By Anthony Faiola, November 25 – Washington Post – SEMDINLI, Turkey — This town of 19,000 nestled in an idyllic mountain pass of impossibly green pastures and golden autumn trees is on the front lines of Turkey’s rapidly escalating guerrilla war.
In a struggle for autonomy as well as independent language and education rights, the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) has waged a low-grade conflict in Turkey for decades. But in recent months, the group has reemerged as a stronger, better equipped and increasingly organized force that is now in the midst of one of its bloodiest campaigns since the worst days of the conflict in the 1990s.
A few dozen young Palestinians get close to the fence at Gaza border, and Israeli soldiers fire shots to warn them. The rebels, observers say, appear to be taking a cue from the recent Arab uprisings, seeking to inspire a “Kurdish Spring” among segments of a stateless ethnic group numbering roughly 30 million and traditionally living in parts of Turkey, Syria, Iran and Iraq. The campaign is presenting a major security risk for Turkey at a time when this strategically vital NATO member is also pushing for a limited international intervention against the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who Turkish officials see as being at least partly responsible for the mounting PKK threat.
As Assad’s grip on Syria has loosened during the civil war, a Syrian Kurdish faction allied with the PKK has established itself as a de facto administration in a growing number of northern cities and towns. Some analysts and diplomats suggest that Assad may be tactically ceding lands to Kurdish rebels there, allowing Syria to become a transit point for weapons and fighters targeting Turkey, which has called for his immediate ouster. Others suggest that Assad, struggling to quell a broader uprising, has simply been unable to prevent the group’s spread. Either way, the rising strength of Kurdish rebels in the region is fueling a bloody uptick in Turkey’s long-simmering guerrilla war. The death toll in Turkey has climbed to at least 490 in the past 10 and a half months, making this the conflict’s deadliest year since at least 1999, according to International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based nongovernmental organization.
Here in Semdinli, near the mountainous border with Iran and Iraq, a massive truck bomb went off Nov. 4 just as a Turkish army tank rolled by. Marking the worst bombing here since 2005, the explosion sent hot shrapnel raining down on revelers leaving a wedding party, killing an 11-year-old boy, wounding 24 others and blowing out windows and storefronts for blocks.
The blast followed a series of assaults in which rebel commandos attempted to seize this town populated largely by ethnic Kurds, attacking an army base and launching rocket-propelled grenades at the regional governor’s residence, forcing Turkish troops to stage a daring rescue of the Ankara-appointed governor and his wife. “Their tactics have suddenly changed,” said Sedat Tore, Semdinli’s mayor. “They used to come down from the mountains for quick attacks and quick retreats. Now, they are staying and trying to control territory.”