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Kurdish Uprising: ISIS Exacerbating Civilian Violence In Turkey


A suicide attack today in Istanbul has left at least four dead and dozens more injured. This follows a car bombing earlier this week in the capital, Ankara, that killed 37 people. An offshoot of the PKK, the Kurdistan Workers' Party, claimed responsibility for that attack. Turkey has responded hammering Kurdish targets with airstrikes. For decades, the Turkish government has been mired in an intractable conflict with the PKK. Peace talks had been underway but fell apart last summer.

Now the uptick in violence is pushing the situation to an even more desperate level. Gonul Tol is the director of the Center for Turkish Studies at the Middle East Institute here in Washington. I asked her what's behind the increasing attacks by the PKK.

GONUL TOL: The PKK blames the government for cooperating with the Islamic State, of turning a blind eye to ISIS activities within its borders, and that's when the PKK killed two Turkish policemen in July. That's when the cease-fire broke down, and since then there has been fighting going on between the Turkish security forces and the PKK. And I think the situation has been exacerbated by the Syrian conflict.

BLOCK: Ultimately, what does the PKK want?

TOL: The PKK represents the Kurds, and the Kurds, they demand access to public education and also public services in Kurdish. They also want greater autonomy for local administrations.

And they would like to change the very vague anti-terror law so that it's not used for political purposes.

BLOCK: And the percentage of the population in Turkey that is Kurdish, how much?

TOL: It is almost 20 percent.

BLOCK: How much has this conflict now spilled - we mentioned the bombing in the capital, Ankara, a series of attacks. How does this spill over well outside the Kurdish regions of Turkey into the big cities?

TOL: For a while now, the PKK has almost carried the war to downtown, to major city centers. Before the PKK waged war on the mountains, so now they have switched to an urban warfare. So people are very scared, and I think it has affected the daily lives because before in the 1990s, 1980s, it did not not specifically target the civilians.

BLOCK: Do you see any path toward a solution to this conflict in Turkey?

TOL: For the conflict to end, the Turkish government has to address Kurdish demands. But I don't think that's going to happen anytime soon because there are hardened constituencies on both sides.

You have a Turkish society that is very fearful of an independent Kurdish state on its southern border and you have a Kurdish population, especially a young Kurdish generation, that is very confident that this their moment, that they think the uprisings, the Arab uprisings, have provided them a window of opportunity. And they would like to seize this historic moment. And I think it's going to be very difficult for both parties to come to an understanding that this violence has to end.

BLOCK: That's Gonul Tol with the Middle East Institute. Thanks for coming in.

TOL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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