January 8, 2008 / 2:11 PM / in 10 years

Turkey's Kurds angry after blast

DIYARBAKIR, Turkey (Reuters) - Clearing debris from a bombing, residents of the largest city in Turkey’s mainly Kurdish southeast say they are weary of the violence blighting their region and that more democracy and economic growth are the only answers.

<p>Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan (2nd R) visits the bomb site in the southeastern Turkish city of Diyarbakir, January 5, 2008. REUTERS/Umit Bektas</p>

“Someone must say stop to this war. Such things should never happen again. We only want to live in peace,” said Mahmut Koyuncu, a 21-year-old student who was wounded and lost classmates in the bomb attack last week in central Diyarbakir.

Southeast Turkey, one of the poorest regions in the European Union candidate country, bristles with soldiers and security personnel locked in a decades-long struggle with separatist Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) rebels that has claimed nearly 40,000 lives.

Six people, mostly students, were killed and more than 100 wounded in the latest bombing, an attack security sources say targeted military personnel.

The PKK said some of its members, working independently, may have been to blame. On Tuesday, police detained a suspect who Turkish media said had received training in PKK camps in northern Iraq.

Many shops were still boarded up on Tuesday and there were few customers around.

“I thought the day of judgment had come. Someone fell on me. I hid under a table, then jumped out of the window,” Koyuncu said.

Turkey’s military has been waging an aerial bombing campaign against PKK targets in northern Iraq over the past month, helped by intelligence provided by U.S. occupying forces. But eradicating the PKK remains an elusive goal.

“This is an organization which lost 30,000 of its members and still survived. You cannot destroy the PKK only by force. If you could it would have been done by now,” said Sezgin Tanrikulu, head of Diyarbakir’s bar association.

“Only more democracy and moves to join the European Union will reduce the influence of the PKK among the Kurds.”

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling AK Party has eased some restrictions on the Kurdish language and culture as part of Turkey’s EU bid, but local people say it must do much more.

“Turkey should not fear breaking up. If Kurds find prosperity, democracy and freedom in Turkey, they will want to remain part of it,” said Tanrikulu.

Many Kurds want the right to education in their mother tongue and further relaxation of curbs on radio and television broadcasts in their language.

<p>Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan (2nd R) visits the bomb site in the southeastern Turkish city of Diyarbakir, January 5, 2008. REUTERS/Umit Bektas</p>

LIVING STANDARDS

Diyarbakir had enjoyed nearly two years of relative calm before last week’s bombing. Shopping malls and outlets of international fast-food chains have sprouted up as growing trade with mainly Kurdish northern Iraq has stimulated business.

Many people voted for Erdogan’s centre-right, pro-market reform AK Party in last July’s parliamentary election instead of the pro-Kurdish DTP, believing the government is best placed to deliver improved living conditions and more cultural rights.

Abdurrahim Hatapoglu, an AK Party official in Diyarbakir, said the government might soon announce broader cultural rights for Turkey’s estimated 12-15 million Kurds under a new constitution and also an amnesty for some PKK rebels.

“Our party is working on a civilian constitution which gives priority to citizenship for 70 million people living in Turkey rather than a single ethnicity,” he said, as army helicopters whirred overhead.

“With implementation of the Southeastern Anatolian Project, there will be no terror left,” Hatapoglu said, in reference to a large-scale dam building and irrigation project.

Local businessmen agree that the mood among Kurds has changed, noting criticism of PKK methods is now widespread. In the past, people would have stayed quiet, fearing reprisals or out of frustration with Ankara’s heavy-handed approach.

But Kurds also fret about growing Turkish nationalism.

“We are treated as terrorists when we go to western Turkey and here in the east we who oppose violence are seen as stooges of the Turkish state and as traitors,” said Fahrettin Akyil, head of a Diyarbakir commodities exchange.

Popular slogans in Turkey such as “One nation, one flag” leave many Kurds feeling alienated. Some still feel sympathy for the PKK and have relatives fighting with the rebels.

But the overwhelming desire, made clear to Erdogan when he visited the city after the blast, is for peace and normality.

“I told the prime minister he must do whatever necessary to stop this violence,” said Akyil.

“Must we suffer this brutality because we were born in the southeast. Are Kurds not God’s creatures too?”

Editing by Gareth Jones and Janet Lawrence

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