The simmering tensions in Turkey’s Kurdish southeast are not only playing out along the country’s border with Iraq, where the military has amassed tens of thousands of troops following renewed clashes with Kurdish rebels holed up in Iraq’s mountainous north. They’re also spilling onto the streets of European cities from Berlin to Brussels to Innsbruck, Austria.
This weekend, authorities are braced for another round of protests in the German capital, where two weeks ago Turkish ultranationalists attacked a Kurdish cultural center, wielding machetes and injuring dozens of people. Last weekend, some 600 mainly Kurdish protesters returned to Hermannplatz—a square in Berlin’s heavily immigrant Neukölln district—to inform the public of their view: that Turkey is still repressing the Kurdish people.
With 2.5 million residents of Turkish origin, including an estimated 400,000 who identify themselves as Kurdish, Germany is home to the largest expatriate community from Turkey and is perhaps the most visible European arena for Turkish-Kurd tensions. The expat violence has prompted politicians including the German interior minister to warn against the Kurdish conflict spilling over to Germany and other European countries.
So far there has been no indication that the clashes were planned. But that does not mean that no group has an interest in using them for their purposes, says Süleyman Bag˘, Berlin correspondent for Zaman, a conservative daily newspaper in Turkey. In particular he refers to the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK), an organization outlawed in Turkey and Germany and classed by the US and the European Union as a terrorist group.
Meanwhile, Kurdish representatives in Germany charge that German-Turkish politicians are doing Turkey’s bidding. Some of them have used the clashes in Berlin for one-sided and unwarranted attacks on the PKK, says Ayten Kaplan of Germany’s Federation of Kurdish Clubs, referring to statements of a prominent member of Germany’s Green party. “I would have hoped these politicians exert a moderating influence instead of polarizing further,” she says.