Kurdish violence returns to Turkey

By bne IntelliNews March 22, 2012

Justin Vela in Istanbul -

Five special police officers were killed in fighting with Kurdish militants in southeastern Turkey on March 22, local media report. The deaths mark the return of Kurdish violence to the country after a relative lull during the winter. However, investors appear to take Turkey's 30-year old fight in their stride these days.

After coming to power in 2002, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) initially tried a policy of rapprochement with the Kurds. However, that failed when the electorate responded angrily to negotiations with the militants and images of Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) fighters returning to Turkey from their bases in northern Iraq greeted by cheering crowds waving Kurdish flags.

The AKP is now taking a more aggressive approach. Special police units have been established to pursue PKK fighters and arrests of Kurdish journalists, intellectuals, and politicians have increased. This month, celebrations in the lead-up to the March 21 Kurdish holiday of Nevruz were provocatively banned in many cities for the first time since 1995. Kurds predictably took to the streets to protest. Police in Istanbul killed a Kurdish politician during demonstrations on March 18.

However, the PKK is meeting fire with fire. The organisation ended its campaign last year with a highly coordinated operation that killed 24 Turkish soldiers, the most deaths in a single attack in a number of years. Allegations that the PKK is benefiting from connections to the regime of Bashar al-Assad in neighboring Syria, or that militants might be infiltrating the country disguised as refugees, have also begun to surface.

All predications are that this will be an especially bloody spring and summer in Turkey. Whilst most of the violence will be centred on the country's southeast as ever, bombings can also be expected in Istanbul, and the PKK has targeted tourist resorts in past years.

However, international investors in Turkey appear to have become accustomed to the ebb and flow of the conflict, and are unlikely to show too many nerves unless Istanbul or a resort is hit with a number of attacks. Whilst events have kept investment away from the fertile southeast, observers recognize that the conflict is now part of the nature of doing business in Turkey. No one has much hope it will change any time soon.

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