For most Germans, the conflict between Turkey and the Kurdish separatist group PKK on the country's border with Iraq seems, no doubt, far away. But Berliners on Sunday got a taste of the tiff up close and personal.
An anti-PKK demonstration in Berlin's Kreuzberg district degenerated into violence between young Turks and Kurds on Sunday afternoon. By evening, a threatening mass of nationalist Turks had gathered around a Kurdish cultural center.
Several hundred people took part in the demonstration, which ran under the banner of "Unity and Fraternity between Kurds and Turks." Roughly one hundred demonstrators were protesting peacefully, waving Turkish flags and calling out anti-PKK slogans. Several hundred police tried to dispel or round up the protestors.
"Bottles and stones were flying everywhere," said a police spokesman. According to police sources, 18 police were injured and 15 demonstrators arrested, eight of whom remain in custody.
Claudia Schmid, head of Berlin's security police, expects that the conflict on the border between Turkey and Iraq will be catalyst for further violence on the streets of Berlin. She estimates that roughly 1,000 members of the prohibited Kurdish PKK party are living in Germany's capital.
"The conflict in the border region with Iraq has already spilled over into Berlin. We have to be careful and look the problem straight in the eye," she said on German radio.
At the root of the violence are Turkish nationalist groups close to the "Gray Wolves," the unofficial militant arm of what used to be the National Movement Party, which was banned in Turkey in 1980. Schmid said that rowdy German youth who traditionally take part in the annual May 1 riots in Kreuzberg also entered the fray.
Interior Senator Ehrhart Körting (SPD) said: "This is not what we want here." People are allowed to demonstrate in Berlin but they have to stick to the democratic rules. The young Turks - in particular right wing extremist, nationalist Turks -- did not.
The police union explained that it was the Turks that went after the Kurds after the demonstration. Its press statement read: "Only the massive contingent of armed police could prevent uncontrolled violence on Berlin's streets." Helmut Sarwas, deputy chairman of the union, said: "People running in a mob with machetes through Kreuzberg, injuring police, must be made to feel the full force of the democratic state." He claimed that Berlin police are having to deal with an increasing number of conflicts of international origin, in which they often end up between enemy fronts.
On Saturday, roughly 500 Kurds demonstrated in Berlin against Turkey's threatening military intervention in northern Iraq. Three people were arrested.