ISTANBUL - Thousands took to the streets of Istanbul today to protest the deaths of seventeen Turkish soldiers at the hands of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), crying, "Destroy the PKK," and "We are All Turks."
But much of their anger was directed at America: "Close down Incirlik," referring to America's air base in Turkey, "Tell the U.S. to get out now!" and most emphatically, "Curse the PKK, Curse America!"
One group of protesters, organized by the Turkish Youth Organization, demanded that Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan cut ties with the U.S. government. Young people gathered at a statue of Kemal Ataturk, Turkey's secular founder, and unfurled a banner reading, "Americans Murder Your Darling Mehmet.” (Mehmet is a common male name in Turkey.)
"Turks were always opposed to the Second Iraq War,” Turkish journalist and PostGlobal panelist Soli Ozel explained. “Now, many in Turkey believe the U.S. wants an independent Kurdish state and therefore is at least complicit in partitioning Turkey as well. So far, the U.S. has made many promises but has done nothing against the PKK."
I was interviewing Enzer Yucel, the chairman of the Bahcesehir Education Institution, one of Turkey’s largest private education companies, when the news broke. "Turkey and America must talk immediately and take joint action on this issue,” he said. “I have never seen the view of America at such a low, not even during the Cyprus crisis."
"Is America really at war against terrorism?" he continued. "If so, America should capture the PKK terrorists and give their heads to Turkey. That would improve relations." He gazed out over the Bosporus. "America must talk as soon as possible and collaborate; otherwise, Turkey will definitely take the necessary action. Relations will fall further."
This has been a hectic first day in Turkey. I’m eager to see how widespread the sentiments expressed by Yucel and the protesters are, what cause them, and how they change in different parts of the country. Tomorrow I’ll report from Hakkari, the site of the PKK attack, on what villagers there think of the prospect of war and what they want America to do.