The latest killing took place in Diyarbakir. AA photo.
ISTANBUL, Turkey – Unidentified gunmen have murdered a Turkish soldier in the southeast of the country, the military said on Thursday, in the fourth such killing in less than a week, dealing a further blow to an already shaky peace process between Kurdish militants and the Turkish state.
Two masked men shot the officer at close range in the back of the head while he was out shopping with his family on Wednesday afternoon in Diyarbakir, the largest city in Turkey's predominantly Kurdish southeast, the military said in a statement.
The incident comes only days after three Turkish soldiers were gunned down on Saturday in Hakkari province further east, also while out shopping, which the military has since blamed on militants from the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
Those killings were reportedly in retaliation for the killing of three PKK insurgents a day earlier in eastern Kars province after the militants had launched a raid on a power plant. The military condemned Wednesday's “brutal” attack but said it had not yet identified the assailants.
The recent spate of violence has threatened to derail fragile peace negotiations launched by Ankara two years ago with the PKK's jailed leader Abdullah Ocalan. Apart from isolated incidents, the country had enjoyed a relative calm since the start of talks, and after Ocalan called a ceasefire to mark the Kurdish New Year in March 2013.
The unrest broke out across the southeast earlier this month with deadly riots by Kurds outraged over Turkey's reluctance to intervene in the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobane on the Turkish frontier where Kurdish fighters were struggling against an onslaught by Islamic State (ISIS) jihadists. More than 30 were killed in street violence of a scale not seen since the early 1990s.
Under increasing international pressure, Turkey has since allowed Peshmerga fighters from Iraqi Kurdistan to cross over its territory and on Thursday some 150 of them were waiting to cross into Kobane to fight alongside their Kurdish brethren.
However, the events surrounding Kobane have laid bare a deep sense of mistrust between many of Turkey's estimated 15 million Kurds and Ankara. In a move likely to enflame tensions further, the main pro-Kurdish People's Democratic Party (HDP) has called for people to take to the streets on November 1 in solidarity with Kobane's Kurdish defenders and to protest Turkey's alleged support of ISIS.
Ankara has already blamed the HDP for this month's riots. Kurdish politicians and many ordinary Kurds accuse Turkey of helping ISIS, a charge it denies, while Ankara is wary of helping Kurds across the border in Syria because it sees them as an extension of the PKK.
While both the government and Ocalan have delivered upbeat messages saying the peace process was still on track, the fallout over Kobane and the resulting violence may be harder to contain.
For many Turks the mere idea of talking to the PKK, whose insurgency has led to the death of some 40,000 people over the past 30 years, is too much to stomach, and the sight of flag-draped coffins of dead soldiers will only harden that resistance.
While Turkey's current government has done more to enhance the rights of Kurds than any other in the country's history, many Kurds say they do not go far enough. Some critics also say Ankara's peace moves are aimed solely at securing Kurdish votes in next year's general elections.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has made clear his desire to turn Turkey's current political system into a executive presidential, entrusting him with more powers. However, in order to do so the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) will need an overall majority to be able to change the constitution.