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Turkish parliament approves cross-border raids

By Ivan Watson and Yesim Comert, CNN
updated 1:36 PM EDT, Fri October 7, 2011
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The vote comes after the arrest of hundreds of suspected PKK members
  • One analyst says the PKK cannot be defeated militarily
  • Kurds are the largest ethnic minority in Turkey

Istanbul (CNN) -- Turkish lawmakers Wednesday voted to extend authorization for the Turkish military to carry out cross border attacks against Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq.

The vote authorizes cross-border military operations for another year. Its passage came a day after Turkish police arrested more than 100 people across the country, suspected of links to rebels with the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK.

Lawmakers from the main Kurdish nationalist party, the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), denounced the arrests.

In a phone call with CNN, deputy BDP chair Meral Danis Bestas claimed her party was the true target of the arrests.

"Almost 90% of the people detained are from the BDP, members of the party administration or executive council or mayors," Bestas said.

She also criticized the parliamentary vote on cross-border raids, calling it a "big mistake."

"It would have been so much better if the first task of the parliament was one that contributed to peace and elimination of obstacles in the way of democracy, rights and freedoms," Bestas said.

The Kurds represent the largest ethnic minority in Turkey. For decades, they were the target of repressive government policies, implemented by officials who sometimes referred to them as "mountain Turks." Until just a few years ago, it was illegal to speak Kurdish on radio and television in Turkey. The government of prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has tried to improve relations by launching a state Kurdish language TV station in 2009.

Some observers are sounding the alarm about the escalating tensions between Turkey and its ethnic Kurdish minority, warning it may re-ignite a conflict that has simmered since 1984 and claimed more than 30,000 lives.

"A new destructive cycle of violence between the Turkish authorities and Turkish Kurd nationalists has begun," warned the Brussels-based mediation organization the International Crisis Group in a recent report.

"Soldiers, police and insurgents are being killed in escalating clashes and bombings, demonstrations are being dealt with by excessive tear gas and force, more than 3,000 political activists are in jail for the peaceful expression of their views, and the misuse of the anti-terror law and other restrictive legislation keeps political tension high," the ICG report said.

Last month, at least three people were killed by an explosion in the heart of the Turkish capital, Ankara. A Kurdish rebel splinter group later claimed responsibility for the attack.

Throughout the summer, dozens of soldiers and police were killed by rebel ambushes across southeastern Turkey. In August, the Turkish military retaliated, carrying out aerial sorties bombing rebel camps in northern Iraq.

Meanwhile, there has been an increase in violent clashes between Kurdish activists and Turkish police in other cities and towns in western Turkey, far away from the PKK's traditional area of operation in the predominantely Kurdish, southeastern part of the country.

"The PKK cannot be defeated militarily," said Hugh Pope, the International Crisis Group's senior Turkey analyst, in an interview with CNN. "This has been tried over and over again in the past 30 years... the PKK can find too much money, too many arms, they have the support of millions of people at least in sympathy. The application of military force, if it goes too far, will only drive more support into the arms of the PKK."

But some Turkish analysts think the Turkish government stands a new chance of defeating the Kurdish separatists, now that Erdogan has succeeded in imposing civilian control over the armed forces.

"It's a paradigm shift," said Lale Kemal, a military analyst and Ankara bureau chief of the Turkish newspaper Taraf. "We should bear in mind the fact that this is the first time in Turkish history since the outbreak of the PKK war that a civilian government is acting like a real actor in ruling the nation."

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