Kurd Militants Broaden Struggle, Target Economy
TURKISH CONFLICT HITS EUROPE
IN early June, Abdullah Ocalan, the leader of an outlawed separatist organization called the Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK), told reporters at his Lebanese hideout that his guerrilla forces would launch "an all-out war" against Turkey.
He gravely warned that the Kurdish militants under his command, who have spent almost a decade fighting for independence from Turkey, would escalate their battle and target "economic and touristic interests."
The warning was immediately followed by a series of attacks by PKK guerrillas in and outside Turkey, marking the end of a unilateral cease-fire that Mr. Ocalan had declared last March.
In recent days, Kurdish militants have attacked Turkish embassies, consulates, banks, and businesses in 19 European cities; seized United Nations offices in Sydney, Australia; and occupied the Parliament in Melbourne for a few hours on June 27.
These attacks have added to the uneasiness in Germany, where a frequently violent campaign against non-Germans is gaining ground.
The PKK strikes have also caused embarrassing diplomatic rows with the governments of Switzerland, Germany, and other European countries, whom Turkish officials are criticizing for failing to properly protect their missions. During a demonstration by Kurdish militants in front of the Turkish Embassy in Bern, Switzerland, one of the demonstrators was killed, allegedly by a shot fired from the Embassy. Swiss authorities asked for permission to search the Embassy, and when the demand was rejected, surrounde d the building with armed policemen.
Turks see in such action signs of tolerance by some Europeans toward the PKK, straining relations between Ankara and traditionally friendly European capitals.
"This is exactly what the PKK wanted to accomplish," notes Meric Koyatasi, a popular commentator with the independent Inter-Star television network. Turkish diplomats concede that although many government leaders, including Chancellor Helmut Kohl of Germany, denounce the PKK as a terrorist organization, the Kurdish militants have been able to put the Kurdish issue on Europe's agenda.
The Turkish government has insisted that the ethnic Kurds are part of a unitary state, and it regards the PKK militants as "terrorists" who can be crushed militarily. People here have only recently stopped calling Kurds "mountain Turks," and the government continues to block Kurds from operating their own radio and television stations. Only in 1991 were they allowed to use their own language, in response to continued unrest in the southeastern provinces.
The most recent incidents in the PKK's new campaign of violence involve attacks on tourist sites. An attack was mounted June 27 at Antalya, one of Turkey's finest and most popular Mediterranean resort towns.
Tourism officials are deeply worried about this new campaign. "If one or two more incidents like this take place, we are finished," complained a travel agent who has had reservations for this season canceled. Turkey expects to earn $7 billion from tourism this year, income that now appears threatened.
Analysts here say Ocalan's strategy now appears to be directed at undermining Turkey's economy as much as its security, while continuing its fighting in the southeastern provinces, where most of the country's 10 million ethnic Kurds live.
The PKK militants have intensified their attacks in the southeast, where scores of Turkish soldiers and civilians as well as Kurdish fighters are being killed every week. The total death toll in the nine-year-old war is estimated to be more than 6,000.
But Turkish officials are adamant that Ocalan's new campaign will not succeed. The new prime minister, Tansu Ciller, reiterated June 27 the longstanding official view that Turkey will never negotiate with terrorists and will continue to fight against them until they are completely eliminated. But she said that her government will try to improve economic and social conditions in southeastern Turkey and will seek to give the ethnic Kurds more cultural freedom.
The recent escalation of violence seems to have increased both the irritation and sensitivity of the Turkish people toward the Kurds. Although an effort is being made to differentiate Kurdish militancy from the moderate demands of the Kurdish population, attacks by the PKK have provoked a backlash. There are reports that in some towns in western Turkey, coffeehouses and shops are refusing to serve Kurdish customers. In the city of Kutabya in central Turkey, a street fight broke out among Turks and Kurds following a personal quarrel between a Turkish shopkeeper and a Kurdish worker.