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Turkey on war footing ahead of polls

Deadly clashes between security forces and militants in Turkey's restive southeast continue, while Ankara suggests Kurdish militants are in league with their nemesis, "Islamic State," reports DW's Jacob Resneck.

The roar of Turkish F-16 warplanes can be heard from the city of Diyarbakir as the jets launch sorties against Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) guerillas in the mountains of southeastern Turkey and northern Iraq. Armored vehicles are in the streets, heavily armed gendarmes seal off central neighborhoods as anti-terror police raid the buildings suspected of harboring militant fighters.

There's littleEn evidence of a ceasefire and the peace process seems an empty buzzword as urban fighting intensifies.

A lot has changed here since the June 7 parliamentary election in which the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) made historic gains, denying the ruling party the ability to form a government for the first time since 2002.

Turkey's citizens will return to the polls November 1 for a re-run snap election, in which the Justice and Development Party (AKP) co-founded by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will try to recover the AKP's losses by rallying its traditional religious base as well as court Turkish nationalists distrustful of Kurdish militants who have waged a 31-year insurgency for language rights and autonomy in Turkey's southeast.

Erdogan has accused the HDP of being merely the political wing of the outlawed PKK - listed as a "terrorist organization" by Turkey, the European Union and United States - a charge that the party denies.

"I invite every single citizen in that region to turn their backs on the political party that is supported by that terrorist organization in the region," Erdogan said Monday.

'The State is here'

Graffiti presumably left by security forces proclaims: 'The state is here' in Diyarbakir's Baglar district

Graffiti presumably left by security forces proclaims: 'The State is here' in Diyarbakir's Baglar district, which was under a three-day curfew in October

In much of the southeast, the gulf between the government and HDP sympathizers grows wider. Anger and cynicism are taken with equal measure as many say the government's deadly crackdowns are part of the ruling party's electoral campaign as it has rejected the PKK's unilateral ceasefire offer as a political tactic.

"The president decided to restart the war again because he wanted to help the AKP," said Osman Baydemir, a former mayor of Diyarbakir and now senior lawmaker with the HDP. "Whatever we tried to do was meaningless because they had decided to fight - they thought it would strengthen their position."

Opinion polls show the AKP's support remains steady but still shy of the amount needed to form a government on its own. One thing is certain: The stakes are high. Turkey is grappling with the Syrian civil war on its doorstep and unprecedented attacks on its own soil, such as the Ankara bombing that killed more than 100 people at a civic peace rally this month.

"Erdogan and his government portray themselves as fighting dark forces both at home and abroad," Istanbul-based author Andrew Finkel wrote in a recent column. "A more realistic assessment is that the president is fighting to maintain control."

That's because the president knows that if the AKP is forced to share power in a coalition, "the huge executive apparatus he has created within a vast new presidential palace will begin to unravel."

But AKP politicians in Diyarbakir maintain that the government is simply fighting to keep order. Armed youth have erected barricades in neighborhoods. Armed clashes with security forces and blanket curfews are now a part of daily life.

"For the first time after June 7, the PKK is seizing civilian areas," AKP parliamentary candidate Galip Ensarioglu said. "It has become an everyday problem for people in those areas." In places where the HDP enjoys support, he says the PKK is "making civil life unbearable."


There has been no stronger example of the Erdogan trying to demonize the PKK than his insistence that it was the Kurdish militant group working in concert with Syria's mukhabarat intelligence service, Kurdish fighters in Syria and the "Islamic State" group to kill more than 100 people at a peace rally in Ankara.

"This incident shows how terror is implemented collectively. This is a completely collective act of terror and it includes IS, PKK, the mukhabarat, and the terrorist group PYD from north of Syria," Erdogan said.

No matter that the Kurdish fighters and "Islamic State" are arch foes waging an existential fight in Syria. The president's line is that somehow these disparate groups put aside their differences to conspire to kill Kurdish and Turkish peace activists in Turkey's capital city.

"They carried out this act all together," Erdogan said in a speech broadcast live on Turkish television.

The country's deadliest bombing attack in modern history remains sensitive. A media blackout on the bombing investigation limits what Turkey's broadcasters can and cannot say.

But in places like Diyarbakir many simply decry the endless cycle of violence between the Turkish state and the PKK. Opposition party candidate Naci Sapan of the Republican People's Party (CHP) says the government is trying to provoke the PKK into continuing its unpopular campaign of violence.

"If the PKK hadn't taken up arms it would have been clear 'the palace' is behind all the violence," said CHP candidate Naci Sapan, referring to Erdogan's imperial-style presidency. "But whenever they shoot back, President Erdogan is able to portray them as the aggressive ones."

Kurdish militants on notice

Kurdish fighters celebrate after a victory in Kobane, Syria

People's Defence Units (YPG) in Syria have become a western ally against 'Islamic State,' but Turkey considers the Kurdish militant group merely the Syrian branch of its military rival, the PKK

If anything though, Turkey's war with Kurdish militants in the region has only grown wider. Alarmed that the United States and Russia are now directly supporting the PKK-affiliated Peoples' Protection Units (YPG) in Syria it has broadened its offensive to attack Kurdish fighters in Syria.

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, striking a defiant tone, told the government-friendly broadcaster A Haber this week that Ankara has drawn red lines in the Syrian civil war and has already acted decisively to prevent Kurds in Syria from expanding.

"We said: 'The PYD will not get to the west of the Euphrates. As soon as they pass, then we will shoot them.' And we shot twice," Davutolgu said without specifying when the attacks took place.

What's perhaps puzzling is that the disputed territory Davutoglu says the Turkish military denied to Kurdish fighters is now being held by IS. It's the only land link between Turkey and IS-controlled territory, and Turkey vehemently denies aiding the jihadist group that Ankara prosecutors said Tuesday was the primary suspect behind the Ankara bombing attack.

Yet in the AKP's realpolitik it is the Kurds, not IS that is the greatest threat. The pro-Kurdish HDP is a rival in the election and the PKK-affiliated fighters in Syria is a rival for influence in Syria.

So with the election just days away, Turkey's open-ended war with Kurdish militants on both sides of the border continues.

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