As he sat down to have coffee on a sweltering August day in Istanbul, the first words my interlocutor, a well-known Kurdish intellectual named Orhan Miroglu, uttered were about the death of his three cousins in his ancestral village in Batman, a province in the heart of the Kurdish region of Turkey. The previous night, his cousins and a fourth villager had gone to investigate a suspicious fire on the outskirts of their village. As they approached, a mine destroyed their vehicle, killing them all. All of them had been members of Kurdish political parties or human rights groups. They were the latest casualties in a war between the Turkish state and the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), an insurgent group that enjoys a great deal of support among Kurds.
Turkey is in the grip of a summer of senseless violence. A little over a week before the attacks in Batman, on July 25, a clash erupted in the western town of Inegol when an ordinary quarrel between a Turk and a Kurd quickly spread after assuming a racial undertone. Just a few days later, four police officers were murdered in the southern province of Hatay. This was a mirror image of the Batman event; it appears as if rogue elements in the security forces had set up an ambush to blame the other side. This killing, however, was followed by intense interethnic clashes as local Turks took to the streets to exact revenge on their Kurdish neighbors.
These are some of the events that made headlines; there were other cases that were averted by local authorities working with the Kurdish political party. And the atmosphere is thick with stories of daily humiliations, minor taunts, and discrimination in housing and employment.
Turkey is slowly and inexorably moving toward a crisis point. Unlike in the 1990s, when the PKK was far stronger militarily and the insurgency was primarily concentrated in the majority Kurdish southeastern provinces, today Kurds are everywhere. That period's counterinsurgency campaign caused a massive outflow of refugees that dispersed throughout the country. Istanbul, home to an estimated 3 million to 5 million Kurds, is now the world's largest Kurdish city. This fact means that the Kurdish issue reverberates far beyond the traditional Kurdish strongholds in Turkey's southeast and eastern regions, increasing the chance that violence could erupt anywhere, at any time.