 people have been killed since the PKK, which the Turks contend is backed by Syria, Iran, and Iraq, launched its campaign for a separate state in 1984. Equipped in the last year with heavier weapons, such as antiaircraft guns and mortars, this year looks set to become one of the most violent.

"I don't care even if 100,000 people are killed," says Abdullah Ocalan, the enigmatic leader of the PKK in an interview with the Turkish daily Milleyet. "We've been preparing for this for 20 years. A lot of blood will be shed."

The PKK has strong support in many of the villages and towns of the southeast, where Turkish soldiers and police, many of whom speak Kurdish, act with near impunity.

"I gathered in a crowd with my two sons to celebrate Kurdish New Year and suddenly the police began to fire at us with machine guns and tear gas," says Hajji Abdullah, a farmer who was part of the protests during the Kurdish New Year on March 21 that ushered in the lastest wave of violence.

Kurdish leaders, who have their homes and offices bombed and sprayed with gunfire, say they are often warned to end their political agitation.

"I received a call one night and heard somebody screaming as he was being tortured," says Hussein Turhalli, the chairman of the Kurdish Labor Party in Diyarbakir. "Then a man got on the phone and said the same thing would happen to me."

Heavily armed policemen stood beside the armored personnel carrier outside of Cizre's police station, located on a hill overlooking the city.

Inside, a high-ranking police official, who asked not to be identified, sat in his office behind a large desk, occasionally responding to calls from his black walkie-talkie. He looked through a plastic covered file listing PKK activities.

"We will finish off the PKK," he said sternly as he drew his finger down a handwritten list, stopping at an underlined name.

"So far we have only caught this one. We killed him." he said.

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