War-weary Turkish Kurds long for end to conflict

Gokan Alexandre Gunes
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Residents sit under trees in the district of Sur in Diyarbakir, southeastern Turkey, on October 31, 2015

Residents sit under trees in the district of Sur in Diyarbakir, southeastern Turkey, on October 31, 2015 (AFP Photo/Bulent Kilic)

Diyarbakir (Turkey) (AFP) - As they digest the resounding victory of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's party in Turkey's general election, residents of the mainly Kurdish city of Diyarbakir say they want only one thing from the new government: peace.

A tentative peace had prevailed for two years, after peace talks between the government and the militant separatist Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) yielded a ceasefire.

But the truce crumpled in late July after the fighting resumed with a flurry of tit-for-tat attacks and mutual fingerpointing.

"40,000 dead since 1984...That's enough, it has to stop," Seehriban Cinak said with a sigh.

In Sur district, where Cinak lives, young PKK supporters have traded fire with the police on a regular basis over the past three months.

On Sunday, security was tight as voters lined up to cast their ballots in polling stations with walls pockmarked by bullets.

The tensions were driven even higher by recent attacks on a pro-Kurdish peace rally in Ankara that killed 102 people -- the bloodiest in the country's modern history.

"The people who until yesterday were accustomed to war, have became accustomed over the past two and a half years to peace, serenity, a lack of fighting. Thus the people who got used to that peace, that comfort, will not return to the war of the 90s," Hakan Akbal, the 39-year-old president of an association of young entrepreneurs in the region, said.

With almost half the vote, Erdogan's conservative Justice and Development Party (AKP) rebounded in spectacular style from an electoral setback in June to reclaim the outright majority it had enjoyed for the previous 13 years.

The pro-Kurdish People's Democratic Party (HDP) lost ground on the other hand, barely scraping past the 10-percent threshold needed to stay in parliament.

In Diyarbakir, the unofficial capital of Turkey's Kurds, the AKP won two of the 11 seats to be filled, doubling its June tally by warning throughout the campaign of "chaos".

All eyes in Diyarbakir are now on Ankara, as they anxiously await Erdogan's next move.

- Peace process 'on ice' -

"The peace process is in the president's hands. It's he who initiated it...and he who derailed it," said Nevzat Celikten, 65, adding: "It's up to him to take care of it".

During campaigning Erdogan, who had been praised for launching peace talks with the PKK in late 2012, had vowed to continue the fight against the Kurdish "terrorists" to the bitter end.

In his first remarks after his party's poll triumph Sunday he maintained the same tough rhetoric, declaring that voters had "delivered an important message for the PKK: oppression and bloodshed can not coexist with democracy".

In August, at the height of the state's bombing campaign against PKK bases and the rebels' deadly attacks on the security forces, Erdogan had declared the peace process to be "on ice".

Blaming the breakdown of the negotiations squarely on the separatists, he said: "Unfortunately, they (the Kurds) did not understand what we did for them."

The PKK and many Kurds see things differently: they blame Ankara's failure to keep its promises of reforms to improve the lot of Kurds for the breakdown in dialogue.

"The elections are over, we have to restart the process," Omer Ak, a 48-year-old fireplace vendor in Diyarbakir, told AFP.

"Bloodshed begets bloodshed. It's time to wipe the slate clean," he urged.

Analysts say however the resumption of talks looks like unlikely, at least in the short-term.

"This government has always declared ending violence to be its priority. Dialogue will only come later," Dogu Ergil, an expert on Kurdish affairs at Istanbul's Fatih University predicted.

The prospect of peace delayed worries Seehriban Cinak.

"The government and the PKK both showed they really didn't care about us," she said.

"Today, children who are barely two or three already know what war is like."