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Tensions Between Turkey and Kurds Escalate After Killing of Turkish Police Officers

On Wednesday, Kurdish militants allegedly shot two Turkish police officers–asleep in a shared residence on the Syrian border–they believed were collaborating with ISIS. The shooting has inflamed already dangerous tensions between Kurds and the Turkish government.

According to a report at al-Arabiyathe military wing of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) accused the slain police officers of working with ISIS, and “described the attack as revenge for a suicide bombing in the mainly Kurdish town of Suruc on Monday blamed on ISIS militants that left 32 people dead.”

The bombing in question, which also resulted in at least 100 injuries, was an attack on a student rally at a cultural center, where demonstrators demanded the Turkish government do more to assist the besieged Kurdish city of Kobane on the far side of the Syrian border. The UK Daily Mail notes that the predominantly Kurdish town of Suruc in Turkey, where the suicide bombing took place, is only about six miles from Kobane.

“The two police, aged 24 and 25, were given a funeral ceremony with full honors outside police headquarters in the regional center of Sanliurfa, their coffins draped in the Turkish flag,” al-Arabiya reports.

The ceremony ended with Turkish police officers chanting “the martyrs never die, the people will never be divided,” and the local police chief vowing, “the blood of our martyrs will not be left without a response.”

Turkish Kurds, meanwhile, are holding demonstrations in Istanbul and other major cities, protesting the government’s policies on Syria, and its reluctance to support Kurdish groups in battle against ISIS. One such rally in Istanbul, shortly after the suicide bomb attack in Suruc, ended with police firing tear gas and water cannons at demonstrators… some of whom where chanting, “Murderer Islamic State, collaborator Erdogan and AKP,” according to the Daily Mail.  The latter is a reference to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his political party.

Another retaliatory action allegedly carried out by Kurdish militants for the Suruc bombing involved the slaying of a soap salesman named Mursel Gul on Monday night. Hurriyet Daily News reports the killers placed a phony order for soap, then shot Gul four times when he arrived to deliver the goods. Turkish police have arrested a friend of Gul’s for helping to set up his murder.

“Gul, whose Twitter posts under the handle ‘selef ebu selef” praised ISIL and other Islamist causes, had connections to the jihadist group and had crossed back and forth between Turkey and Syria, according to police,” writes Hurriyet, which notes that “a number of Islamist Twitter users issued messages of condolence following news of Gul’s death.”

The youth wing of the Kurdish PKK, known as the Patriotic Revolutionary Youth Movement or “YDG-H,” claimed responsibility for the shooting, and accused Gul of fighting for ISIS against the Kurds in Syria, until he was obliged to return to Turkey for medical treatment seven months ago. The YDG-H has promised to kill more suspected ISIS members in retaliation for the Suruc bombing.

On Wednesday, another man named Ethan Turkben was shot dead at his home, in front of his wife and three children, by masked men who were allegedly agents of the PKK.

The messy multi-national battle against the Islamic State has profoundly inflamed sensitive fault lines between the Kurdish people and the national governments of the region they occupy, including Iraq, Syria, and especially Turkey. The Kurds are absolutely key to restraining ISIS – they are the most effective ground force in the path of the evil empire. Unfortunately, many regional powers fear the post-war emergence of a Greater Kurdistan at least as much as they worry about ISIS. In Turkey, there is a long history of civil conflict with Kurdish militants – the kind of history that involves decades-long insurgencies and thousands of casualties.

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