Turks Hope For Lasting Cease-Fire With Kurds The summer has been marked by violent attacks and reprisals between Kurdish separatist rebels and security forces. But a Ramadan cease-fire has some Turks hoping that the two sides can return the long-running conflict to a nonviolent path.
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Turks Hope For Lasting Cease-Fire With Kurds

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Turks Hope For Lasting Cease-Fire With Kurds

Turks Hope For Lasting Cease-Fire With Kurds

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It was also an eventful summer in Turkey. The country's security forces and Kurdish rebels, known as the PKK, clashed repeatedly, ending a period of calm. In a fight that has dragged on for many years, Turks are not sure which direction the conflict is likely to take next. NPR's Peter Kenyon reports from Istanbul.

PETER KENYON: Turks had grown used to a year of relative peace and quiet, as the government pushed forward with a series of cultural and social reforms for the Kurdish minority. But the efforts foundered amid pressure from hardliners on both sides. And in June, PKK Kurdish rebels declared the cease-fire over. Since then, newscasts have once again featured a steady diet of spilt Turkish and Kurdish blood.

(Soundbite of a news broadcast)

Unidentified Woman #1: Tensions boil over in the streets of southern Turkey.

(Soundbite of breaking glass breaking)

Unidentified Man: Last month, the conflict spilled out of the southeast when a group calling itself the Kurdish Freedom Hawks killed six people in a bomb attack in Istanbul on a bus carrying military personnel and their families.

Unidentified Woman #2: The Turkish military, which has lost nearly 50 soldiers in the past two months, has stepped up airstrikes on northern Iraq, where Kurdish fighters have some bases. In mid-June...

KENYON: The return to violence brought the dispute no closer to resolution, and some are wondering where it could lead.

Analyst Henri Barkey with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace wrote in a recent posting that after a summer of senseless violence, Turkey is slowly moving toward a crisis point. Barkey pointed out that since the 1990s, young Kurds have spread across Turkey, including to shantytowns on the outskirts of Istanbul, where they represent what he calls a combustible addition to the country's fragile ethnic mix, which includes disaffected Turkish youth under the sway of ultra-nationalists.

Similar concerns may be prompting Turkish officials and Kurdish political leaders to consider ways to recapture last year's positive momentum. A ceasefire for the Holy Month of Ramadan has Professor Emrullah Uslu at Istanbul's Yeditepe University hopeful that cooler heads can find a way to at least keep the truce going past the mid-September end of Ramadan.

Professor EMRULLAH USLU (Kurdish Specialist, Yeditepe University): At least, for a moment, it means a delay for killing people. If it could save, you know, one or two young boys during this ceasefire, it is a win.

KENYON: If Turkey could solve its Kurdish problem, the benefits would be significant, both at home and abroad. But the Turkish political landscape is heavily mined. Analysts say Turkey may be making headlines for its moves away from the West and toward Arab and Iranian interests. But on the Kurdish question, Turkey lines up squarely with Washington and Tel Aviv, as a state locked in a deadly battle with terrorists.

The PKK is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the U.N., the United States and European Union.

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KENYON: Turkish nationalists, having beaten back the government's Kurdish opening last year with waves of criticism, are pressing their advantage, calling for no compromise with the Kurds. With elections coming up next year, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has returned to strong nationalist rhetoric on the Kurdish question.

Analyst Gareth Jenkins says the current ceasefire comes at a propitious moment for the government, which is focused on winning approval for a package of constitutional reforms in a September 12th referendum. But he believes a return to negotiations with the Kurds, especially the rebel PKK movement, will be problematic for the ruling AK Party in the coming election season.

Mr. GARETH JENKINS (Analyst): Certainly, nothing's going to happen before the referendum. I think certainly nothing's going to happen before the next election, either, because the AKP, it has more to lose electorally by entering negotiations with the PKK than it has to gain.

KENYON: If that view is correct, then Turkey may be in for more bloodshed once this ceasefire ends.

Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Istanbul.

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