While EU Council President Donald Tusk visited Turkey on Wednesday (9 September), the leader of the country’s main pro-Kurdish party warned that the country was being dragged into a “civil war” following a wave of attacks on its offices by nationalists.
Tensions have risen sharply in Turkey in the past few days, as the government presses a major military operation against Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militants, and the rebels hit back with daily attacks against the army and police.
On Tuesday night (8 September), thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of Ankara and other cities to condemn the increasingly bloody PKK assaults in the east, where two attacks killed 29 soldiers and police between Sunday and Tuesday.
The demonstrators took aim at the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), whom they accuse of collaborating with the PKK, torching the party’s headquarters in Ankara and also setting a branch office in the southern city of Alanya on fire.
Turkish media said 93 people were detained in Istanbul alone over the attacks.
HDP leader Selahattin Demirta? denounced what he described as two nights of government-backed “lynching” of the party.
“In the last two days more than 400 attacks (on HDP) property have been carried out. We are facing a campaign of lynching,” he said, laying the blame at the feet of President Recep
Tayyip Erdo?an and Prime Minister Ahmet Davuto?lu.
“It is not us (the HDP) who has taken the decision to start this war and intensify it… the decision has been taken by the president and the prime minister,” he said in televised comments.
“They want to create a civil war and the last two days have been rehearsals for this,” he said.
Tusk in Ankara
Addressing a press conference in Ankara with visiting EU Council President Donald Tusk, Erdo?an hit back, saying Demirta? was “mad” to talk of civil war and warning: “If you side with terrorism you will have to suffer the consequences.”
HDP leaders had to “choose between democracy and terrorism”, Erdo?an said.
In a speech, Tusk reassured his hosts that the EU wanted to cooperate closely with Turkey against terrorism and continued to be committed to fight against PKK’s presence in Europe.
Tusk voiced worries about the attacks against the HDP headquarters and the Hurriyet newspaper.
“The ceasefire in 2013 between Turkey and the PKK was received with hope and relief by all EU countries. We continue to believe that this was the right choice: in fact there is no reasonable alternative”, the Council President said.
Davuto?lu, for his part, denounced Tuesday’s attacks on the HDP as well as on the offices of Hurriyet in Istanbul, which Erdo?an supporters accused of misrepresenting the president.
“The objective of terrorism is to undermine our unshakeable, brotherly ties. Attacking the press and the property of political parties is unacceptable,” the premier wrote on Twitter.
March on Cizre
The street violence comes as the Turkish army intensifies its military campaign against the PKK, sending 150 special forces across the border into northern Iraq in pursuit of the rebels in the wake of Sunday’s killing of 16 soldiers near the frontier.
The airforce has also been carrying out airstrikes on PKK positions inside northern Iraq, as well as strikes against the Islamic State jihadist group in Syria.
Demirta? meanwhile sought to travel to Cizre on Wednesday, a city in the Kurdish-dominated southeast which has been under military curfew for almost a week.
After his convoy of vehicles was stopped by police outside the town of Midyat, Demirta? said the group would continue the remaining 90 kilometres (56 miles) on foot.
The clashes between the state and PKK, which resumed in late July, have upended a 2013 ceasefire that had sparked hopes of an end to the PKK’s three-decade insurgency, which has killed tens of thousands of people.
The PKK took up arms in 1984 with the aim of establishing an independent state for Turkey’s Kurdish minority, although lately its demands have focused on greater autonomy and cultural rights.
Speaking in Ankara, EU Council President Tusk expressed concern about the spiralling violence, including the attacks on the HDP’s headquarters, and called for the government and rebels to resume the talks they began in 2012.
The US State Department said the violence directed at HDP facilities and the Hurriyet newspaper was “unacceptable” and endorsed calls from the Turkish government for calm.
Are elections possible?
Adding to the tensions in Turkey is the advent of a snap general election on 1 November.
The HDP, which denies being a front for the PKK, won more than 13% of the vote in the last parliamentary election in June, a strong performance that effectively prevented Erdo?an’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) from retaining its overall majority and crushed Erdo?an’s dream of creating a US-style presidential system.
After coalition talks failed Erdo?an called a fresh election.
“It is chaos and the one thing to blame is Erdo?an’s insistence on wanting to create a presidential system,” said prominent pro-opposition commentator Cengiz Aktar, a professor at Istanbul’s Suleyman Shah university.
The President of the European Parliament Martin Schulz issued a statement, voicing deep concern about the spiral of violence which is engulfing Turkey.
“I condemn all kind of attacks and aggressions against security forces and civilians. My sympathy and condolences go to the families of the deceased and to the Turkish authorities. There can be no sympathy for terrorists and the culprits responsible for these acts.
“Turkish political leaders have the responsibility to show the greatest restraint, work for social peace, avoid any spirit of confrontation and the development of blame-games. Turkey is today more than ever in need of unity, not division. This situation is undermining the social and political achievements reached over the last decade.
“It is highly troubling to see the offices of a democratic party, the Peoples' Democratic Party, legitimately voted into parliament with 80 MPs, being attacked by an angry mob.
“I call on the Turkish authorities and the Kurdish leaders to resume the peace process and to urgently re-establish the cease-fire. All voices calling for peace and reconciliation must be allowed to speak out.
“It is equally troubling to witness how free media - both Turkish and international - are being raided and investigated, and journalists detained and mobbed. The pluralism and independence of the press is a vital element of Turkish democracy and a precondition for any candidate country.
“A renewed spirit of unity must be found in Turkey and all efforts must be made to ensure that the upcoming elections will take place in a peaceful environment," Schulz’s statement ends.
- The Council, The President: Remarks by President Donald Tusk after his meeting with President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdo?an