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August 21, 2012, Tuesday

Spinning out of control

This summer turns out to be the one nobody will want to remember. Its days of rampant violence are showing Turkey its vulnerabilities, its depth of unresolved issues and, day after day, reminding it of an urgent agenda.

The brutal terror attack on Monday night in the city of Antep marks yet another worrisome turning point. The province, an economic hub bordering Syria, is not one of those whose population is dominated by Kurds. It has a mixture of various ethnicities and had stayed out of the waves of violence that shattered the country’s eastern parts. The car bomb that killed nine people (three of them children) was, with very little doubt, aimed at rocking its social fabric into chaos. The accident in Şırnak that ended with the deaths of nine soldiers yesterday only intensified the national gloom.

The Antep attack has shown the radius of warfare has now reached the urban domain, and it is highly likely that the larger cities in the west are to be targeted. As a matter of fact, two such attacks before Monday were averted at the last minute. The vastness of Turkey should be alarming enough.

Certainly, the Antep bloodshed has a larger background than one can see. For ordinary citizens, it is proof of how beastly and cowardly the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) is behaving. But a deeper look presents a series of developments that are pushing Turkey to tougher choices -- or new, very cautious, intelligent approaches.

The escalating rural warfare -- now in openly guerilla format – has displayed, since the beginning of August, an attempt by the PKK to assert its firepower over the locals. It has entered a “win or die” type of struggle, with an open intent of losing its men, no matter how many. Not so surprisingly, it has done so (around 200 in the past two weeks) but could “retaliate” here and there only to drag the Turkish security forces into the continuous spiral of violence. This is a well-recognized plan from other countries that were scarred by similar conflicts. We are in the midst of that now.

There were other incidents that must be seen within the context. The kidnapping of a Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputy, an Alevi from the Alevi-Kurdish Dersim (Tunceli) province, by PKK militants, was aimed at showing the strength of the outlawed organization but led mainly to a shouting match between the government and the opposition. Only the Kurdish deputies of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) and some figures of the CHP showed some depth in their comments, calling for a solution to the Kurdish problem.

It was followed by a seemingly staged encounter between a group of pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) deputies and armed PKK terrorists on the road between Şemdinli and Van. Some (not all) BDP deputies were all smiles and admiration for the slim youngsters, hugging and kissing. To some, it was a scandal: others saw it as an attempt to send a message to Ankara that the issue (with territorial control, local support, etc.) became so harmful that “everyone” wants a solution.

Put together, all the summer’s events bring the AKP government to the edge of sharper choices: Should it consider imposing a new emergency rule? Should it, based on the deputy-rebel encounter as clear proof, reminiscent of the ETA-Batasuna connection, support a ban on the BDP? How far could it go in “military solution first” methodology, if the deadly violence now targets civilians in densely populated areas?

Or, should it try something different? Interestingly, a recent change in the attitudes of the CHP looks rather inviting for a joint effort, bringing together the party in power and the main opposition to the table. Yet, it looks to be a remote possibility at the moment -- particularly when incidents like Antep put more kerosene onto the fire of nerves -- that a new peace initiative will be taken.

The escalation of terror certainly is unthinkable without taking into consideration the external actors and the unrest in Syria. It has crystallized the sides and interests; therefore, what takes place in Hakkari must be put into an Iranian context, as Antep now raises fears that the Syrian border is more fragile for illegal passage than ever. In other words, in an inevitable flow of developments, the government is under a huge strain to stay in focus in order not to be dragged into overreaction.

The political choices since last autumn prove, if anything, one point: The spiral of violence is heading for a political deadlock as things are closer to spinning out of control. It becomes clear that the bleeding PKK issue, now a vendetta, will take many years to resolve. This puts one priority before everything else: to stop the waste of human lives. It requires urgent political cooperation across party lines. The AKP and the CHP stand before a national responsibility to grip the bull by the horns.

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