As Turkey reels from a string of terror attacks in its capital, an approaching ominous event raises fears of fresh violence. Nevruz, a spring festival observed by Turkic communities around the world and widely embraced by Turkey's Kurdish population, has another meaning for a particular group in Turkey. For years, it has been used to make a show of force by the PKK terrorist organization, as it exploits far-right Kurdish nationalism. The festival will be officially marked on Monday, but the supporters of the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), which maintains close links with the terrorist organization, wants to observe it on Sunday to attract more crowds to the streets over the weekend.
Sunday and Monday celebrations by pro-PKK groups were banned across the country, while authorities cited concerns of "provocation" during the events. Security measures also escalated in cities where the HDP plans to hold rallies regardless of the ban with riot police scheduled to be deployed in central venues.
In Istanbul, the country's most populated city, and in Diyarbakır, where a predominantly Kurdish population lives, authorities turned down requests by the HDP for Nevruz celebrations on Sunday, though the governorate in Diyarbakır permitted an event by the Democratic Regions Party (DBP), an affiliate of the HDP, on Monday.
Istanbul Governor Vasip Şahin told reporters on Friday that the public should remain assured that all security measures have been taken to ensure against any potential incidents during Nevruz. "We received several requests for celebrations but rejected them in consideration of the safety of people who would attend the events and the safety of other residents of Istanbul. We believe it is not an appropriate time to mark Nevruz," he said, referring to heightened security measures following last week's bombing in the capital Ankara that killed 35 people. "I call on the public not to heed illegitimate calls," he said, referring to HDP rallies.
Istanbul was on alert after the Ankara bombing sent shockwaves around the country, and security concerns prompted a shutdown of the German consulate and a German school in Istanbul on Thursday. The Istanbul governorate slammed the decision based on unfounded rumors and ruled out a lack of security. "We think it is wrong to incite panic among people by exaggerated news stories and rumors," Şahin told reporters, adding that people should not trust "sensational rumors on social media." Social media is awash with bomb alerts in several cities that more often than not turn out to be false.
Other governorates in southeastern and eastern regions where the majority of Kurds live did not allow Nevruz events to be staged by pro-PKK groups. Though no reason was given, it was attributed to security concerns, as Turkey is on alert following last week's bomb attack. It was the third attack in the capital in five months and added to a death toll of 130 from the two previous bombings. The PKK has exploited the Nevruz celebrations in the past, especially in the 1990s when the terrorist organization stepped up its campaign of violence, and celebrations used to be a scene of fierce confrontations between police and pro-PKK groups. Authorities fear the PKK, an affiliate of the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons (TAK) that claimed responsibility for the latest Ankara attack, may turn the celebrations into another show of force or that revelers themselves may become the target of a terror attack by DAESH, a terrorist organization that PKK-linked groups confront in Syria. DAESH was responsible for the first Ankara bombing last year, which killed 102 people, as well as a suicide bombing in Istanbul that killed 12 German tourists.
The HDP is defying the bans on celebrations, and party officials said they would mark the celebrations as already planned for Istanbul and other cities.
It remains to be seen whether the celebrations will mark a turning point for the PKK as they did last year when the organization's jailed leader, Abdullah Öcalan, called on the militants to lay down their arms in response to a government-sponsored "reconciliation process." Öcalan's call followed the launch of the process in 2012, nearly three decades after the PKK started its terror attacks, indiscriminately targeting security officers and civilians and killing tens of thousands of people. The reconciliation process was somewhat suspended after the terrorist organization renewed its campaign following last summer's deadly bombing at a rally in the southeastern town of Suruç. The government blamed the attack on DAESH, but since the attack, which the PKK views as a blow to the reconciliation process by the government it has accused of supporting DAESH, hundreds of police officers, troops and civilians have been killed in the southeastern by the PKK.
Nevruz is also the time of the spring thaw in which militants hiding out in mountainous territory in northern Iraq have infiltrated Turkey in the past. HDP officials have said that "clashes" may increase with the arrival of spring and "spread to urban centers."
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