DIYARBAKIR, Turkey—It was nearly midnight on July 23 when a slew of Turkish police officers raided Mehmet Cedinkaya’s home and detained his 17-year-old mentally disabled son, Azat.
Earlier that day in their poor neighborhood in Diyarbakir, the de facto capital of the country’s southeastern Kurdish region, assailants had fatally shot one police officer and injured another. Azat was one of 17 suspects taken into custody.
“He doesn’t even know how to talk or count,” said Cedinkaya when I spoke with him a couple weeks later. “He’s just a boy who was playing outside on the street [at the time of the attack], and they took him to terrorize us. … This is all a part of Turkey’s war against the Kurds.”
That war, in turn, is part of a complex web of regional alliances and existential struggles. Three of the most potent forces in the region today—the rise of ISIS, the Syrian civil war, and political flux in Turkey—have placed the Kurds in an especially precarious position, with consequences for the fate of one of the Middle East’s largest ethnic groups. The durability of Turkish-Kurdish peace and the very future of Turkey are also at stake in the fight.
The day before the shooting in Diyarbakir, two more Turkish police officers were killed near the Syrian border in an attack claimed by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a Marxist-inspired Kurdish separatist group that has been fighting an on-again, off-again insurgency against Turkey since 1984. That conflict has claimed an estimated 40,000 lives.