Country Report Turkey January 2011

Outlook for 2011-15: In focus

The Kurdish issue: a threat to stability

The Kurdish issue remains one of Turkey's most enduring sociopolitical and security problems. The outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which is seeking Kurdish independence, has been engaged in a violent struggle with Turkey's security forces since 1984, barring a unilateral PKK ceasefire in 1999-2004. Since 1984 a total of about 40,000 civilians, soldiers and militants have died, and many atrocities have been committed on both sides. Although less intense than in 1984-99, the violence has gradually escalated after the end of the PKK's ceasefire in mid-2004. The PKK has mainly carried out attacks against the security forces in the Kurdish-inhabited south-east, but also against businesses and civilians sometimes elsewhere in Turkey, including in major tourist destinations.

A unilateral ceasefire announced by the PKK just before the referendum in September 2010 on the government's constitutional reform package has been extended until the general election. However, it appears fragile. The PKK denied responsibility for a suicide bombing in Taksim Square in central Istanbul that injured at least 22 people on October 31st, but it is widely believed that a Kurdish militant group, perhaps a splinter of the PKK, carried out the attack. If the frequency of the attacks escalates again, as it did up until just before the referendum, it could trigger violent ethnic clashes between Turkish and Kurdish civilians. In July Kurds and Turks clashed in the southern province Hatay following a PKK attack in the town of Dortyol. Also fuelling tensions are conspiracy theories that an alleged ultra-nationalist group of active and retired senior military officers and prominent civilians has been involved in some attacks attributed to the PKK in order to cause instability. An escalation of violence could also affect the outcome of the next general election as it might boost support for the Republican People's Party (CHP) and the right-wing Nationalist Action Party (MHP), who have traditionally maintained a hard line on the Kurdish issue.

The Economist Intelligence Unit expects that the issue will continue to pose a threat to political and social stability and hinder Turkey's EU accession prospects during the outlook period as finding a lasting settlement is likely to be difficult. The democratic initiative launched by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in 2009 to try to improve Kurdish rights and bring about an end to violence has lost momentum owing to hardline nationalist opposition to any concessions to the Kurds and the refusal of pro-Kurdish political parties to distance themselves completely from the PKK. The judicial decision to close the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party (DTP) in early 2010 further increased Kurdish suspicions of the state.

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