Turkey admitted Friday to slaughtering as many as 120 Kurdish rebels in raids on their hideouts in northern Iraq last month.
The Kurds have been using northern Iraq as a staging ground for attacks in their 26-year battle to create their own autonomous state in the southeastern portion of Turkey. Turkish Kurdistan – or Northern Kurdistan – comprises nearly a third of the area of Turkey, including some 17 provinces, and is different from Iraqi Kurdistan, which runs along its border.
The Turkish government does not allow education in the region's schools to take place in the Kurdish language. Moreover, the language is barred from use in parliament and other official settings.
As many as 40,000 people have died in the conflict, which has cost Turkey hundreds of millions of dollars in defense spending at the expense of domestic infrastructure projects such as the construction of hospitals and schools.
Allegations of Turkish brutality and the restriction of Kurdish rights have also been instrumental in damaging the country's human rights record – which has, in turn, hurt its chances for entry into the European Union.
On the other side of the coin, most of the rebel fighters belong to the PKK, or Kurdistan Workers Party. The organization has been labeled a terrorist group by the West because it has murdered civilians in civilian bombings, arson and assassination attacks.
According to the Turkish military, some 4,000 rebels are based just across the border in Iraq, and another 2,500 operate inside Turkey.
The Turkish military has recently been using unmanned drones purchased from Israel to attack Kurdish positions. The rebels were located with the use of intelligence apparently provided by the United States, according to a report by the Associated Press.
The Turkish government on May 20 had attacked rebel positions in the Hakurk region of northern Iraq, killing about 100 rebels in what was the largest such air assault since 2008. Another 20 were killed in a ground operation by Turkish commandos near the border town of Uludere.
Major-General Ferit Guler, secretary-general of the Turkish military, stressed Friday that the state should “use economic, socio-cultural and propaganda measures in coordination at the international level for an effective struggle against terrorism.”
Kurdish rebel chief Abdullah Ocalan said May 31 in a message released through his lawyers from the island where he is imprisoned that he was giving his forces in northern Iraq permission to attack freely, after his calls for dialogue with the Turkish government were ignored. The PKK declared an expanded war one day later, on June 1.