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Tuesday, 12 September 2006

Southeast Turkey: The bubbling pot

There's something about terrorism involving children that makes my blood boil. It's not that attacks on adults are any less gruesome, but it is an outrageous, filthy, disgusting act to use children to make a violent statement. I remember feeling I had lost all possible sympathy for Chechens after 2004's Beslan siege, when hundreds of schoolchildren were taken hostage. I won't say that I still take such a one-sided approach today, but it does go to show that using children does introduce a numbing, inhuman aspect to any struggle.

Something similar happened in Diyarbakır, southeastern Turkey, earlier this evening. At least seven people were killed when a bomb was detonated at a busy bus stop. 17 people were wounded. Five of the dead were children. Few people doubt that PKK extremists were involved.

Attacks like this one, alongside recent attacks in Mediterranean tourist hotspots and elsewhere in southeastern Turkey, are doing little to help the cause of moderate Kurds in Turkey. The AKP government has so far proven itself far more able than its predecessors in making the vital distinction between a PKK militant and a Kurdish-speaking Turkish citizen. It has also appointed a former general to head a new division dedicated to eliminating the PKK - and crucially, the United States has done precisely the same thing.

But understandably, the response of Turkish public opinion to the attacks has not been as rational. A resurgence of nationalism has swept the country over the past year and a half, deepening divisions that some might never have thought existed. When a Turkish flag was burned during a normally peaceful Kurdish spring festival last year, the public responded by draping every possible window, square, even car bonnets with the star and crescent. This year's shooting of a high court judge involved in a ruling over Muslim headscarves in schools provoked similar nationalist sentiment. And just this week, the prime minister's entourage clashed with supporters of the right wing Nationalist Action Party (MHP) at a memorial in the northwestern town of Söğüt, triggering a bitter war of words.

The PKK needs to be stopped to prevent further loss of life. The PKK needs to be stopped before the government, as it enters election year 2007, finally succumbs to public opinion and adopts a nationalist policy in the southeast. The consequences for the Kurdish population would be dire.

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