The recent sharp increase in Turkish political violence has led to fears that the situation may get out of hand and result in mass disorder reminiscent of neighboring Iran's.

On Thursday, a roughly typical day here, eight people lost their lives, including a 13-year-old Istanbul boy who disobeyed a nighttime military patrol's command to halt.

Acts of terrorism in Turkey, a member of NATO, have become so widespread that fear for one's life is becoming universal -- as is distrust of state authority.

"If things go on like this we will have either a civil war or a coup or both," said a Social Democratic former Cabinet minister in a private conversation.

"Gentlemen, we are losing Turkey," warned Korkut Ozal, a pro-Islamic party member and former interior minister, in parliament recently.

Vehbi Koc, Turkey's most powerful industrialist, said, "We have to draw a lesson from Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan -- if fratricide does not stop, things will get even worse."

Nurettin Yilmaz, an independent deputy, said, "The country is swiftly being dragged into a dictatorship."

The clash is basically between factions of the extreme right and left that do want to replace democracy with dictatorship. Their militants, most of them students or workers, are killing each other in a seemingly interminable blood feud. They are also assassinating liberal and moderate professors, judges, prosecutors and journalists in an attempt to force the noncommitted to take sides and further undermine the state.

The clash has its roots in the economic and social problems of a rapidly changing, underdeveloped, country. The economy is depressed, with high unemployment and also high inflation.

Slums are spreading around major Turkish cities as peasants leave the impoverished countryside for another and more frustrating poverty. When they arrive they find out state services but political activists, who draw them into their camps -- sometimes by force. Thus rootless and hopeless people from similar backgrounds find themselves in militant right-or left-wing camps virtually by chance.

Intricate and diverse interests are exploiting and contributing to the bloodshed. A Turkish mafia is smuggling arms into the country with money earned in heroin trafficking. Kurds, sectarian minorities and religious fanatics, encouraged by events in Iran, are taking active roles.

Political parties also are trying to exploit the terror.

The recent escalation in violence started after Premier Suleyman Demirel's conservative minority government took office about 45 days ago. It is generally believed that terrorists want to discredit Demirel -- as they did his predecessor, Social Democrat Bulent Ecevit -- showing him incapable of controlling the violence.

Demirel, 55, who has about 10 years of experience behind him as prime minister, is fighting back. "I will break the back of the snake," he said recently, giving a free hand to the generals who are in charge of 19 of Turkey's 67 provinces under martial law.

The army is beginning to crack down. Many left-and right-wing teachers' organizations were shut down and over 500 teachers fired after a leftish boycott in secondary schools earlier this week.

Demirel has also prepared a series of anti-terrorist bills which are running into obstruction from Ecevit's Republican People's Party. A lack of consensus on terrorism among political leaders could undermine Demirel's efforts.

Ecevit is suspicious that Demirel seeks to curb democratic freedoms.

Police and intelligence organizations are poorly paid, equipped, and trained. And they are deeply politicized. Fighting among riot policemen on the way to quelling riots is commonplace.

The Army is not trained to fight terrorists. The military is stoutly opposed to intervening in politics. But then, it had sought to avoid intervention in 1971 when it moved to force Demirel out after he proved powerless in the face of terrorism.