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Heightened Tensions in Turkey


Residents stand in front of a damaged building in the southeastern town of Cizre in Sirnak province, Turkey, September 12, 2015.

Tensions have been on the rise in Turkey, following a spate of violent incidents.

Tensions have been on the rise in Turkey, following a spate of violent incidents. On September 6, sixteen Turkish military personnel died when their convoy was attacked in southeastern Turkey.

The Kurdistan Workers’ Party, known as the PKK, which is designated a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States, and the European Union, claimed responsibility for the killings. On September 8, at least 14 Turkish police officers were killed in a roadside bomb attack, also blamed on the PKK.

Why this resumption of violence now? Starting in 2013, the Turkish government and the PKK engaged in discussions aimed at a peaceful resolution of their differences. The process stalled after June 2015 elections left Turkey with an interim government. In July, the PKK blamed the government for the death of 30 Kurdish activists at the hands of Islamic State terrorists in the Turkish town of Suruc. The PKK launched a series of attacks on Turkish police and soldiers. This sparked heavy government counterstrikes, including air attacks on PKK targets.

In recent days, demonstrators have taken to the streets in Turkey, some to protest terrorism and some with political goals. Some protests turned violent. Offices of the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party, the HDP, have been set on fire. The headquarters of the daily newspaper Hurriyet were repeatedly attacked. Several reporters from other media outlets have been arrested for criticizing the government, and some international journalists reportedly unpopular with the government have been deported.

The U.S. Embassy in Ankara voiced on Twitter its concern over the violent demonstrations in Turkey.

Speaking to reporters in Washington, State Department Spokesperson John Kirby said the United States strongly condemned the PKK’s terrorist attacks, noting that they represent “a deadly escalation in violence [that] hurts the cause of those Kurds who want to live in peace.”

He endorsed calls made by Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and HDP Co-chairman Selahattin Demirtas and other leaders condemning the violence and appealing for calm.

Spokesperson Kirby urged Turkey to respect the media freedoms and due process protections that are enshrined in the Turkish constitution. “They are,” he noted, “key elements in every healthy democracy.”

The United States, like the Turkish people themselves, Mr. Kirby said, expect Turkish authorities to uphold Turkey’s core values, democratic foundations, and universally recognized fundamental freedoms.

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