Turkey’s silent crisis

As he sat down to have coffee on a sweltering August day in Istanbul, the first words my interlocutor, a well-known Kurdish intellectual named Orhan Miroglu, uttered were about the death of his three cousins in his ancestral village in Batman, a province in the heart of the Kurdish region of Turkey. The previous night, ...

BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images

As he sat down to have coffee on a sweltering August day in Istanbul, the first words my interlocutor, a well-known Kurdish intellectual named Orhan Miroglu, uttered were about the death of his three cousins in his ancestral village in Batman, a province in the heart of the Kurdish region of Turkey. The previous night, his cousins and a fourth villager had gone to investigate a suspicious fire on the outskirts of their village. As they approached, a mine destroyed their vehicle, killing them all. All of them had been members of Kurdish political parties or human rights groups. They were the latest casualties in a war between the Turkish state and the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), an insurgent group that enjoys a great deal of support among Kurds.

Turkey is in the grip of a summer of senseless violence. A little over a week before the attacks in Batman, on July 25, a clash erupted in the western town of Inegol when an ordinary quarrel between a Turk and a Kurd quickly spread after assuming a racial undertone. Just a few days later, four police officers were murdered in the southern province of Hatay. This was a mirror image of the Batman event; it appears as if rogue elements in the security forces had set up an ambush to blame the other side. This killing, however, was followed by intense interethnic clashes as local Turks took to the streets to exact revenge on their Kurdish neighbors.

As he sat down to have coffee on a sweltering August day in Istanbul, the first words my interlocutor, a well-known Kurdish intellectual named Orhan Miroglu, uttered were about the death of his three cousins in his ancestral village in Batman, a province in the heart of the Kurdish region of Turkey. The previous night, his cousins and a fourth villager had gone to investigate a suspicious fire on the outskirts of their village. As they approached, a mine destroyed their vehicle, killing them all. All of them had been members of Kurdish political parties or human rights groups. They were the latest casualties in a war between the Turkish state and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), an insurgent group that enjoys a great deal of support among Kurds.

Turkey is in the grip of a summer of senseless violence. A little over a week before the attacks in Batman, on July 25, a clash erupted in the western town of Inegol when an ordinary quarrel between a Turk and a Kurd quickly spread after assuming a racial undertone. Just a few days later, four police officers were murdered in the southern province of Hatay. This was a mirror image of the Batman event; it appears as if rogue elements in the security forces had set up an ambush to blame the other side. This killing, however, was followed by intense interethnic clashes as local Turks took to the streets to exact revenge on their Kurdish neighbors.

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Henri J. Barkey is a professor of international relations at Lehigh University and a senior fellow for Middle East studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. Twitter: @hbarkey

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