Turkey Launches Offensive Against Kurds, Over 100 Killed

In southeast Turkey, government forces have killed about 110 militant Kurds in their latest offensive, now in its sixth day. The campaign complicates the region’s struggle against ISIL, which also counts the Kurds as one of their biggest enemies.

The Turkish government has mobilized tanks and 10,000 soldiers to fight the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), making it the largest offensive since a ceasefire abruptly ended back in July. According to Reuters, most of the fighting has taken place in two cities – Cizre and Silopi, which are near the border with Syria and Iraq.

In a speech to his supporters, Turkey’s Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu assured the audience, “we will not get tired…”

“We will fight day and night until all mountains, cities, districts and neighborhoods of this country are cleansed of terror centers.”

Hundreds have taken to the streets in Istanbul and Diyarbakir, the largest city in the Turkey’s southeast, to protest the campaign, some shouting “long live Kurdistan.” The police have dispersed the crowds using tear gas, rubber bullets, and water cannons.

An elderly Peshmerga hold the flag of the PKK during the Kurdish New Year in Diyarbakir, Turkey. [Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images]
Around 130 civilians have died since the ceasefire ended, according to the Human Rights Association (IHD). The government has not given an official death toll, but said that they have “neutralized” 3,000 insurgents. In addition to shelling targets in cities, Turkey has conducted air strikes against PKK “hideouts” and weapons stores, according to the AFP.

Still, the numbers are difficult to verify. According to Yahoo News, the government has labeled 24-year-old Engin Gezici a PKK member, even though human rights organizations deny the charge. The young woman’s husband and aunt were recently killed in the crossfire.

While holding her two-year-old daughter beneath a picture of her husband, she said that “after this, I have no hope. God can do what he wants. We are forsaken,”

The offensive puts Turkey in a three-way fight, taking on both ISIL and the PKK, which closely identifies with Kurds in Syria’s north. The Kurds have been instrumental in fighting back ISIL in both Iraq and Syria.

Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga fighters guard the border with Turkey, as Turkish military forces fight the PKK. (Photo by Wathiq Khuzaie/Getty Images)
The PKK – which is labeled a terrorist organization by Turkey and western countries, including the U.S. – has been fighting Turkey for an independent Kurdistan since 1984. Since the 2013 ceasefire is over, observers now wonder what group Turkey will prioritize: the Kurds or ISIL.

In October, ISIL suicide bombers killed 102 in Turkey’s capital of Ankara in the worst terrorist attack in the country’s history. According to Politico, even though ISIL was the sole culprit, the government still insisted on condemning a “terrorist cocktail” of organizations that includes the PKK.

Kerem Oktem, a professor at the Centre for Southeast European Studies at the University of Graz in Austria, told the BBC that Turkey’s policy is now “to pretend that it is waging a war against IS, while at the same time following up on another goal, which is to destroy the PKK.”

PKK leader Cemil Bayik even accused Turkey of helping ISIL by preventing Kurdish forces from advancing. In the meantime, Turkey made history as the first NATO country to shoot down a Russian jet in over 60 years.

Russia and Turkey differ greatly in their national views on the Syrian conflict. Ankara believes the Assad regime is a big contributing factor to ISIL and needs to end as part of the campaign against ISIL. Russia, on the other hand, appears to be actively defending Assad.

Despite the different views, both countries might be partially helping ISIL – Russia by targeting more moderate rebel groups in Syria that are fighting both ISIL and Assad, and Turkey by targeting the Kurds who are also fighting ISIL. Leaving the U.S. and other allies with a tangled-web of conflicts.

[Photo by Burak Kara/Getty Images]