Turkey marked 25 years Saturday since the first Kurdish rebel attacks, with political leaders calling for reconciliation, though the government has yet to offer a new plan for ending the conflict.
Fighting has died down since the 1990s, but the Kurdish conflict
remains a drag on Turkey's drive to modernity and an obstacle to the country's joining the European Union.
The fighting began on Aug. 15, 1984, when separatist rebels
attacked police and military units in the southeastern towns of
Eruh and Semdinli before fleeing to bases in northern Iraq.
Since then, some 40,000 people have died as the rebels seek autonomy for Kurds concentrated in Turkey's southeast.
Kurdish activists held a festival Saturday in Eruh, where extra
security forces were deployed.
Speakers appealed for peace, and crowds listened to traditional
music at an open-air concert.
Parliament Speaker Mehmet Ali Sahin called for reconciliation
with the country's Kurdish minority.
"I see a great advantage in putting aside all prejudice," he
said on Turkish television, dismissing nationalist claims that
allowing Kurds to have more rights would "divide Turkey."
Interior Minister Besir Atalay met delegates of 20
non-governmental organizations in Ankara as part of a government
effort to rally support for a peace plan that has yet to be
Imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan is expected to release his
own peace proposals soon through his lawyers.
On Friday, the prime minister said the "time has come for a
radical solution" for ending the conflict, and urged the
nationalist opposition to back the effort.
"Turkey has to face this problem and solve it through
democracy," Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said. "We will
take steps at any cost."
The question of how to persuade thousands of rebels to give up
their weapons remains in deep dispute. Demands of the rebel
Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, include amnesty for its top
leaders, but such a deal would infuriate many Turks.
Late Friday, a blast in a trash container killed a night
watchman and injured another person in a poor neighborhood of
Istanbul Police Chief Huseyin Capkin said explosives caused the
blast, but said it was unclear if it was an act of terrorism.
Kurdish militants have carried out attacks to mark the anniversary
in past years, but radical leftist and Islamic groups have also
Turkey has taken some steps to assimilate Kurds, who account for
about 20 percent of the population of 75 million and dominate the
country's southeast. In January, the first 24-hour Kurdish-language
television station was launched, and Erdogan spoke a few words in
the once-banned tongue.
"In the southeast, the problems are not only psychological,
sociological. Here, we have military, political, diplomatic
problems. Economic problems," Turkey's Dogan news agency quoted
Erdogan as saying Saturday.
To facilitate peace with Kurds, the government must work to
overcome objections from the nationalist opposition.
Nationalist Action Party leader Devlet Bahceli said the PKK were
criminals seeking to divide Turkey along ethnic lines.
"The problem of terrorism has become the Kurdish problem," he
Rebels initially sought a separate state, but their political
platform has evolved to demands for more cultural and democratic
rights for a minority that has long faced state discrimination.
Critics say more must be done to make Kurds feel like real
citizens, rather than an alienated minority, and to elevate Turkey
into the ranks of stable democracies.
The Kurdish plight is a key issue in Turkey's troubled bid to
join the EU, and a history of human rights violations have shadowed
the nation's efforts to play the role of regional model and
In the past year, however, Turkey has hosted indirect talks
between Syria and Israel, won acclaim for criticizing Israel for
Palestinian civilian deaths in the Gaza war, and hosted Russian
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin as well as European leaders
separately for talks on proposed pipeline projects to ferry energy
supplies to the West.
Turkey is also a NATO member and key U.S. ally that has
contributed troops to Afghanistan and coordinated with Washington
on the U.S.-led war in Iraq. Its navy is involved in anti-piracy
efforts in the Gulf of Aden.
But the Turkish government has yet to provide details of a
promised Kurdish peace initiative.
Ruling party lawmakers have said the government could rename
thousands of Kurdish villages that have Turkish names, expand
Kurdish-language education and remove references to "Turkishness"
in defining citizenship.
Turkey and the West view the PKK as a terrorist group.