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Why Turkey and the PKK are resuming a deadly conflict

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By Euronews
Why Turkey and the PKK are resuming a deadly conflict

<p>The Turkish military has begun a major campaign against the Kurdistan Workers Party (<span class="caps">PKK</span>) after a series of incidents apparently brought to an end a period of relative calm between the two sides.<br /> But what has caused the breakdown of what had once looked like a road to peace and what are the motivations driving both Turkey and the <span class="caps">PKK</span>?</p> <h3>The end of Turkish-<span class="caps">PKK</span> peace deal?</h3> <p>After nearly three decades of open conflict between Turkey and the <span class="caps">PKK</span>, which claimed tens of thousands of lives, the two sides began a peace process in 2012 and a delicate truce has been in place since April 2013. </p> <p>However, expectations of the peace deal have never come close to being satisfied. Turkey had wanted the <span class="caps">PKK</span> to disarm and to leave Turkish soil. It has not fully done either. The <span class="caps">PKK</span>, seeking an independent homeland including parts of Iraq, Syria and Turkey itself wishes to be recognised as a legitimate body with a right to defend itself.</p> <p>Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu justified the recent airstrikes on the <span class="caps">PKK</span> as a result of an escalation in violence from the other side. He pointed out that 281 terrorist attacks have taken place in Turkey since the June 7 elections. On July 12 the leaders of the <span class="caps">PKK</span> announced that their members would disrupt the construction of dams and kidnap workers. In the city of Urfa two policemen were shot dead in their homes. Another one has been killed in Adıyaman. </p> <p>After last week’s Turkish strikes on its positions in Iraq, the <span class="caps">PKK</span> has said that this truce has “no meaning anymore.”</p> <h3>The rise of <span class="caps">ISIL</span>?</h3> <p>Kurdish groups have been heavily involved in the fight against <span class="caps">ISIL</span> in Syria and Iraq.<br /> This has allowed them to develop their military capability despite being officially designated as a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the EU and the US. <br /> In Syria, Kurdish interests are represented mainly by the Democratic Union Party (<span class="caps">PYD</span>) and its military arm the People’s Protection Units (<span class="caps">YPG</span>). These groups have been receiving US air support to help them fight <span class="caps">ISIS</span> gaining them international credibility and fuelling hopes for the creation of an independent state.</p> <p>Turkey had until last week refrained from joining the conflict against <span class="caps">ISIL</span>. But after the Suruc bombing, Turkey announced it would work with the US and strike targets belonging <span class="caps">ISIS</span>, while at the same time hitting <span class="caps">PKK</span> operations. It explicitly and implicitly equates both groups as “terrorists”. <br /> Turkey denies it is targeting the <span class="caps">PYD</span> and <span class="caps">YPG</span> in Syria, despite the <span class="caps">YPG</span>’s claims to the contrary.</p> <h3>The domestic context in Turkey</h3> <p>The June elections left the ruling AK Party without a majority in parliament for the first time in over a decade. It is also struggling to attract any partners into a coalition and many expect new elections in November. <br /> On one hand president Recep Erdoğan’s party lost support to the Kurdish <span class="caps">HDP</span>, which gained much more of the non-Kurdish vote than expected in the west of the country. On the other it lost nationalist voters who saw the peace talks with the <span class="caps">PKK</span> as a betrayal. <br /> The <span class="caps">AKP</span>’s leadership likely sees military operations against the <span class="caps">PKK</span> as a good way to win back those nationalist voters in new elections. <br /> Growing violence carried out by Kurds in Turkey could also erode the popularity of the <span class="caps">HDP</span> among non-Kurds. </p> <p>From the <span class="caps">PKK</span> side, the elections can also be seen as an explanation for a return to armed action. According to Turkish sources, when the Kurdish-dominated <span class="caps">HDP</span> won 82 seats in parliament in June’s election the <span class="caps">PKK</span> interpreted it as a ‘Yes’ vote in a referendum on self-rule. Furthermore, the <span class="caps">PKK</span> had potentially lost leverage over Kurdish politicians who now had a direct mandate from the people. Amid this ongoing political process, and in particular alongside the rising political fortunes of leaders like <span class="caps">HDP</span> co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş, one way for the <span class="caps">PKK</span> leadership to ensure they maintained their positions in Kurdish political life was to move the focus away from talking and back to direct armed struggle.</p>