Invisible war escalates in eastern Turkey

Overshadowed in the world news by the greater carnage across the border in Syria, Turkey's Kurdish east is exploding into full-scale war. The Kirkuk-Ceyhan pipeline, which carries oil from Iraq's Kurdistan Region to Turkey's Mediterreanean coast, is now shut down following a Feb. 25 attack by presumed PKK guerillas. (Reuters, Feb. 27) Street-fighting is ongoing in Diyarbakir's Kurdish district of Sur, where youth continue to defy a curfew. Local activists say civilians have been killed and clashes have caused major damage to Sur's historic mosques and other buildings. Hundreds are trapped in basements in the district, where they have taken shelter from street-fighting and snipers. (MEE, Feb. 27; ANF, Feb. 17) Kurdish MP Feleknas Uca charged on Feb. 19 that 150 Kurds sheltering in basements in Cizre burned to death when the buildings were set on fire by military forces. (Daily Mail, Feb. 19)

Advances made in language and cultural rights for Kurds, key to pending peace deal with the PKK, are being rapidly reversed. Authorities shut down a Kurdish-language primary school in Diyarbakır on Feb. 22—which, perversely, happened to be International Mother Language Day. It was ostensibly closed for not having a license, despite opening amid much fanfare in October. (Today's Zaman, Feb. 22) The move is pretty clearly part of the counterinsurgency program—and an implicit threat by the government that hard-won Kurdish cultural rights could be completely repealed.

Violence has escalated since the Feb. 17 bomb attack in Ankara that left 28 dead—many civilians, although military buses were targeted. The attack was claimed by the Kurdistan Freedom Hawks (TAK). A TAK statement said the "suicide attack was carried out by a sacrifice warrior on a military convoy of the fascist Turkish Republic in Ankara… The attack was realised by the Immortal Battalion of the TAK." (Reuters, Al Jazeera, Feb. 19)

While Turkey has seen three major terror attacks by ISIS in recent months, the TAK is apparently an ultra-radical offshoot of the PKK that refused to accept the peace deal announced one year ago (which broke down as the insurgency resumed in response to Turkish attacks on PKK-aligned forces in Syria and Iraq). The TAK has carried out such terror attacks before—including 2006 deadly bombings of tourist resorts in Turkey.

In December, the TAK announced a "War of Vengeance against the fascist Turkish-AKP state… Every institution and establishment of the state is a target to us, and our field of action involves whole Turkey… People in Turkey will be as safe as Kurdish children, youths, mothers, elderly and women in Cizre, Silopi Sur, Nusaybin and Kerboran are under a rain of death with helicopters, tanks, heavy arms and explosives." (ANF, Dec. 31)

Turkish authorities said just one day after the blast that they had identified the perpetrator of the Ankara bombing as a member of the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia working with militants from the PKK. (Today's Zaman,. Feb. 18) The YPG General Command immediately issued a statement disclaiming any link to the Ankara attack, and accusing Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu of putting forward a false accusation to pave the way for an offensive on the Syrian Kurds. (Kurdish Question, Feb. 18)