The terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) killed 24 Turkish soldiers and wounded 18 Wednesday in simultaneous attacks in Hakkari province, southeastern Turkey, 1,200 miles from Istanbul.
This attack is the most serious in years, in a battle that’s been on and off since 1984. The violence has been confined to remote areas near the border with Iraq, where the PKK takes sanctuary. Areas favored by western tourists and travelers have been free of violence.
Turkey has a population of 79 million, of whom about 14 million are Kurds, a largely Sunni Muslim people with their own language and culture, which Turkish governments have feared and repressed for decades.
Why should Americans care about this? Because the violence threatens the peace of Turkey, a friend of the United States, a member of NATO, and the Middle East’s only functioning democracy, a secular one at that. And because most Americans who have visited Turkey, especially including me, have fallen in love with the country and with its people.
The roots of the conflict are many and I thought, hard to follow, until my friend Arzu Tutuk, who makes a living showing Westerners the wonderful attractions of Istanbul and other parts of Turkey, clarified it in this crisp and poetic fashion:
Remember how happy we were when the Kurds elected members in the Parliament back in June?
Erdogan’s party did everything they could to not admit these members.
Some are in prison.
What do these people want? Broadcast in Kurdish, name their kids Kurdish names, sing in Kurdish and share the same economic welfare.
We continue killing them for this. ‘We’ as in Turkish. As in Turkish army.
They go on killing back. ‘They’ as in Kurdish. As in PKK.
Growing up I never felt the tension, but just today at the shop I heard the owner saying, “I’m not selling to that Kurd.”
Seems like it should be easy to remove the cause of violence. Let the Kurds use their language as they like, name their kids as they like, and sing the songs they like. That’s not too hard. But there’s no sign that the Turkish administration of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is inclined to bend. And so the killing will continue.