Turkey’s Kurdish Party Warns Crackdown May Revive War

(Bloomberg)–The leader of Turkey’s main pro- Kurdish party warned that the arrest of top party officials during the past month may rekindle separatist violence that has led to thousands of deaths in the past two decades. The crackdown could also cost Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose party holds a majority of parliamentary seats in the largely Kurdish southeast, continued support in elections later this year. "If our party, which is committed to a peaceful resolution, is unable to function, it says to Kurds that the political arena is shut to them," said Aysel Tugluk, co-chairman of the Democratic Society Party or DTP. That may lead Kurdish guerrillas to call off their seven-month unilateral truce as they "assess how effective this cease-fire has been," she added. A resumption of fighting could lead to tensions with the European Union, which is calling on Turkey to peacefully settle a two-decade long conflict with Kurdish guerrillas that has left some 40,000 people dead and large sections of the southeast desolate. It may also cause friction with the United States, which has close ties with Iraqi Kurds across the border. Turkish police have raided dozens of party offices and detained top national leaders and branch heads in several cities, said Tugluk, adding that she can’t keep count of the number of cases pending against her and other party leaders. The arrests come as Kurds mark the new-year festival of Newroz today, a holiday that in the past has been marred by violence and protests. Tens of thousands of Kurds attended the celebrations in Diyarbakir, the largest city in the southeast, with many chanting slogans in support of the guerrillas. About 70 people were detained, according to DTP officials, including about 20 who brandished pictures of Kurdish rebels killed in recent clashes with the Turkish army, and then became involved in skirmishes with police. Ahmet Turk, the other co-leader of the DTP, told the rally that 250 party officials have been detained and 72 charged in the latest crackdown. "This is a significant crackdown on the DTP," said Wolfango Piccoli, a Turkey analyst with the Eurasia Group in London. It "makes it increasingly likely that the PKK will resume attacks in the coming weeks." Any rise in violence could lead to a nationalist backlash and harm the prospects of Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party in a general election scheduled for November. "There is a strong nationalist wave in Turkey right now, and if the PKK begins killing soldiers, this will strengthen the right," Piccoli said. The army has deployed an additional 20,000 troops to the border with Iraq, where it estimates 4,000 PKK guerrillas are based, Vatan newspaper reported yesterday. Turkish generals have threatened to send forces into northern Iraq, a warning that Gen. Ilker Basbug, head of land forces repeated on March 9. That would likely anger the United States, which considers Kurdish-run northern Iraq one of the only stable areas of that country. The arrests may also be aimed at hurting Kurdish chances at the ballot box, Tugluk said. In the last election in 2002, the pro-Kurdish party won enough votes to gain 54 seats in parliament if it had passed the 10 percent nationwide threshold. Since it dropped short of that, most of the seats went to Erdogan’s party. Tugluk said her party may field independent candidates in this year’s election to run in districts, circumventing the 10 percent rule, which only applies to parties.

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