Ethnic tensions rise in Turkey's Altınova

Balıkesir Governor Selahattin Hatipoğlu tried to downplay the situation by claiming that the clash erupted for economic reasons. The Democratic Society Party (DTP) and the Human Rights Association (İHD) sent delegations to the town on fact-finding missions, reported Worldbulletin.

According to witnesses, a group of youngsters were playing loud music on Tuesday in front of a building in which Kurds formed the majority of residents. The witnesses claimed that the youngsters in the car had in the past had hostile relations with the residents of the building, who warned them to stop playing the music. A quarrel between the two groups escalated when they called in their friends for assistance. M.A. then drove his car toward the group, playing the music and two were killed. Some houses and shops belonging to Kurds were attacked and set on fire, subsequently extinguished by the fire department. A group of people then formed and marched through the town, shouting slogans such as "We don't want Kurds here" and "Kurds out."

Funerals for the two victims were held on Wednesday and increased tension as new attacks on Kurds took place. The gendarmerie intervened, detaining 46 individuals. Entry into and exit from Altınova is now strictly controlled by the gendarmerie; some Kurds have already left.

Altınova, a holiday resort and district of Ayvalık, has for long been a scene of ethnic clashes. A story published by Sunday's Zaman on Nov. 11, 2007 described the situation in the town with the headline "'Town of the First Bullet' Ayvalık reveals bitter ethnic rift."

However, Governor Hatipoğlu, addressing the public yesterday, said the clashes erupted for economic reasons. "The incident erupted because of commercial competition. The youngsters then called their friends to get involved in the fight. All exits from the town will be controlled; everyone should return to their business," he said and added that the responsible persons were detained and that they will soon be arraigned.

"Altınova is a tourism center whose future is bright. Those kinds of events will harm this bright future. The state will ensure security," he said and urged families to keep an eye on the town's youngsters.

Meanwhile, the DTP issued a statement and declared that it had sent a fact-finding delegation including party co-chairperson Emina Ayna.

The İHD also sent a delegation to the town to meet with officials and the public. İHD Chairman Hüsnü Öndül noted that the region was the scene of ethnic rifts before.

"It is very dangerous. Even a small incident can suddenly turn into an ethnic clash. For years people have heard racist propaganda and the state has not taken measures to prevent it," he said.

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