Close to 6,000 killed since 2015 amid resurgent violence in Turkey’s southeast

A resurgence of violence in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast has cost nearly 6,000 lives since 2015, a new report by the Belgium-based International Crisis Group (ICG) has found.

The growing number of deaths followed a period of relatives calm in the decades-long internal conflict between the Turkish state and and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) brought about by peace negotiations initiated in 2013.

However, following the breakdown of the process in the summer of 2015 the conflict “entered one of its deadliest chapters in nearly four decades”, ICG said.

Between July 2015 and January 2022, a total of 5,808 people lost their lives in armed clashes or attacks, including 593 civilians, 1,318 members of state security forces, and 3,671 PKK members, according to ICG. As many as 226 casualties could not be confirmed by the ICG as either civilian or combatant after taking place in urban centres placed under military curfew.

Since widespread fighting resumed, the power balance has drastically shifted in favour of the Turkish armed forces, ICG said. In the second half of 2015, 1.41 PKK militants were killed for every member of state security forces. By the first half of 2021, this ratio had risen to 4.4 PKK casualties per security force member.

The violence has also increasingly shifted outside of Turkey borders, with clashes now concentrated in northern Iraq. Turkey has also sought to target the PKK’s allies in northern Syria.

This internationalisation of the conflict is likely to further complicate peace efforts, ICG said. “Prospects for non-violent ways forward look bleak amid uncertainty in Syria, Iraq and the Turkish political leadership’s reliance on support from nationalists at home.”

Commenting on the report’s findings, Vahap Coşkun from Dicle University told Voice of America that the unprecedented rise in violence had been fuelled by the collapse of the peace process.

“When you do not finalise the process, if it is interrupted or ends somehow, violence returns in a harsher manner,” Coşkun said.

The conflict will be sustained unless all parties show will to resolve the issue, he said. “But the cost will be high.”

Sedat Yurtdaş, a former member of parliament for the southeastern region of Diyarbakır, told VoA that new methods were needed to resolve the conflict.

“It is clear that the more the matter is approached via security policies, the more severe outcomes emerge. It has been proven many times over that the problems cannot be solved this way,” Yurtdaş said.

“It is understood that weapons cannot handle this, and also that the state will not and cannot be defeated,” he added. “The issue must not be handled in terms of victory and defeat.”

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