"Turkey's Kurdish conflict is becoming more violent, with more than 700 dead in fourteen months, the highest casualties in thirteen years," concluded the International Crisis Group, a conflict resolution organization that has extensively researched Turkey's war with the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK.
"We're seeing the longest pitched battles between the army and the PKK, we're seeing a wide-spread campaign of kidnapping, suicide bombings and terrorist attacks by the PKK. They're very much on the offensive and unfortunately this is matched by much harder line rhetoric on both sides," added Hugh Pope, the chief author of the International Crisis Group report, in an interview with CNN.
115 Kurdish rebels killed in 14 days
Last weekend alone, at least eight Turkish police officers and four soldiers were killed in two separate ambushes in southeastern Turkey. The PKK promptly claimed responsibility for both attacks.
The Turkish government, meanwhile, claims to have killed hundreds of PKK fighters in recent months, both in operations in southeastern, predominantly Kurdish-populated Turkey and during air raids against suspected PKK camps in the mountains of northern Iraq.
"Within the last month, in the operations executed throughout the region, about 500 terrorists were eliminated," Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a speech Monday. "We will on the one hand develop Turkey and on the other hand continue to tirelessly struggle against this terrorist organization that has bloody hands."
The escalation of violence and hard-line rhetoric on both sides has jeopardized hopes of bringing an end to a conflict that has bedeviled Turkey for 30 years. It also threatens to destabilize a member of the NATO military alliance that is already grappling with the influx of more than 80,000 refugees fleeing the civil war in neighboring Syria.
For decades, the Turkish state discriminated against the Kurds, Turkey's largest ethnic minority, which now makes up roughly 20% of the population. The Kurdish language was banned, and Kurds were long referred to as "mountain Turks."
The PKK, led by one of its founders, Abdullah Ocalan, launched a bloody campaign to carve out an independent homeland for Kurds from Turkey, as well as neighboring Iran, Iraq and Syria, in the 1980s. The conflict killed more than 30,000 people, most of them ethnic Kurds.
The war that raged across southeastern Turkey subsided when the PKK declared a unilateral cease-fire for several years after Ocalan was captured in 1999.
In 2005, Erdogan's government began secret talks with PKK leaders.
His Justice and Development Party, or AKP, also made a number of overtures toward the Kurds, relaxing bans on Kurdish language education, appearing to apologize for past discriminatory policies and launching a state Kurdish-language TV station.
"The AKP government actually did more for the Kurds than anyone up until now," Pope said. "[But] when a wave of massive arrests of legitimate Kurdish politicians began, that's when I think young people especially lost hope and the PKK's arguments for the legitimacy of armed struggle became persuasive to them."
Turkish authorities have arrested thousands of Kurdish activists, intellectuals and politicians in the past several years. Many of those targeted are members of the Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, a legal Kurdish political party that elected 29 members to parliament on independent ballots in 2011.
According to this month's International Crisis Group report, those arrested "include elected deputies, mayors (some from major cities and districts), provincial councilors, party officials and ordinary activists. Many have been accused of membership in a terrorist organization, but not of committing any violent act."
Last week, 44 journalists…