Turkey-PKK clashes intensify near Iraq border

The last days has seen a rise in clashes between the Turkish Armed Forces and militants from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in the country’s south-east near the Iraqi border with casualties reported on both sides.

On Monday, the press office of the Turkish army announced that a soldier had died in clashes after PKK militants fired at a military helicopter that was airdropping soldiers for an operation against the Kurdish militants. The PKK had previously claimed that two Turkish soldiers were killed in the assault on the helicopter.

The governorate of the city of Hakkari where the operations are taking place announced that “22 separatist terrorists were neutralised in the army’s operations”. The PKK, however, says two of its fighters were killed in the clashes.

Turkey’s Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu had signalled at more operations against the PKK in a recent speech, saying they would “wipe out” the Kurdish armed group. Turkey has intensified operations ahead of the upcoming constitutional referendum and deployed thousands of soldiers and armoured vehicles at the Iraq border.

In an interview last week, PKK Commander Cemil Bayik had said that they did not want to escalate the fighting before the country goes to vote in the constitutional reform referendum. “However,” Bayik continued, “we have to resist against all these military operations. It is not possible for us to just sit back while the AKP government is conducting all of these operations to ‘annihilate us’.”

In January this year, Turkish authorities claimed security forces had killed 10,000 PKK members since a return to clashes in July 2015. The figure was deemed unrealistic by commentators.