On Monday, 13 Turkish military hostages held in Iraqi mountains by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) were found dead by Turkish soldiers. The Turkish government states they were executed by the guerillas and has said that 12 of the bodies have been found to have been shot in the head; the last in the shoulder.
The PKK disputes this, claiming that the hostages were in fact killed by a bomb dropped during a Turkish airstrike. Such air strikes don’t often result in bullet wounds in the head, however.
The US State Department released a statement condemning the PKK, remembering to highlight that the US has already designated the organization as a terrorist group. Regardless, Erdogan took the opportunity to attack the US for what he considers siding with terrorists. The fact that the US supported the Kurds in Syria is reason enough. Erdogan stated that:
“You [America] said you did not support terrorists, when in fact you are on their side and behind them. […] After this, there are two options. Either act with Turkey with no if’s or but’s, without question, or they will be a partner to every murder and bloodshed. […] The terrorist organization on our doorstep, on our borders, is killing innocents.”
The action comes as part of a large conflict between Turkey and the PKK, or on a wider scale, the Kurds. The Kurds are a sizeable minority within Turkey, making up the majority of the population in some of Turkey South East regions. The Kurds tend to support maximizing their autonomy and tend to vote for regional parties opposed to Erdogan and his policies. Their opposition has sometimes takes the violent forms. Turkey has responded by taking actions such as shutting down Kurdish-language TV stations, removing statues honoring Kurdish heroes and even restricting the use of the Kurdish language in higher education. In addition, the military is actively engaged against the more radical Kurdish elements.
The Turkish Ministry of the Interior claims that 718 people across 40 cities found to have connections to the PKK have been arrested. Turkey is also actively engaged in military operations against the PKK in Iraq.