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Turkey’s Kurdish minefields

Some say the conflict in Syria risks destabilising Turkey. In fact, it is already happening.

Some say the conflict in Syria risks destabilising Turkey. In fact, it is already happening.

Turkey Syria minefield

Callous this might sound, but the battle for Kobane is just another episode in Syria’s repugnant civil war. What’s different is that the conflict in the Syrian border town is so close it can be clearly watched from the Turkish side of the border.

Broadcasters have been doing just that, and the pictures they beam to audiences around the world show how desperate the situation has become. Kobane, known in Arabic as Ayn al-Arab, could fall tonight to fighters from the so-called Islamic State.

Turkey’s prime minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu, told CNN yesterday he was ready to commit ground troops to an invasion of Syria, but only if backed by the international coalition and only if the Assad regime in Damascus was also targeted.

And as if the prospect of Turkish troops crossing the long border with Syria, some of which is still littered with mines, was not alarming enough, there is a deteriorating situation on the streets at home.

NATIONALIST VIOLENCE

Kurds from both Turkey and Kobane have been gathering as close to the border as they are allowed, demonstrating for action. The jandarma, taking a leaf out of the police tactic book from last year’s Gezi Park protests, used tear gas and water cannon to scatter them.

Turkey Syria minefield
Turkish nationalists were on the streets…

Tonight a curfew is in place across the province of Mardin and a small town in Van province to prevent similar clashes with the police. Other cities might follow.

In Istanbul, where a curfew would be impractical, Kurdish demonstrators clashed with Turkish nationalists. Video footage published by Cumhuriyet, an opposition broadsheet, appeared to show a mob beating and kicking an HDP member to the ground.

ANOTHER DEMONSTRATOR DEAD

And then, the inevitable. Hakan Buksur, a 25-year-old demonstrator, was killed this afternoon on the streets of Varto, near Muş in eastern Turkey. Reports from the town say he was struck after police directly fired upon a crowd of protestors. The reports are unconfirmed, but entirely plausible. Protestors during last year’s Gezi Park demonstrations died under police fire, after all.

We all know about the brutal, careless tactics used by Turkey’s oafish police. The uninitiated need only to watch how they used a BBC camera crew as target practice this week. There is little point lamenting here what we already know.

Turkey Syria minefield
…as were Kurds, demanding action in Kobane and waving Abdullah Öcalan flags

Far more serious is the risk to social and political stability in Turkey, which this week became very real.

PEACE PROCESS RISKS

Before next year’s general election, where it could secure an unprecedented fourth term in power, Turkey’s governing AK Party wants to conclude its Kurdish peace process.

It is well aware that the “solution process” will not just come by granting increased rights to the country’s resident Kurdish population, the details of which could easily be thrashed out with elected MPs from the People’s Democracy Party (HDP).

No, to end the 30-year conflict once and for all Turkey needs to talk to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), whose leader it has kept jailed once for half that time. And if last week’s Economist is to be believed, real negotiations – with government concessions – are taking place.

KOBANE ‘INSEPARABLE’

But today the HDP declared the peace process and the defence of Kobane were effectively intertwined.

“We call on the government once again,” it said in a statement. “By not supporting Kobane and by obstructing those who want to support it, you are endangering the peace process.”

“Open a corridor to meet all of Kobane’s needs, beginning with the needs of those defending themselves there. Keep Kobane’s doors open.”

Angry Kurds, restless nationalists, a peace process under threat and the prospect of invading a neighbour for the first time in nearly seven years makes for a morass of hurdles.

It is little wonder Mr Davutoğlu told Christiane Amanpour that the west needed to develop a strategy for Syria beyond just air strikes. Turkey has more minefields to cross than those on its southern border.