11/30/2015, 00.00
TURKEY
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Diyarbakir: the murder of lawyer activist Tahir Elçi fuels conflict between Turks and Kurds

Tens of thousands of people mourn yesterday at the lawyer’s funeral. The Turkish government says it will catch and prosecute the perpetrators, but Kurds are sceptical. Fears grow that the conflict will escalate. “The situation is very bad, but I’m afraid that it will be worse,” Elçi said in one of his last interviews.

Diyabakir (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The murder of Kurdish activist and lawyer Tahir Elçi has cast a deeper shadow on the fate Turkey’s democracy, at a time when the confrontation between government and separatist forces has intensified in the country’s south-east.

Tens of thousands of people attended Elçi’s funeral yesterday in Diyabakir. He had been gunned down a day earlier at the end of a news conference at a historic mosque in the city’s old quarter.

In his speech, he had appealed for a return to peace talks between Ankara and the separatist Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

He was killed by a gunshot to the head. For family members, he was murdered. Two police officers were also killed in the gun battle.

Mourners at the funeral remain sceptical that those responsible for his killing would be brought to justice. Many expect his killing to fuel further unrest.

A curfew had been imposed on Diyarbakir’s Sur district where the killing took place.

Members of the Diyarbakir Bar Association, which Elçi headed, took to the streets to demand justice.

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said on Sunday the gun found next to Elçi's body was the same weapon used in the attack on the police officers. He vowed to catch the killers.

But Selahattin Demirtas, co-chair of the pro-Kurdish People's Democratic Party (HDP), cast doubt on whether those responsible would be exposed. "Our scepticism is fair as so many similar sufferings have taken place on our land in the past," he said at the funeral.

Hundreds of people have been killed since a ceasefire between the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and Turkish security forces collapsed in July, reigniting a conflict in which some 40,000 people have died since it began in 1984.

With Elçi’s death, the fighting is likely to escalate as Turkey intensifies its attacks against Kurdish forces on the borders with Syria and Iraq.

The recent upsurge in violence in Turkey is in part another consequence of the civil war in Syria.

The success of the US-backed Kurdish “resistance” to ISIS in Syria galvanised the Kurdish political movement inside Turkey, but the new Kurdish-controlled enclave in Syria is viewed as a potential threat by the Turkish government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who in the past had embraced negotiations with the PKK but is now pursuing a more hawkish policy.

The violence spiked in July, when a suicide bomber killed 33 people at a community centre in the Turkish border town of Suruç, where volunteers were preparing to bring aid to the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobane on the Turkish border, which withstood a siege by ISIS last year.

Two days later, PKK militants killed two Turkish police officers in retaliation for the bombing. The Kurds blame the government for embracing a lax policy toward ISIS, who were suspected of carrying out the bombing.

As the fighting escalated, Elçi appealed for calm and a return to the peace process between the government and the PKK. Along with other lawyers, he applied for permission to visit the PKK’s imprisoned leader, Abdullah Ocalan, hoping that he would issue an appeal for his followers to stop fighting.

The government rejected his application. Thus, “we understand that the government wants the armed clashes to continue. I think both sides want this,” Elçi lamented.

Active as a human-rights lawyer since the 1990s, he played a critical role in investigating alleged abuses by the Turkish state.

Although he does not consider the PKK a terrorist organisation, as do Ankara and Washington, he is also outspoken in his criticism of Kurdish militants. In a city shaken by violence, on Saturday he spoke the language of rights and law, of political process.

“The situation is very bad, but I’m afraid that it will be worse,” he said in one of his last interviews, with TIME, in his office in Diyarbakir on 9 November.

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