Erdogan Uses Soldiers, Police and Lawyers to Take On Kurds

  • Violence escalates in southeast Turkey before Nov. 1 election
  • Government uses curfews and court orders to quell unrest

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is deploying more soldiers, police and prosecutors in an attempt to put down an escalating separatist Kurdish rebellion in the southeast of the country.

Anti-terrorism forces are battling autonomy-seeking Kurdish PKK militants in urban areas, while warplanes carry out strikes on bases in neighboring northern Iraq. The authorities say they’re responding to daily PKK attacks that have killed more than 100 police officers and soldiers since early July. A car bomb and rocket attack left three more policemen dead on Sunday.

The rekindled conflict comes as Turkey readies for another election on Nov. 1 after a vote in June saw support for a pro-Kurdish party surge, leading to the failure to form a coalition government and a further deterioration in the country’s financial markets. The breakdown in security feeds into Erdogan’s narrative that he and his supporters are the only way of avoiding chaos in the nation of 78 million people.

“Erdogan is using the ultra-nationalist card to try and consolidate his power in upcoming elections,” said Naci Sapan, who analyzes Kurdish politics at the Tigris Communal Research Center in the southeastern city of Diyarbakir. “It is a gamble that could backfire if he fails to control the raging war.”


Security forces are relying on curfews in town and cities to restore order in the southeast, while prosecutors press charges against Kurdish politicians. They include Selahattin Demirtas, the co-chairman of pro-Kurdish HDP, whose electoral success jeopardized Erdogan’s plans to rewrite the constitution and change Turkey’s form of government into one dominated by a strong president.

Demirtas, speaking in the southeastern city of Mus, on Monday backed Kurdish demands for the election of governors who are currently appointed by the central government. He urged young Kurds to stay away from violence and “everyone should accept the result of Nov. 1 elections.”

“We never advise war and violence to young Kurds,” Demirtas said. “We say we’re here and there is no need for guns.”

The HDP won 13 percent of the vote in June, deny the governing AK Party, co-founded by Erdogan, a majority in parliament for the first time since 2002.

AKP’s Message

AKP’s success had been based on a strong economy, stable government and relative peace and security, Tim Ash, head of EMEA credit strategy at Nomura in London said by e-mail. “These factors all seem to be weakening at present,” Ash said.

While Turkish stocks were little changed, the lira extended its decline this year to 24 percent, the most of any major emerging market after Brazil. The Borsa Istanbul 100 Index was down 0.1 percent at 3:20 p.m. local time, while the currency dropped 0.7 percent against the dollar.

Over the past week, anti-PKK protesters set on fire the HDP’s headquarters in Ankara in one of 69 attacks on the party across the nation. They also stoned the Istanbul-based Hurriyet newspaper. The U.S. and the European Union condemned the attacks.

Finance Minister Mehmet Simsek said in an interview with Kanal 7 television on Sunday that the violence and political upheaval are threatening Turkey’s finances.

Death Toll

The conflict has claimed the lives of more than 1,450 people, including about 120 soldiers and policemen, since July 7, according to state-run Anadolu Agency. The death toll could not be independently verified.

The PKK, labeled as a terrorist organization by the U.S. and the EU, had begun withdrawing some of its forces in 2013 after a breakthrough in peace talks.

Erdogan, who repeatedly criticized the PKK of not fully disengaging its fighters, has said that the state cannot reach an agreement with anyone linked to a terrorist organization. The HDP’s Demirtas, who is being probed on charges of separatism and accusing Erdogan and the government of trying to spark a “civil war,” has repeatedly called both on the government and the PKK to silence their guns.

“Even if the peace table has been knocked down, it is in our hands to right it,” Demirtas said on Sunday in Diyarbakir, where authorities declared a curfew in parts of the city, the largest in the southeast. “Let’s sit down at the peace table again and talk if necessary for one year, but not allow the death of yet another person.”

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