Turkey waging brutal battle in siege on Kurdish stronghold

Special to WorldTribune.com

Turkey is continuing to press its brutal siege on the Kurdish de facto capital.

Kurds represent about 20 percent of Turkey’s population, and Kurdish fighters have been the only successful fighting force against the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL).

getPartThe months-long battle for Diyarbakir, a walled city on the Tigris River, has claimed hundreds of lives and observers see no end in sight.

Kurdish militants are said to view the battle as perhaps preserving their last chance at self rule, the Wall Street Journal reported.

“This is something bigger than us,” said local businessman Sahismail Bedirhanoglu. “It has to do with Middle East dynamics.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has attempted to silence Kurdish leaders, with many of them under detention.

Meanwhile, the success of American-backed Kurdish fighters against ISIL in Syria has emboldened Kurdish activists in Turkey to escalate their push for autonomy.

“Every day that goes by, the distance between Ankara and the [Kurdish] region is growing,” said Henri Barkey, director of the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington.

Kurdish leaders are determined to capitalize on the current opportunity after their ancestors’ hopes of building their own nation were thwarted by world powers after World War I.

“The fate of the Middle East is being rewritten,” said Selahattin Demirtas, a top Kurdish lawmaker whom Erdogan wants to see stripped of parliamentary immunity. “As Kurds, we don’t want the mistakes made 100 years ago to be made again.”

In Diyarbakir, more than 440 Kurdish fighters have been killed since Turkey sent in 10,000 security forces last month.

“We respect people’s freedom of expression, but it becomes unacceptable when it turns to armed resistance,” a Turkish official said.

Since July, more than 194 civilians have been killed across southeastern Turkey, according to the International Crisis Group. Many see the siege on Diyarbakir as part of a new attempt by the Turkish government to eliminate Kurdish aspirations for autonomy.

“This is a war against the Kurdish people,” said Feleknas Uca, a Kurdish lawmaker from Diyarbakir who observers say could be stripped of parliamentary immunity for her outspoken views.