Why is Turkey ramping up its war against anti-ISIS fighters at the same time the United States says ISIS is using chemical weapons?
Over the past week, dozens of people have been killed in fighting between the Turkish government and Kurdish militants. The ceasefire that had held for more than two years broke down in July, when Turkey launched a wave of air attacks against militant bases in southeastern Turkey and in neighboring Iraq.
The latest attacks come as the Pentagon has confirmed ISIS's use of chemical weapons against in a mortar attack on Kurdish forces in August. Kurdish militants had been, and still are, effective fighters against ISIS.
According to the Military Times, fragments that tested positive for sulfur mustard were used in an Aug. 11 ISIS attack that reportedly sickened dozens of Kurdish troops in northern Iraq. This chemical weapon, banned under the Chemical Weapons Convention, blister skin and can damage lungs if inhaled.
Kurds make up a large minority in Turkey and live as well in northern Iraq. “They’re a different ethnic group,” explains Ayla Jean Yackley, a correspondent for Reuters news agency in Turkey. They’re mostly Muslim like the Turks, but Yackley says “they have a different language, a different culture, and different histories.”
There are also large Kurdish minorities in neighboring Iran, Iraq and Syria. Many Kurds are nationalists, seeing themselves as one nation, despite being divided by international borders.
The Kurds in Turkey suffered decades of official discrimination and denial of their culture’s existence. That led to a rebellion in the 1970s that quickly became dominated by a socialist, secular group called the PKK: the Kurdistan Workers Party.
“The PKK is a militant organization,” says Yackley. “It does fashion itself as an authority with the trappings of a political wing, but it is an armed organization that Turkey, the United States and the European Union all consider a terrorist organization.”