A SURGE of violence in Turkey's southeastern provinces marks a new phase in what the Kurds call their ``struggle for independence.'' Turkish officials fear the campaign may spread. For the first time in the provinces of Mardin, Siirt, and Elazig, teenagers are throwing stones at the security forces, erecting roadblocks, and burning tires. And people have closed shops, offices, and schools to protest the sometimes brutal action of the security forces.
Government and military leaders meet tomorrow to discuss plans to combat the new wave of violence that Kurds call the ``Kurdish intifadah,'' after the Palestinian uprising in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The biggest demonstration since the surge began last week was on Friday in Cizre, in Mardin Province, where thousands of people marched through the streets shouting ``Down with Turkey'' and ``Long live free Kurdistan.''
Analysts say the escalating violence highlights several new developments in the strategy of the Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK), the organization that directs the Kurdish struggle.
PKK rebels have shifted their resistance activities from the countryside to urban areas.
Until last week, the rebels raided villages, ``executed'' so-called ``village guards'' and their collaborators, and sometimes killed entire families, according to a recent unpublished Turkish intelligence report.
But now, the report says, the PKK operates in major cities, encouraging popular resistance to the authorities and security forces. It urges organized demonstrations, strikes, boycotts, and seizure of public buildings.
Villagers, who make up most of Turkey's estimated 9 million Kurds, participate in the demonstrations.
In the past, even those sympathetic to Kurdish nationalism avoided involvement in PKK-organized activities, and some assisted the authorities in arresting ``terrorists.''
Prime Minister Yildrim Akbulut and other senior government officials publicly play down the uprising. But privately, Cabinet ministers and top commanders say it is a serious matter.
``This is beginning to turn into a new and different situation,'' says a senior government official. ``It is bad when you have local people and security forces turning against each other ... We are sure most people still do not want to get involved, but they are either forced by the PKK or carried away by this new hysteria.''
The government has ordered the security forces to act with restraint even if provoked by demonstrators. But imposition of martial law has not been ruled out, officials say.
Although the Army has successfully fought Kurdish militants in the eastern mountains and rural areas, officials say, the task is more difficult now that the rebels are moving to urban centers.
Ankara pins the responsibility for the escalation in violence on Damascus, where PKK leader exiled Abdullah Ocalan lives. Kurdish fighters - trained and equipped in camps in the Syrian-controlled Bekaa Valley in Lebanon - are smuggled into Turkey across the Syrian border, Turkish officials say. Turkey has urged Syria to stop supporting the Kurdish militants, but Damascus says it has no control over them.
For the first time, senior officials and officers have talked publicly about the possibility of an Israeli-style assault against PKK headquarters in Damascus and its camps in the Bekaa Valley.
Gen. Necip Toruntay, Turkey's chief of staff, also hinted at the weekend that ``a hot pursuit'' of rebels crossing into neighboring countries, like Syria and Iraq, could not be ruled out.
``There is now an undeclared, unofficial war going on in that [southeastern] region, with some foreign powers involved,'' said a member of the Cabinet. ``The terrorists [Kurdish militants] are being used as a weapon against us, ... but this can backfire and cause more damage to them.''