Turkey’s bloodiest massacre and displacement of the Kurds since the 1990s is happening now


Photo caption: Kurşunlu mosque in Amed. Damage is from bombardment by the Turkish military (Photo provided by Diyarbakır Metropolitan Municipality)

The police and military are using every kind of violence against the Kurds. They are using tanks and heavy armoured vehicles. They have flattened houses, historical places, mosques. They use helicopters and technological weapons, night vision binoculars and drones. They don’t let families get to the bodies of youths who were killed. Corpses remain on the streets for weeks.”

Baran describes to Corporate Watch the massacres that are taking place right now in Kurdish cities within Turkey’s borders. Baran is from Amed (Diyarbakır in Turkish). Once a political activist in Kurdistan, he now lives in exile in the UK. Right now, Amed is being besieged by military and police as Turkey carries out the greatest massacres and mass displacement of its Kurdish population since the 1990s. Meanwhile, the city of Cizîr (Cizre) has been left in ruins after two months of operations by state forces.

Baran’s hometown is just one of a number of Kurdish-majority cities within Turkey’s borders that, after an intensification of violence directed at Kurds, declared autonomy from the state last year. Residents erected barricades to protect themselves from the police and military. We asked him whose decision it was to declare autonomy and who built the barricades. He replied:

The neighbourhood assembly made the decision and that assembly was elected by the people who live there. Most of the local people agreed to the declaration of autonomy. The Patriotic Democratic Youth Movement (YDG-H) built the barricades. The main reason for the barricades is to prevent activists and youths from police attacks. Police always carry out raids against them.”

The youths stand armed with kalashnikovs behind the barricades in cities across Bakur (the part of Kurdistan within Turkey’s borders), ready to defend themselves. Turkey has responded to the declarations of autonomy with immense violence, terrorising the Kurdish population as the state declares a war on its own population.

Since August 2015, the state has declared 58 open-ended, round-the-clock curfews on various cities in the south-east of its borders. The Human Rights Foundation of Turkey stated in its February report that “at least 1,337,000 residents have been affected by these curfews and the fundamental rights of these people such as the right to life and the right to health are explicitly violated”. Meanwhile, Turkey’s Human Rights Association reported that:

The curfew itself is a violation of the right to life and prevents the truth about civilian killings from being revealed. In fact, the curfews contribute to the legitimatisation by the government of civilian killings, which are not considered violations of the right to life.”

Residents, including children, are being killed daily by state forces. As the wounded lie dying in the streets, those who try to help them are shot. In Amed, the mother of Turgay Girçek is currently holding a daily vigil to try to reclaim the body of her nineteen year old son, who has been lying dead on the streets for three weeks.

The police and army want to break the will of the people who have declared autonomy,” Baran tells us. “They want to show the other Kurdish neighbourhoods that the state is very strong. They want to spread fear into people’s hearts. They want to break people’s political wills and choices.”

Anti-Kurdish Graffiti on a house in Amed’s Sur district. It reads “God is enough for everything. Esadullah Unit” and “You will see the force of the Turk”. (Photo provided by Diyarbakır Metropolitan Municipality)

Amed is coming up to its 80th day of non-stop curfew. “The police and army attack daily with all available weapons, except bombers and chemicals, against some hundred local defenders of the YPS (Civil Defense Forces),” Ercan Ayboğa, an Amed resident, told us last week. “The less the state is successful in conquesting Sur, the more brutal it becomes.”

He continued:

The human tragedy is deepening step by step without any serious critics from Turkish society and the western allies, which makes the Kurds – always seeking for a real peace – more disappointed. However, after some uncertainty, nowadays the majority of Kurds stand behind the resistance in more than ten cities against Turkish military, occupation and systematic massacres.”

In the city of Cizîr, 139 wounded citizens were trapped in three different basements, without food and water, for weeks. Security forces blocked ambulances that tried to reach the injured, and shot at those who tried to leave the basements. Late last week, the death toll of the trapped citizens had risen to 110 and there was no news from 28 wounded people. Many were caught under debris as one of the buildings collapsed under artillery fire, while others were burnt to death after state forces used petrol to set the building alight. Police also fired teargas into one of the basements, making it impossible for the survivors to breathe.

Yasemin Çıkmaz, who was burnt to death in one of the basements of Cizîr (JINHA News Agency)

JINHA news agency has also reported that unknown chemicals were pumped into the sewer system in Cizîr:

The chemical agent, which has a smell similar to tear gas, has entered residents’ homes through water drains in kitchens and baths. Meanwhile, state forces have shut down the last remaining markets, bakeries and pharmacies in the town until further notice.”

Turkey’s Human Rights Association (IHD) has issued a statement, listing a huge number of human rights violations by the state of Turkey. IHD has documented a number of citizens who have died in Cizîr and Silopi. Amongst those who have lost their lives is a 70 year old elderly man, Selahattin Bozkurt, who was shot dead by security forces as he walked into his garden. A three month old infant, Miray İnce, died after she was seriously injured in the face by gunfire from security forces. Her grandfather, 73 year old Ramazan İnce, was shot dead by security forces as he was trying to carry his granddaughter to an ambulance, while at the same time waving a white flag.
The streets of Cizîr

JINHA has also reported that in the city of Silopi, thousands of people were evicted from their houses and marched to a gymnasium. Sabriye Gizer told JINHA that her family were assaulted as they were forced out of their home. She continued:

“We were walked by force of arms. One woman and one man walked ahead of us. One shouted: ‘Shoot them, shoot them’. They opened fire on them. We don’t know if they are alive. It was cold. We froze. They chose some young people. They took them somewhere. They searched us thoroughly, even our underwear.”

Meanwhile, state violence intensified in Nisêbîn (Nusaybin in Turkish) at the weekend and twelve year old Muğdat Ay was shot dead by state forces as he played marbles in the street. Today (Tuesday) Turkey has also declared a curfew on the citizens of the city of Hezex (Idil in Turkish).

Mass Displacement

The recent attacks on the Kurdish cities have resulted in mass displacement of people who have had to flee their homes. Ercan Ayboğa told us that in Amed, around 50,000 people have evacuated their houses. “Together with the other cities in North Kurdistan, up to half a million people have had to leave their homes,” he stated.

Baran tells us about the people who are the most affected in Amed:

Sur is one of the poorest neighbourhoods in Amed. And it’s highly political, of course. In the 1990s the people were forced to leave their villages and came to the city. [Turkey’s security forces burnt down Kurdish villages in the 90s. Over 3000 villages were wiped from the map, while thousands of people were either killed or disappeared]. And now the same people have again been displaced. One of the reasons for destroying Sur now could be that they want to rebuild it again. It will become a business and district centre.”

Indeed, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu recently stated that Sur district of Amed is to be rebuilt similar to Toledo in Spain. Kurdish HDP co-leader Selahattin Demirtaş responded that it was no coincidence that Davutoğlu compared Sur to Toledo, the Spanish city famous for its struggle against fascism. “After Toledo surrendered to the dictatorial regime, Franco took full control of Spain. Prime Minister [Davutoğlu] now wants to declare his dictatorship by toppling Sur,” he announced last week.

The run-up to declarations of autonomy

To understand the present situation in the Kurdish cities, it is important to give a brief explanation of the succession of attacks on the Kurds that preceded it, and to talk in more detail about why the Kurds have stated that they are autonomous and what autonomy means for them.

Autonomy was declared by locals in the Kurdish cities after months of escalating violence by the state of Turkey. In the run-up to the June 2015 election, the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) was heavily targeted. Its offices were bombed and attacked in various cities, while two bombs killed four people at an HDP rally in Amed (Diyarbakır), attended by hundreds of thousands of people. This attack was blamed on Daesh but many believe that the state was responsible.

The HDP gained 80 seats in parliament in the June election, preventing the governing AKP party from winning a majority and therefore stopping president Erdoğan from changing the constitution and granting himself greater powers. The state responded by punishing its Kurdish population, arresting and imprisoning thousands of people. Journalists were also arrested and media sites were hacked by the state, or blocked by the courts. Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) guerilla bases in the mountains were attacked.

State violence continued and in late June 2015 Daesh crossed from Turkey into the Kurdish city of Kobanê in Rojava, killing 164 people. In July a bomb blast in Pirsûs (Suruç in Turkish) killed 33 young people who were preparing to cross the border to help with the reconstruction of Kobanê.

In response, in July 2015, the PKK abandoned their ceasefire and, around the same time, people in cities across Bakur erected barricades in the streets to defend themselves against the violence of the police and army.

For example, on 28 July 17 year old Hasan Nerse was shot dead by police in Cizîr. His family believe that he was killed because he was wearing Kurdish traditional clothing. In response, residents erected barricades and dug trenches in the Cudi district of Cizîr to prevent state forces from entering. Armed young people stood guard on the barricades.

In August, residents of several cities declared autonomy from the state. “Farqîn (Silvan), Cizîr (Cizre), Silopi, Varto, Ergis (Van), Sêrt (Siirt) and Nisêbîn (Nusaybin) first declared autonomy,” Narin, a resident of Farqîn told us when we visited the city in November 2015. We asked her to explain why they wanted to become autonomous. She explained:

There was a big uprising in solidarity with Kobanê and the state made a new security law giving new powers to the police. Another reason was because of the Suruç and Amed bombings. This is why we started to declare autonomy. Everything is related. But the main reason was the Suruç bombing.”

In Farqîn, citizens erected barricades in three neighbourhoods of their city and on 15 August, Barış Güleryüz of the DBP (Democratic Regions Party) read out a statement on behalf of the people of Farqîn, declaring themselves autonomous from the state. Since then, Barış has been forced into hiding and the HDP (People’s Democratic Party) co-mayor, who was present at the declaration of autonomy, has been imprisoned.

The state of Turkey responded by using intense violence and imposing a series of curfews, culminating in a 12 day siege of the neighbourhoods of Farqîn in November. An official from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) threatened: “the security forces will erase the three Silvan neighbourhoods from the map”.

Children explore the devastation in Farqîn after the Curfew was lifted in November 2015

The barricades in Farqîn have since been destroyed but the residents of the city still believe that they are autonomous.

Zuhal Tekiner, the co-Mayor of Farqîn (Silvan) told us in November 2015:

We believe we will achieve autonomy… We believe that we can change things. When we struggle here we believe that all of Kurdistan is with us…They said they wanted to erase us from the map. Now we will draw the map again”.

We asked Baran, from Amed, to explain why the people of Amed’s Sur district declared autonomy. He told us:

There were already different neighbourhood assemblies in Sur. After the June election and especially after the Suruç bombing they decided to announce an autonomous neighbourhood.”

The people of Bakur (the region of Kurdistan within Turkey) have been organising themselves in a communalist, democratic way since 2007. Despite repression and arrests from the state, neighbourhood assemblies and workers’ co-ops have been flourishing, and the model of democratic autonomy has since been firmly established within Kurdish society. This model of organising society – without the need of the state is as huge threat to Turkey; as is the autonomous majority-Kurdish region of Rojava in the north of Syria, which organises itself in a similar model of democratic confederalism.

The state and the right wing in Turkey are maintaining a deafening media silence about the police and military massacres in the south east by intimidating anyone who dares report it. One example is Turkey’s Beyaz Show television programme. The live talk show aired a call in January from Ayşe Çelik, a teacher from Amed. She said:

Are you aware of what is going on in the east, in the south-east of Turkey? Here, unborn children, mothers and people are being killed… What is being experienced here is conveyed very differently [by the media]. Do not keep silent… Children should not die, mothers should not die.”

According to Laura Pitel in The Independent, the talkshow presenter was widely criticised by state media for allowing PKK propaganda to be aired. A prosecution was opened against both Ayşe Çelik and Beyazit Öztürk, the talkshow presenter. Öztürk later issued an on-air apology for taking the call.

Due to this intimidation, coupled with racism and bias, Turkey’s mainstream media has distorted the killings in Kurdish cities, with media outlets branding those killed as terrorists and blaming the violence on the PKK and not the state. On 7 February, the newspaper Today’s Zaman reported the impossible figure of 733 “PKK members” killed in “Cizre and Sur”, while not mentioning any killings of civilians. A columnist in Daily Sabah claimed the PKK had opened fire on ambulances that the “Turkish state” had deployed “against all odds”, while not mentioning the police and army’s prevention of medical care reaching wounded civilians.

The international press has remained overwhelmingly silent over Turkey’s massacres in Bakur. There are two main reasons for this. Firstly, the Turkish state has imprisoned and deported foreign correspondents reporting from Bakur over the last year, and the mainstream media is unwilling to trust Kurdish media sources, buying into the state’s attempts to discredit them. Secondly, Turkey is an important ally of NATO and the US, and it is not in the interest of US-aligned governments to criticise it. In London, there have been demonstrations at the BBC, with UK-based Kurds and their comrades protesting the corporation’s silence on Turkey’s massacre of its Kurdish population.A national demonstration is planned at the BBC on 6 March 6.

We asked Baran whether he thought that self-defence behind the barricades is a good tactic for the Kurds to achieve self-determination. He replies:

There is a reality in Kurdistan that if you don’t have a weapon or gun then you can’t live, as you are surrounded by brutal forces who don’t let you live in normal conditions. So the Kurds think that armed struggle is very crucial for them. This armed struggle guarantees their lives. If these people didn’t have any weapons then worse things could happen. Kurds know that the armed struggle is very important for their existence.”

What you can do in solidarity

– Join the national demonstration on 6 March outside the BBC.

– Campaign for a boycott of tourism in Turkey until the violence against Kurdish people ends.

– Get in touch with your local Kurdish solidarity group. If there isn’t one in your area, make links with the local Kurdish community and start a new one.

– Campaign against arms exports to Turkey. To read about the companies supplying arms to the Turkish police and military click here and here. Also see Campaign Against the Arm’s Trade’s list of companies supplying weapons to Turkey.

– To find out more about campaigns in support of the Kurdish movement for autonomy, go to http://peaceinkurdistancampaign.com/

– Don’t trust the mainstream media to get your news. We recommend going to JINHA Womens’ News Agency and DIHA News Agency. Other Kurdish sources include Firat, Kurdish Info and The Kurdish Question.

This article was originally published, in shortened form, in Red Pepper