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PKK Conflict Sparks Fears of Wider Turkey-Kurdish Clashes

Thousands of demonstrators carry Turkey's national flags during a march protesting recent Kurdish militant attacks on Turkish security forces, in Ankara, Turkey, Sept. 17, 2015.

Widespread anger toward a Kurdish rebel group in Turkey is widening to include that country's Kurdish minority.

As fighting escalates between Turkish security forces and the PKK,Turkish nationalists have held nationwide protests against the Kurdish rebels. More than 100 soldiers and police have been killed since the collapse of a two-year cease-fire and peace process.

The rising death toll has prompted Turkish nationalists to target their anger not only at the PKK, but at Turkey’s wider Kurdish minority as well.

Kurds make up about about 20 percent of Turkey's population.

Living in fear

Ahmed, a Kurd, says he lives in fear of lynching. He and a friend once saw a big protest on the main avenue and tried to move away but were recognized as Kurds for their darker skin, he says, adding that protesters started to insult them, asking what they were doing there and terrorized them.

Kurds in Turkey, he says, are there just to work and make money.

Like many Kurds, Ahmed left his home in the predominantly Kurdish southeast to work in construction in Istanbul. He lives on site in cramped accommodations with Turkish workers and says tensions are high, especially with nearly daily reports of PKK attacks.

Trying to keep the peace is construction foreman Cihad, a Kurd who has lived in Istanbul for more than 20 years.

Tensions at work

Cihad says he tells his fellow Kurdish workers that they shouldn't talk about politics and to just focus on work. He says tensions at work worsen when the Turkish workers read nationalist inflammatory posts against Kurds on social media.

Until recently, being Kurdish was never an issue, according to Cihad. But now, fearing possible attacks, he no longer plays Kurdish music in his car and is careful not to speak Kurdish on the streets.

Recently, in the provincial city of Bolua, a group of Kurdish workers narrowly escaped being lynched by Turkish nationalists. Police had to evacuate them in an armored car.

All the Turkey's main political leaders have appealed for calm, but observers warn the escalating conflict with the PKK could also lead to a wider Kurdish-Turkish conflict.