Freezing weather in the mountains this fall and winter has slowed fighting in the decades-long insurgency waged by Turkey's Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), but the omens look worrying for spring 2013. Already, 870 people have been killed since the PKK resumed its attacks, and security forces revived their counterterrorism operations, in mid-2011. That's this conflict's worst casualty rate since the 1990s.
Political tensions in Turkey are also rising, as the legal Kurdish movement, the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), takes an increasingly pro-PKK line. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has threatened to lift its MPs' immunity to prosecution, and the state has arrested several thousand Kurdish activists on charges of pro-PKK terrorism since 2009 -- even though many are not being accused of any act of violence. The Turkish government has also stopped secret talks that it conducted with the PKK from 2005 to 2011 and abandoned most of the "Democratic Opening" that had offered hopes of greater equality and justice for Turkey's 12 to 15 million Kurds, who comprise as much as 20 percent of the population.
The government could still win over most of Turkey's Kurds by announcing a comprehensive set of reforms. These would include launching a process to offer education in mother languages, amending the election law to reduce electoral and funding barriers, increasing decentralization to Turkey's 81 provinces, and ending all discrimination in the country's constitution and laws. It should also work toward a ceasefire, urge insurgents to stop attacks, avoid large-scale military operations, including aerial bombings, and stand up to pressure for ever stronger armed responses.
The likelihood of a major U-turn is, however, low. It appears to be Erdogan's ambition to win Turkey's 2014 presidential elections, for which he has been aligning himself ever-more firmly with rightwing and nationalist voters. More militaristic factions in the PKK, emboldened by their allies' successes in Syria, are also gaining the upper hand, and likely will continue attempts to hold areas in the southeast and attack symbols of the Turkish state in 2013.
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