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Amidst Hopes Of Peace With Kurds, Turkey Still Faces Scourge Of Land Mines

Mardin, one of the Turkish provinces still riddled with land mines
Mardin, one of the Turkish provinces still riddled with land mines
Ugur Ergan, Okan Konuralp and Feyzi Kizilkoyun

TUNCELI - The recent death of two Turkish soldiers by a mine blast has brought the land mine issue to the country’s agenda once more – and at a moment ripe with hope for lasting peace with Kurdish minority.

Turkey, a signatory of the Ottawa Treaty in 2003 was supposed to clear its territory of mines before March 1, 2014. But less than a year away, the deadline seems unrealistic: hundreds of thousands of mines must still be removed.

The last official recording in 2008 show Turkey had a total of 982,777 mines within its borders, of which 818,220 are anti-personnel and 164,497 are anti-vehicle, as well as another 15,150 anti-personnel mines used for training. The total means Turkey has more mines than any of the other the Ottawa signatories.

There is a land mine for every 73 people in Turkey according to the initiative A Landmine-Free Turkey. This ratio rises to a land mine for every 10 people in certain locations, such as the provinces of Mardin, Batman, Van, Diyarbakir, Tunceli, Bingol, Agri and Sirnak, where about 800 village roads are mined, including some 50% considered at “high-level threat” of detonating.

Ten more years?

The work of clearing the mines at the Turkey-Syrian border was supposed to begin in October 2011, but the civil war in Syria prevented it from beginning. Turkey is now expected to ask for an additional decade to carry out its pledge to the Ottowa Treaty. Data by anti-land mine NGOs show that the most of the Turkish land mines are at the Syrian border (about 613,000) followed by the Iranian border (about 195,000), Iraqi border (about 69,000) and the Armenian border (about 22,000).

The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) Leader Kemal KilicdaroÄŸlu has declared: “Let the mined areas be cleared and given to the villagers without land.” Selahattin Demirtas, co-leader of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) made a call to both the Turkish military and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) to declare the locations of the mines they have laid.

Demirtas claimed neither the military nor the rebels have mine maps. “Land mines were laid at areas close to the civilians and named conflict zones in recent years. We know hundreds of locations were mined with the logic of ambush, but there is no map for where the mines were laid," he said. "Theses mines are now a danger to everybody. Both sides have duties since we entered a period of non-conflict, PKK is preparing to begin the withdrawal and important steps are being taken for the solution of the Kurdish problem.”

Demirtas said the state should clear its own mines while the PKK should declare where theirs are as they begin their withdrawal.

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FOCUS: Israel-Palestine War

Turkey-Israel Relations? It's Complicated — But The Gaza War Is Different

Turkish President Erdogan has now called on the International Criminal Court to go after Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu for war crimes, as the clash between the two regional powers has reached a new low.

Photo of ​Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan walking

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan

Elias Kassem

Since the arrival two decades ago of now President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s relationship with Israel has been a mix of deep ideological conflict and cover-your-eyes realpolitik.

On the one hand, Erdogan has positioned himself as a kind of global spokesman for the Palestinian cause. His Justice and Development Party has long publicly and financially supported Hamas, which shares similar roots in the 20th-century Muslim Brotherhood movement.

And yet, since 2001 when Erdogan first came to power, trade between Turkey and Israel has multiplied from $1.41 to $8.9 billion in 2022. Moreover, both countries see major potential in transporting newly discovered Israeli natural gas to Europe, via Turkey.

The logic of shared interests clashes with the passions and posturing of high-stakes geopolitics. Diplomatic relations have been cut off, then restored, and since October 7, the countries’ respective ambassadors have been recalled, with accusations flying between Erdogan and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Still, over the past 48 hours, Turkish-Israeli relations may have hit an all-time low.

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