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Before It Can Hope to Fight Militants, Turkey Has Its Own Troubles To Tame


Turkey will need to start forming a temporary government next week after politicians failed to agree on a coalition to run parliament. But gridlocked politicians are fast becoming the least of Turkey's worries. Dozens of security forces and hundreds of Kurdish fighters have been killed after the collapse of a two-year ceasefire. Sympathizers of ISIS have named Turkey as their latest target. And on top of all of that, the country's popular Aegean coast is swamped with immigrants desperate to get to Europe. NPR's Peter Kenyon joins us from Istanbul. Hi, Peter.


VIGELAND: And not long ago, Turkey was the envy of the region, an economy out-performing most EU countries. This seems like a very swift turn of events.

KENYON: Well, basically, you're looking at a country here awash in crises. The Turkish lira's hitting record lows against the dollar. Every day, the headlines bring a new bad subject to bear. As far as ordinary Turks can tell, their leaders are too busy fighting over power to do much about it.

VIGELAND: And this week, as we mentioned, the Islamic State called on supporters to attack Turkey. There was a new video from them. Are Turks worried about that threat?

KENYON: They are, very much so. No one really knows how many ISIS sympathizers have crossed into Turkey at this point. Turkey analyst Soner Cagaptay at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy says these calls for an attack came after the president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, reached agreement with Washington to let U.S. jets launch air strikes against ISIS from Turkish bases. Here's how he put it.

SONER CAGAPTAY: Unfortunately, I can predict that Turkey could face further ISIS attacks in the future.

VIGELAND: All right. Well, Peter, you are about to begin a reporting trip to southeast Turkey where the resumption of hostilities between the army and Kurdish militants is really being felt most acutely. How did this peace process fall apart?

KENYON: Well, this is something that was once seen as a crowning achievement of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, if he could achieve it, ending these decades-long conflict with the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK. They harbor ambitions of an independent state. But two years of talks have now collapsed. Roadside bombs are killing Turkish soldiers and police, and Turkish security forces say nearly 800 Kurds have been killed in military strikes. That figure is not confirmed, but it's certainly a sign that things have really deteriorated.

VIGELAND: All right. Well, moving on to the next disaster. Turkey also shouldering a huge refugee burden, hosting some two million people fleeing conflicts in Syria, Iraq, elsewhere. And now it's being criticized for not preventing thousands of people from attempting to get to Greece in these small, inflatable boats.

KENYON: Well, it's true, and people are saying they're not doing enough to stop them - that's Turks living on the coast who are saying that and, of course, European leaders. The island of Kos is just a few miles offshore. It's a favorite destination for these migrants. Many Turks have mixed emotions, really, about it. I mean, they're proud of their government's humanitarian generosity hosting all these people, but they're growing increasingly frustrated with some of the fallout.

VIGELAND: Well, Peter, all of this happening as Turkey's ruling party is stumbling at the polls, not able to form a coalition government - you have to wonder what Turks are thinking at this point.

KENYON: Absolutely. It is a big question. The politics are interesting. Analysts say Erdogan is gambling that all these crises will drive voters back to the ruling AK party in the elections this fall. Time will tell if he's right, but the question is what kind of country will be left at that point. I mean, one example, Turkey's supposed to be hosting a G20 summit this November, right there on the migrant-clogged Aegean coast, at a time when the economy's slumping. It's not even clear there'll be a government in place when these dignitaries are due to arrive. Now the Turkish leaders are saying calm down. Things will turn around. It's OK, and Turks are certainly hoping that's the case, but they don't have a lot of confidence right now.

VIGELAND: NPR's Peter Kenyon speaking with us from Istanbul. Thank you.

KENYON: Thanks, Tess. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Peter Kenyon is NPR's international correspondent based in Istanbul, Turkey.
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