Turkey and Kurdish militants are about as far away as ever from ending their 27-year-old war in the mountains of southeast Turkey and northern Iraq with each side rejecting the other's conditions for restarting peace talks.
More than 40,000 people have been killed in the conflict which has frequently spilled over from Turkey into Iraq, has at times drawn in Iran, and threatens to further complicate the Syrian uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.
Alongside Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s 2009 declaration of a “democratic opening” package of reforms to help solve the Kurdish problem, Turkish officials held a series of secret talks with senior Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) commanders in Oslo.
But those talks broke down and last year the fighting cranked up again and scores more militants, soldiers and innocent civilians have been killed since. Hundreds have also been arrested on charges of secretly supporting the PKK.
Some 700 more people were arrested, and one policeman and a Kurdish activist were killed during Kurdish new year Newroz celebrations that turned into riots this week as police tried to stop a show of popular strength by Kurds across the country.
Both sides blamed the other and traded barbs. Erdogan took aim at the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), a legal Kurdish party, which he accused of being under the control of the PKK leadership based in the Qandil Mountains in northern Iraq.
“I want to address my brothers of Kurdish origin. My brothers, the BDP is a party that cannot stand on its own feet and pursue its own political agenda,” Erdogan told his parliamentary party this week.
The BDP’s 29 members of parliament, the prime minister said, “who were elected by the people do not act on orders from the voters, but from Qandil ... Once again the BDP did what it does best, provoking the masses into what was virtually a rehearsal to turn our cities into a battlefield.”
Erdogan has championed last year’s Arab pro-democracy uprisings and has taken a particularly strong line against his former friend Assad, accusing him of cowardice for refusing to implement reforms and using military force to crush protests.
At home, the Turkish government has decided no longer to speak to the PKK or its jailed leader Abdullah Ocalan, only to civilian politicians, respected columnist Fikret Bila wrote in the Milliyet newspaper.
The military campaign would continue unabated, Bila said.
While Turkish officials declined to confirm or deny the report, fighting on the ground and Erdogan’s own words appeared to bear out at least the pursuit of the military option.
Referring to a current large military operation in southeast Turkey, in which six special forces police and seven PKK fighters have so far been killed, Erdogan said: “There is no stopping. This struggle will continue until the end.”
Five more PKK fighters were killed and two members of the security forces wounded in another operation on Friday, officials said. Turkey, the United States and the European Union all list the PKK as a terrorist organization.
The BDP, the government’s presumed civilian interlocutor, rejected the reported new strategy, saying it was simply a return to the old policy of trying to crush the PKK by force.
BDP leader Selahattin Demirtas confirmed reports he had met a minister ahead of Newroz, but said it had come to nothing.
“They told us they had solved the Kurdish problem and the security approach was successful, there was nothing to talk about and they would carry on applying their security policies,” he told a news conference in the main southeastern city of Diyarbakir on Friday.
New year demonstrations had shown, he said, the Kurdish people “would never give up on their demand for Ocalan’s freedom, and Ocalan, Qandil and the BDP would represent them ... We don’t believe in a solution without Ocalan and the PKK.”
As for the PKK, its field commander urged Kurds to distance themselves even further from the state.
“We must stop serving in the Turkish army, paying taxes and using the Turkish language. A new phase has begun,” Murat Karayilan said in a statement.
He also threatened to turn all Kurdish-populated areas into a “war zone” if Turkish troops enter Syria, an indication the PKK may be taking sides in that conflict.
Turkish officials say they are watching closely for evidence that Syria has renewed its backing for the PKK, a group Damascus supported until Turkish troops massed on its borders in 1998, forcing it to deport Ocalan who was later captured in Kenya.
A renewed alliance between Damascus and the PKK could prompt Turkey to take an even harsher line on Syria and present even less prospect for peace in the Kurdish conflict at home.