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Turkey And ISIS Are Both Fighting The Kurds And Each Other

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Now let's explore a situation at least as confusing as the markets. It's the conflict along the border between Turkey and Syria. What makes it hard to follow is that there's so many sides, and even allies do not necessarily share the same interests. Turkey says it's targeting the self-proclaimed Islamic State across the border, but it's also targeting ethnic Kurds who are also fighting the Islamic State. To update the old saying - the enemy of my enemy is still my enemy. NPR's Peter Kenyon is in southeastern Turkey.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: After two years of relative peace and quiet, Kurds in southeast Turkey now have multiple threats to choose from.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

KENYON: Dozens of people were killed last month in this suicide bombing in the border town of Suruc, and the bomber was identified as a Turk with possible ties to ISIS. Soon after, an ISIS video called for attacks in Turkey after Ankara finally agreed to let U.S. jets launch anti-ISIS airstrikes from here.

Yesterday, the Pentagon confirmed that Turkey will join in those airstrikes. The Kurdish town of Silvan has been heavily damaged as Turkish security forces clash with young Kurdish fighters from the PKK, the Kurdistan Workers' Party, which has sought independence from Turkey. In one crumbling neighborhood, municipal official Afif Durkac worries that he'll be arrested as many Kurdish political figures have been recently.

But he's also worried about ISIS. His thinking goes like this. First, ISIS doesn't like the Turks. But second, it really hates the Kurds, whose Syrian fighters have been defeating ISIS in northern Syria. And third, the part of Turkey closest to ISIS is the Kurdish southeast, putting him and his family at risk.

AFIF DURKAC: (Through interpreter) We're very concerned about attacks from ISIS supporters. They behave just like Islamist groups from the 1990s. They move into a neighborhood, get established. And just when you think everything's going to be normal, the attacks start.

KENYON: Durkac shares the widely held view here that ISIS is at least tolerated and at times assisted by the Turkish government. Turkey vehemently denies this. But Firat Anli, the co-mayor of Diyarbakir, the largest city in the area, says many of his constituents think the government views ISIS as the enemy of its enemy - the Kurds.

FIRAT ANLI: (Through interpreter) This government, with its Islamic State of mind, seems to believe that whoever makes the Kurds bleed can do so.

KENYON: You could get dizzy trying to keep track of who's the enemy here and who are the allies. ISIS lumps Turkey and Kurdish fighters together as a single enemy, while Turkey's president says the PKK fighters are terrorists just like ISIS. But some people here say the situation is too dire to play politics with. Nejdet Ipekyuz, a Kurdish analyst at the Diyarbakir Center for Political and Social Research, says people need to be reminded that ISIS is a mortal danger to Kurds and Turks alike.

NEJDET IPEKYUZ: (Through interpreter) ISIS is a huge threat to this region. Personally, I'm very frightened whenever they go quiet. This is their style. They wait, build up strength and then they erupt into violence. It could come at any time.

KENYON: Ipekyuz says the damage ISIS inflicts on the territory it invades can last for years.

IPEKYUZ: (Through interpreter) ISIS has shown it can wipe out infrastructure, government, natural resources. They can totally devastate an area. Maybe some in Turkey think that's OK if it happens to Kurds, but this same threat faces Turkish towns as well. Turks and Kurds have fought for over 30 years, but there was never this kind of annihilating threat as we see from ISIS.

KENYON: In Diyarbakir's old city, where clashes between young Kurds and Turkish security forces occur almost nightly, 68-year-old grandmother Emine Altan worries for a younger generation growing up with the threat of horrific violence.

EMINE ALTAN: (Through interpreter) Of course we're terrified. These people are barbarians. We're hearing awful stories, that they're raping young boys, all kinds of horrible things. Even the kids had the fear of ISIS in their hearts now.

KENYON: The adults, meanwhile, fear that the government isn't doing enough to prevent ISIS from spreading its terror to Turkey. Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Diyarbakir, southeastern Turkey. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.