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In the fight against ISIS, the U.S. wants Turkey to be a reliable ally, but right now, parts of Turkey that had been peaceful for years are jolted by fighting between the country's military and militants from its Kurdish minority. Those Kurds are some of the very people who are fighting ISIS. NPR's Peter Kenyon reports the unrest is intensifying. He sent this report from the town of Silvan in the Kurdish southeast.
PETER KENYON, BYLINE: This neighborhood in Silvan, about an hour outside of Diyarbakir, with charred vehicles - one, two, three, four, five - completely burned and destroyed from the clashes that happened here on the 19 of August. Young boys are trying to salvage still usable parts. They say they're looking for copper. Local residents say they hope this isn't a sign that things are returning to the bad old days of the 1990s, but they're just not sure.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken).
KENYON: At a nearby teahouse, a knot of men sits on plastic chairs around low tables dotted with small glasses of strong tea. Mahmoud Kara, whose balding head is balanced by a thick, dark mustache, says the youth faction of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, vow to defend the area. That was after the local mayor declared the town autonomous from Ankara, drawing an army clampdown.
MAHMOUD KARA: (Through interpreter) We first heard about the curfew at 1 a.m., so, at that point, we all knew it was coming. Basically, nobody slept that night. At about 4 a.m., it started. I came down to see. It was clashes, shooting, explosions everywhere. The security forces mainly stayed in their armored vehicles and the youth had Kalashnikovs or hunting rifles.
KENYON: Mehdi Azgin says since then, many of the women and children have left the four neighborhoods that were targeted by the army. He also says the fact that it's the youth doing the fighting doesn't mean this is just symbolic resistance. He says Kurds will keep on fighting until President Recep Tayyip Erdogan resumes peace talks with PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan. He's in jail, but still has a following among Kurds.
MEHDI AZGIN: (Through interpreter) One hundred years ago, Kurds fought alongside Turks when the nation's independence was at stake, but if the army wants to invade our homes, we will fight. If Ocalan says stop, not one rifle will fire. But what's happening now is basically revenge. Erdogan is angry that a pro-Kurdish party did well in the last elections and now we're all being punished.
KENYON: From the government's point of view, the situation looks quite different. Officials say it was the PKK that broke the two-year cease-fire with a month-long campaign of attacks against security forces beginning in July. The toll has military families grieving and most blaming the PKK. Analysts say Erdogan is hoping that feeling will spread to other voters before snap elections this fall. Columnist and blogger Yavuz Baydar says many Turks believe Erdogan is gambling with the country's security in hopes that the ruling AK party will regain its majority this fall. He says it's a gamble that could backfire and it's the largely Kurdish southeast of Turkey that will suffer the most.
YAVUZ BAYDAR: To say the least, Turkey is in an immense systemic crisis. It is the ambition of the president that drives the country to an unknown. And in parallel, the PKK are declaring one after another autonomous areas.
KENYON: For Washington, the latest unrest is a huge distraction for Turkey, an important ally in the fight against the Islamic State. For the people of Silvan, it's a fact of daily life. Hours after we left, security forces again clashed with the PKK youth movement, forcing shops to close and civilians to flee as the authorities imposed another curfew. Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Silvan, southeastern Turkey.
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