Uncertainty in Syria and Iraq, combined with the Turkish government’s reliance on nationalist groups for support, means “prospects for non-violent ways forward look bleak”, the Belgium-based NGO International Crisis Group (ICG) said in the January update to its report on Turkey.
The group has been regularly updating a database of fatalities in the conflict between the Turkish state and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) since 2011, gathering data from open sources, including Turkish media and military, Kurdish advocacy groups and the PKK itself.
Currently the conflict that has neared the end of its fourth decade is in one of its deadliest chapters. Violence increased significantly after 2015, with the termination of a peace process that had started in 2013.
Since then, “violence has devastated communities in Turkey’s majority-Kurdish southeast and – at times – struck into the heart of the country’s largest metropolitan centres”, the ICG report said.
At least 5,808 people lost their lives since July 20, 2015, the group reported.
Among the fatalities, 593 were civilians while 226 people were referred to as ‘individuals of unknown affiliation’. This indicates persons who could not be verified as either civilians or combatants, the group says.
There were 1,318 fatalities from Turkey’s security forces, including the army, police force and village guards. On the PKK side, 3,671 members and affiliates were confirmed killed since July 2015.
The fatality rate peaked between winter 2015 and spring 2016, during curfews declared in Kurdish-majority urban districts where “PKK-backed youth militias had erected barricades and trenches to claim control of territory”, ICG said.
The same period saw a shift away from rural areas in terms of locations of clashes. After spring 2016, fighting returned to the countryside gradually, according to the group.
There were 383 fatalities in 2020, while the number rose to 401 in 2021.
‘Clashes moved into cities after 2015’
Close to 6,000 fatalities since 2015 “shows us two things,” Vahap Coşkun, professor at Dicle University’s Faculty of Law, told Voice of America (VoA) Turkish on Wednesday. The scholar said:
“Following the termination of the solution process, a sharp break occurred and violence increased at a degree incomparable to previous periods. The rates of loss of life reached high figures. When you do not complete a process, if it is cut off or ended, violence returns in a sharper way. The second thing is, due to the nature of conflict it is in perpetual transformation. Before the solution process, clashes occurred mostly in the rural areas, while after 2015 they moved into cities.”
Nationalism has been rising in Turkey, Coşkun said, and could rise even further as elections, currently scheduled for 2023, draw near.
“At times, it has been said that conflict could not continue and that it would be unsustainable. But without putting forth a will for a solution, the conflict can continue for a while longer for both sides. The cost would fall on society as a whole, to the people. It would be an economic, political and legal cost, and most importantly, it would cost lives. I do not believe analyses of unsustainability are very valid, because although it comes at a heavy price, both parties are able to create mechanisms that would somehow maintain the conflict.”
‘This issue can only be resolved within democracy’
The current insolubility is due to “still continuing to use methods from 100 years ago”, Sedat Yurtdaş, former member of parliament and current vice president of Dicle Centre for Social Research in Diyarbakır (Amed), told VoA.
Peace talks between 2013 and 2015 made important strides, but the attempt “failed for this reason or that”, and could not be pursued all the way to its end, Yurtdaş said, and added:
“I think everybody saw that it is possible to resolve the matter in peace. But unfortunately certain calculations for power, and in part the relative ease provided by a traditional administration style, pushed into gear various agendas replacing necessary steps. There was no result. It was apparent that for 100 years society paid the price, and it will continue to do so.”
Yurtdaş called for an end to security policies and said such an approach would create severe outcomes and damage.
“After the 2 March operation in 1994, it was understood that this issue can only be resolved within democracy, via the law,” he said. “It cannot end with guns, nor can there be an outright victory. I believe this is an issue that can only be resolved on the basis of peace.”